California-based trombonist and euphonium player Mattie Barbier's new album threads came out on Friday -- and their release is not one to sleep on. Featuring Barbier performing prepared trombone and euphonium inside The Tank in Colorado, the album features a myriad of enveloping and rich sonic landscapes. Barbier joins Which Sinfonia for a deeper look inside the record below. Rereading our conversation, it's hard to ignore the recurring theme of how allowing things to exist creates a kind of relief and freedom – allowing the physical recording space to be an integral part of the album, creating space for the breath, and ultimately embracing the music without abstracting it.
Anna Heflin: You describe your album threads as a duo with the unique acoustics of The Tank, the space in Colorado where the album was recorded. Could you share a little bit about this space and your experience interacting with it? Did it change the way that you think about and work with resonance?
Mattie Barbier: It’s a pretty incredible space that seems to largely be there and available to record in through more or less a series of accidents and coincidences. It was moved from the Front Range to the Western Slope as part of a fire deterrent system for an electrical plant but they forgot to pour a foundation so it was unusable. It apparently sat unused and became a place people would go to get drunk and set off fireworks inside until a person traveling to make recordings was brought there by locals and was able to turn it into a recording space. In a similar coincidental vein I’ve been going to a town near it, Montrose, for about 15 years to see family and never realized it was only a few hours away until someone local made a comment about it while I was there during lockdown. So the path to it on both sides feels like a lot of odd serendipity made it happen.
I really went into it with a plan on how I thought it would work and what kind of music I would play and record in it. It became apparent that none of those plans would work and the way I had been conceptualizing my visit just didn’t fit what the space provides. I normally really struggle to deviate from plans but in that space it was somehow very easy to just let all of that go and just start making sounds and hearing how they developed and then just playing something else in response to what the Tank added. So it really altered the way I think about resonance and space on quite a fundamental level. I’d also been feeling like I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to make a solo record for years. The session and space was a real clarifying moment for me that I’ve been struggling because I’ve been trying to make work in a vacuum rather than allowing sound to exist in space as itself. Letting the space be an individual thing I’m in duo with rather than just adhering to an idea of what sound should be really helped me let go of a lot of that pressure.
AH: Are these tracks improvisations, compositions, or somewhere in between? Can the works be performed in a live concert setting if the space was right?
MB: They’re a mix with the two untitled tracks being loosely written out works for euphonium whereas the other tracks are closer to improvisation. The two trombone tracks (filter and coda) are both based in a loose melodic progression that I play with a lot, but that both shift with the space. So rather than closely following the idea I’d normally use, the resonant pitches in the space, especially the upper resultant pitches, kind of guided where to go. For me all of them sort of have some guiding materials but a significant amount of the decisions are made by what’s in the space. I’ve done the untitled tracks a lot outside of the Tank and the concepts of the others as well, but the space gets tricky! It’s been a challenge to set up a release show because there aren’t a lot of venue spaces that have the acoustics that really make it work to be music that’s listening in the space rather than just played, at least for me.
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