Mick Barr and Colin Marston Get Spooky and Spiritual on 'Hathenter Ouija'
We draw back the veil on the new jazz/drone project from the duo and their bandmates Kevin Hufnagel, Eliane Gazzard, and Brandon Seabrook (with appearances by Yoskiho Ohara and Christian Schiller).
Photo by Justina Villanueva
Over the past two decades, virtuoso guitarist Mick Barr has mastered the art of controlled chaos. From his stint in Weasel Walter's brilliant "brutal-prog" freaks The Flying Luttenbachers, various projects like Orthrelm, Octis and Ocrilim to his current gig in black metal crew Krallice, Barr's quixotic influence is unrivaled in both the extreme metal pantheon and the free-improv world, where he's earned the fandom of downtown avant-garde kingpin John Zorn. Now, for Barr's trick, he has just released what is arguably his most ambitious project to date, created in tandem with his Krallice bandmate, guitarist/bassist Colin Marston: a single track, forty-minute-long epic called Hathenter Ouija.
"'Hathenter' was originally on the short list for band names for Krallice but then we all thought that it sounded like the name of someone that was very annoying like 'Oh, great. Fuckin' Hathenter is around today!'" Barr says laughing. "Over the years, any time that we just had anything to do with business which we thought was annoying, we used the name 'Hathenter' for it. Then over time, it actually turned into the label that we put our CDs on, then it also just turned into this project that me and Colin started doing as a duo first, which was just straight improv-to-solo and stuff."
Barr is now in the process of streamlining myriad releases like Oldest, Mossenek, Fraxinus and Overishins under the Hathenter label umbrella, viewing the label as both his sole launch pad and a quintessential manifestation of his metal, jazz and improvisational leanings. That mashup is crystallized on the sprawling, part composed, part off-the-cuff interstellar jam Hathenter Ouija, an otherworldly splatter of trippy drone that finds Barr and Marston ballooning Hathenter from its original two-man operation to a seven-person ensemble. Eliane Gazzard and Brandon Seabrook were also welcomed into the Hathenter fold to complete Barr and Marston's four-ax "Guitar Supermeld" vision, with Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia, Gorguts) slipping into the role of lead guitar, sound design artist Christian Schiller, a.k.a. chfs, providing "mud and mist," and Bloody Panda vocalist Yoshiko Ohara unleashing "conversations and voices" into the devastatingly noisy fray.
For Barr, though, putting Hathenter Ouija to tape wasn't a "whoever happens to be toiling around Menegroth that day" happy accident. There was an actual method to the madness. "It was mainly just shredders," Barr says chuckling as he explains how he pieced together the lineup that would ultimately help realize the record's vision. "Everyone was chosen."
Alongside their carefully assembled collective of noisemakers, Barr and Marston crank up the shred-o-meter on Hathenter Ouija with a maelstrom of combined jazz, drone, and metal mania. Hathenter manages to channel the majestically dissonant tension and release of Glenn Branca's symphonies, the wall of gurgling static of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, the big-band spirituality of John Coltrane's Ascension and, more recently, the doom-jazz chaos of GRID, into a truly bizarre experience.
Despite the title, though, Barr, isn't big on seances. "I've never used a Ouija board in my life," Barr admits. "I think when I was a kid I wasn't allowed to use one; as an adult it doesn't seem that important.As for the Ouija board, everyone has their hands on the thing but you're not supposed to do any conscious movement; it's supposed to go where it needs to go, which is being guided by the spirit. That was the concept. But instead of is all having our hands on the Ouija pointer, the planchette, we all just had our hands on our guitars."
It was here that Barr's "don't think, just play" approach took shape. "It's just purely sound movement and just see what sort of anamorphous blob can come out of four shredding guitars," he explains. "Everyone was listening and paying attention but basically not trying to show any individual styles or anything. There wasn't really anything in mind other than to see what would come about by just all of us playing guitar, not thinking about it and not really making any conscious decisions to do something interesting. Just to blob out for a while."
Barr dismisses the idea of Hathenter Ouija holding any particular ritualistic significance, but when he, Marston, Gazzard and Seabrook convened for their first Hathenter jam back in 2015, there were some spiritual vibes radiating in the studio. "It was a solid 45 minutes where we had all the lights off," he recalls. "It was guided in duration by this blue serotonin lamp because it was on a timer, which we didn't realize at the time, was set. So basically when the light went off, we stopped playing."
That spiritual aspect carried through into the band's first (and as of yet, only) live performance, too. For the inaugural Hathenter performance in 2015, which took place during Barr's residency at John Zorn's East Village music space, The Stone, Gazzard took on an extra role: as self-anointed "perfumer."
"The name of the fragrance we used for the Hathenter Ouija performance was 'No-thing," she says via email. "I wanted the scent to be a static experience; in other words, a fragrance that doesn't change or evolve, a scent to match the music. When a fragrance doesn't change or evolve over time, the brain starts to 'block' it out and you don't even know you are still smelling it. Combining a dense musical performance with color and scent will hopefully transport the performers and audience to new places of perception by overwhelming the senses."
Moments of sensory overload erupt with abandon on the recorded version of Hathenter Ouija, too. There's Schiller's bathed-in-sludge soundscapes, and the unsettling chants and six-feet-under screams Ohara recorded in Japan and shot over to Barr to add into the mix. "I gave them vocal files that I recorded before but didn't use for records I released in the past, and new vocal files that I recorded for this piece," says Ohara. "I asked them to do whatever they wanted with my voices, and was very curious and excited to see how the guys would treat my voices. I love the music very much and am so happy that I have done this with the guys who I really respect."
With its small army of guitars, unearthly vocals, and thunderous sonics, Hathenter Ouija was nearly complete—save for the obligatory guitar solo, which came courtesy of Hufnagel. As a big fan of the Dysrhythmia guitarist's recent spate of solo records and his six-string work with Sabbath Assembly and Gorguts, Barr knew Hufnagel would kill it, but as Hufnagel tells it, it took a bit of work to perfect his own art of the shred.
"Colin sent me the whole recording, and then specified where in the piece they wanted the guitar solo," he explains. "All of the other guitars on the record are meant to melt together as a whole, so when I finally enter in the piece, it's startling. I wanted to create something extremely stomach-churning. I tried writing out a solo at home, but wasn't satisfied with my ideas, so I decided to just get into Colin's studio and totally go by feel and capture something more spontaneous. Once we found the right guitar tone for the piece, through trying various combinations of effects pedals, the ideas flowed quickly and naturally."
While Barr sees Hathenter Ouija as more spooky than spiritual, Marston takes a more esoteric approach. "I saw this as an attempt to slightly alter the environment in which we usually play music," Marston explains. "Doing very simple things like changing the lighting, giving yourself a time limit, and the rule of "no one is allowed to change on purpose" can give just enough structure to the experience that it focuses the beam of possibilities from feeling like infinity to seeming like a task to accomplish."
"It was also interesting to then recreate the same experience at The Stone, which by that point, had become a 'song' in my mind," he continued. "Eliane's addition of designing a corresponding fragrance for the Stone performance strengthened the Ouija's identity as well (in another non-sonic way, to my fascination). So I suppose in a sense, the exclusive blue serotonin light, duration, and simple compositional rule give the music an identity as a piece and therefore a spirit of some kind. That seems like it could be genuine spiritualism."
Brad Cohan is floating around on Twitter.