#17, NOVEMBER 2004



by Weasel Walter

Mick Barr is the most focused and uncompromising composer in the current rock underground. He is a remarkably fleet guitarist as well as a modest, understated personality devoted to an almost hermetic musical discipline. His main project Orthrelm has recorded for numerous labels including Troubleman Unlimited and Three One G. The instrumental duo's output is densely packed with musical information: with little or no structural repetition, discreet cells of notes are often frantically reconfigured into every possible permutation with staggering speed, revealing a fractal-like inner logic that is both chaotically asymmetrical and perfectly ordered at once. Barr and percussionist Josh Blair perform these compositions -- often containing mindbogglingly lengthy and complex unison passages -- with a stunning level of clarity and precision. Although the somewhat monochromatic instrumentation (imagine an aural apex somewhere between the Bartok String Quartets played on 45 and the second Deicide album, minus vocals) tends to immediately obscure some of the more subtle variations in approach of the individual compositions, the resulting intensity is tangibly visceral and exhilarating. This stuff isn't sonically polite, effete "new music" for chin-scratchers, but rather a modern chamber music straight from the streets, complete with brass knuckles. It hits hard and fast, but with formidable brain power, guts and instinct. The incredible rate of information and detail contained within Orthrelm's music insures that it will last long into the future. It's not that the group is ahead of it's time, but that most listeners are merely behind the times. Eventually everybody will catch up.

In addition, Barr also maintains a solo project called Octis as well has having recently played bass guitar with the group Quix-o-tic (featuring ex-Slant 6 singer/guitarist Christina Billotte.) The following is an email interview from February 2004, while Orthrelm was on tour with The Locust and The Dillinger Escape Plan.


Weasel Walter: One of the first things that was obvious to me about your compositions is that they easily transcend the simple categorization of just being "rock music". I get the idea that your writing for Orthrelm and Octis has more to do with abstract concepts than trying to be a certain type of music. Is this true?

Mick Barr: the non-repetition is definitely deliberate, but everything else wasn't really conceptualized so thoroughly. so, yeah, it wasn't trying to be a certain form of music. josh once said that our m.o. was that he didn't play backbeats and i didn't play chords, so that definitely gets us away from "rock music".

WW: I think that the guitar/drums format is just incidental for you - it's just a format to get your ideas across with. Is this true? If you could have any possible instrumentation to work with, what would it be?

MB: i definitely like the guitar/drums format. it may have been incidental at one point, and it may be incidental now, but for a while there it was exactly what i wanted to work with. i've thought of orchestral type instrumentation, but that seems like a lot more work than i'm cut out for. as i can't really read or write notated music. now i like the idea of guitar, 2 drummers, and oboe. maybe some kind of bass drone as well. i can't be sure until i try things, but i never try things.

"when me and josh are in the same town, we usually practice 6 days a week for about 2 hours a day. then I'll practice another 2 or 3 hours in addition."

WW: Can you tell me about any non-musical continuity or storyline behind the music of Orthrelm or Octis? You seem to have developed your own language for these bands and the visual art often reflects the structural density of the music . . .

MB: well, there's definitely some sort of continuity. most of it kind of surfaces subconsciously. i don't really know about the storyline, but things i tend to think of follow the cycle of the infinitely small and the infinitely large. and also, i sometimes think that the chaoticness kind of reflects the chaoticness of the universe. like the quantum jumps of molecules and things like that. insectoid speed. these weren't in any way thought out before hand, only recognized after. it kind of stems from both science fiction and reality. i can't really put it into words so well, so, that's where the made up language comes in.

WW: Does that sour little harmony you play before the Octis songs signify anything in particular?

MB: it's kind of like when a barbershop quartet hums a harmony before starting to sing. just to get into the moment. it wasn't really intentional on the double cd, just something i did subconsciously before playing the song. when i listened to it back i liked it as a drone to kind of link everything together. like every song is all part of one idea, because that's sort of how it is. so i decided to put it before every song on the 2 seven inches.

WW: I've heard more than a few extremely misguided people remark that they thought you were just making up the Orthrelm songs as you went along. This clearly is not the case. What is your reaction to something like this?

MB: well, i can understand it to an extent. that's been an interesting sort of by-product of all this. it seems like people who say that either aren't playing close attention, or don't really understand improvising. i don't mean that to sound snobbish, as i don't really think i understand it either, nor would i be bothered to pay attention to this if it wasn't us. once, when asked about that, josh replied, "what do you think we are, the best improvisors ever?" i don't ever take any offense to it at all.

WW: How important is intensity and impact to your music? How important is intelligence? Do you think the two are at odds with each other in rock music?

MB: i'm not sure about this one. i think intensity and impact are both very important, but i don't think that i've ever consciously thought about it using those words. i like the way it feels to play everything as fast as we can, and to play as much as we can. it's easier for me to do. the less going on in the music, the less comfortable i feel. like when i play bass with quix-o-tic, i get so nervous just holding notes and waiting to hit another note. there's way too much time to think while the same song is going on. when you just play so much all at once it's easier to blank out and let your fingers do what they're supposed to do. i don't think intelligence is as important. most of what happens in it to me isn't really thought out too deeply. it's mostly about building parts upon parts in relation to how it sounds. i don't really know if the intelligence and impact are at odds in rock music. probably in most.

"like when i play bass with quix-o-tic, i get so nervous just holding notes and waiting to hit another note."

WW: What is the role of discipline in what you do?

MB: discipline is probably the most important ingredient. it takes a lot of time to write these things, and a lot of practice to not forget them. and once they're there, and i can play them, it has to be played regularly until it is time for them to be forgotten, usually after they are recorded. when me and josh are in the same town, we usually practice 6 days a week for about 2 hours a day. then I'll practice another 2 or 3 hours in addition. besides, it takes a lot of discipline to make myself write these things. sometimes it's not fun at all, but that's not the point to me.

WW: Name three of your favorite records that you think no one would expect you to like . . .

MB: people always seem really surprised when i tell them that i really like the last 3 dark throne albums. "ravishing grimness", "plagueweilder", and "hate them". i really like how they just make the same record over and over again. it's definitely inspired me to not feel pressured to keep changing just for change's sake. i like repeating myself, just saying the same thing a little differently each time.

WW: Please describe the process of writing and learning the average Orthrelm composition.

MB: there's a couple different ways we write. sometimes we collaborate. i'll write a part, and josh will write the next part, and we'll stick them together, alternating parts until the song feels finished. some things josh just records some drum parts and i write things to follow it. the first record and the 31g record were mostly things i wrote before we started playing. i always keep a hand held tape recorder in my guitar case, and every time i write a part i like i'll record it. then over time i'll expand on it, adding other new parts.



Crom Tech Xmas Tape (1996)
Crom-Tech (1997, 7-inch)
Crom-Tech (1997, Gravity LP)
Crom-Tech (1998, Slowdime LP)

Orthrelm I (2001, Million Races CDR -- 20 copies)
Orthrelm II (2001, Million Races CDR -- 50 copies)
Iorxhscimtor (2001, Tolotta CD/LP)
Asristir Veildroixe (2002, Troubleman Unlimited LP/CD)
Touchdown/Orthrelm split (2002, Troubleman Unlimited LP/CD)
2nd 18/04 Norildivoth Crallos-Lomrixth (2002, 31G CD)

uppragn srilimia ixioor ocrilm nolifithes mrithixyl (2002, Peterbilt 2CD)
TMUSSS014 (2003, Troubleman Unlimited 7-inch)

Mortal Mirror (2002, Kill Rock Stars CD)