6/17/11 interview with Michael Barker aka Embarker

Your name and age
Michael Roy Barker / 34

Birthplace and present location
Born in Baltimore, MD / Live in Brooklyn, NY

How long have you been doing your project?
Since late 2006

Has your music evolved since you first started? How?
I have constantly changed my set up in my search for that elusive sound i hear in my head. So in that case is has evolved with me.

What are the main themes or topics for your work?
Sarcasm, Alienation, Humor, Frustration, A-typical catharsis.

Describe your music/art. How do you describe your music to people?
I usually do my best to avoid that. I also try to avoid using the word "noise". Or i can say "Hey do you want watch me try and get my point across using the wrong medium?" I could also say I try to make music that emulates my anxiety into sound.

What music did you grow up listening to?

What's the first song you remember listening to or that sticks in your mind?
The Village People "In the Navy" or The Doors "Light my Fire"

Who are your influences in general, musically and artistically?
Musically, im not sure. I listen to all types of music and there is no one I really try to emulate. I guess the improvised music scene in Baltimore around 2000-2001 was a huge influence on me musically. Other than that, I like Woody Allen, Bruce Nauman, Werner Herzog, William Wegman, and Fernando Pessoa. Bands: Pavement, The Iceburn Collective, All sublime frequencies, Devo, and Henry Flint. What got you into making synthesized harsh noise in the first place?
The attempt to try and make music / sound that was as honest as I could make. I guess I ended up here after all of the deconstruction.

Are your sounds deliberately composed, is your work abstract, or a combination of both?
A little bit of both. I started out as an improviser so that never leaves my thought process. But with the modular and other things that are synced together its impossible not to have a blue print in mind.

Do you rehearse or plan your performance in any way, either in your heads, on paper or in a studio, or do you just wing it when it comes to performing and recording?
I have done both. Sometimes I just improvise. Sometimes I have a set list of songs / pieces. Its been different throughout the years depending on what gear I am using.

Could you briefly describe you music-making process?
Trying to find the time and place to create sound / music without distractions. Currently is based on time and stress constraints.

Where do you record?
Either in my office / studio or my rehearsal space

Do you have a home studio setup?

Are you prolific?
Depends who you ask. I try to make at least one solid release a year with the "Embarker" project

Are you constantly cranking out new stuff or does it take time to get it right and done?
Depends. I record a lot. Looking for new ideas outside of the music making process. I have high expectations for myself and I am my own worst critic.

Are your live performances structured in any way or are they freeform?

What can you tell me about your instruments?
I currently use a eurorack format modular synth along with a midi controlled tone generator that has been "modified". I also use a panasonic mini cassette transcriber. I sometimes use a home made string based instrument that I have no name for. Looks like a lap steel with a movable bridge and pickup. A microphone and various effect pedals. Maybe 3 of them.

What made you choose the particular pedals/effects/instruments you have now?

I'm particularly interested in your modular synth. Is that your only modular or do you have other setups? Would it be possible to give me a list of the modules in the cabinet I saw you using? (If not, maybe a rundown of your favorite/most used modules.)
I can name the manufacturers and where to find out more.
That is the only modular I have. I've been working on building it up for about 2 years. Its pretty hard to keep up with. I use modules from The harvestman, Make Noise Music, Doepfer, 4ms Pedals, Flight of Harmony, Analogue Solutions, Bubblesound, and Malekko. I would recommend checking out Its a great message board with a lot of synth info for everyone. Also, is great place that carries tons of interesting and unique gear.

Any close up pics would definitely be appreciated. I was very interested in your setup, I just didn't want to be too rude and nosey the other night and stick my face in your gear.
Its ok. There are a lot of blinking lights and cables. Its an interesting object visually.

Any other favorite pedals or music items you're into? Anything you're looking to acquire?
Always love more distortion boxes and there is always a new "must have" module.

Where have you performed?
All over the east coast / south, some midwest, LA, and Antwerp, Belgium.

What are your favorite and least favorite venues?
Least favorite venue is the Rotunda in Philadelphia. The sound is terrible and the sound guy is worse. Favorite venue would be a tie between Ren and Val's old place on Hazzard street in Philly and the Red Light District in Far Rockaway.

Most embarrassing experience? Most awesome?
Musically or in Life? Most embarrassing would have to be the High Zero festival in 2002. My main instrument at the time was double bass (upright) It was a very terrifying experience improvising in front of so many people before I even knew I had anything to say musically. And with seasoned Free Jazz musicians that I looked up to like Daniel Carter. I felt exposed, timid, and reserved. It was a relief when it was over though it somewhat typecast me in certain peoples minds as some sort of free jazz bass player. (or a really shitty one)

Most awesome?
Any chance I get to play for an attentive and interested audience

Are you involved in any other groups or projects that you'd like to mention?
I play in Brian Osborne's George Steeltoe Ensemble, I also play in a trio with Brian Osborne on drums, Jeffrey Shurdut on Sax and me on modular / stringed thing, as well as the group Sharks with wings which is a group I started in 2002 that plays very very rarely now.

Where do you live now?
Brooklyn… for now.

Do you have a day job? What is it?
I do live sound at a college as well as freelance audio post production and location sound.

Have any hobbies like stamp collecting or knitting?
I play Ice and inline hockey. I like working on films. I love my pets, Somebody, Chooch, and For Real. (2 cats and a dog)

Do you play any other instruments?
Upright bass, Clarinet.

Do you collect anything or are you a minimalist?
I used to collect answering machine tapes.

What's your favorite food of all time?
As a kid, Fried Chicken Legs. Now, Pad Thai or fish tacos

Computers or what?
Yup. Necessary evil / Versatile Tool.

What was the last book you read?
I have been re-reading Fernando Pessoa's "Book of Disquiet"

What are you currently listening to that you're really into?
Anything Ian Nagoski puts out.

Do you watch TV or listen to the radio at all? Any favorite shows or broadcasts?
I watch Ice Hockey. I listen to WFMU and WPRB, NPR. On the media is a pretty good radio show.

Where do you go to discover new sounds/music?
Not sure exactly. The environment (man made and animal made natural sounds) Then there is the internet with message boards.

Been to any good shows lately?
Thurston Moore @ Williamsburg Music Hall. Sightings @ DBA

Describe a day in the life of Michael Barker.
Wake up, feed the dog. pet the cats. Walk the dog. I have since quit caffeine so no more coffee. If its a work day. Check email, read news. Go to work. Come home repeat animal chores (i am newly single after a 5.5 year relationship so things are a little different) Off to the studio or at work in my own office / studio. Read or play pinball. Attempt to exercise. Stretch. Sleep.

What does your family think of your art and do they support you?
They support me. They are confused, but they are interested in my happiness / contentment.

Do they have any idea what you do or what your project sounds like?
Not really. Though my dad and I built a theremin when I was 18. So he thinks everything I do musically sounds like that. wooo wooooo wooooo ect……

Any advice for people who are starting out creating music/noise/art?
Be honest with yourself and try to focus your energy on what you are doing. Listen to everything.

Any upcoming shows? New recordings? Projects?
Not really. I've been trying to play more shows in NYC area since I am new to the area but I am having a hard time making this happen. Working on a new Embarker Record. Should be done by December. Perhaps a tour in the fall or early next spring.

Any parting words or pearls of wisdom you'd like to share with whoever's reading this interview?
Send help and retain your heat.