The Melbourne based producer releases a collection of recordings made from the early 2000s
Photo by Ali McCann
The name Barrage seems appropriate. Mark Barrage is a Melbourne based producer who presents hard-paste electronic collage and isolationist compositions recorded with organ, synth, primitive drum machine and JB Hi Fi electronics.
His latest album Surplus Behaviour, which follows 2013’s Glimpses and this year’s free mix tape Pleasure in Labour, was made in Brisbane and Melbourne bedrooms in the early 2000s. Minimalist synth constructions such as "He's My Dad" weave and bob about while "Doom Sore" starts with a buzzing hum that sounds like someone who isn't doing too well in the cardiac unit before breaking out into some abstract electronic beats.
Before the album’s digital and cassette release on Endless Melt on October 10 we caught up with Mark to find out more about his creative process.
Noisey: Does the term ‘Surplus Behaviour’ have any particular meaning?
Mark Barrage: From memory – we’re going back ten or fifteen years – that title originally denoted unwarranted, destructive personal behaviour I indulged in; excessive-type behaviour ‘surplus’ to what was justified or normal. In retrospect, however, the words assume an apt meaning in relation to the tracks on the album because, although they are some of the best I ever made, these were ‘surplus’ numbers I played out live but omitted from previous releases. I kept these more experimental, truthful tracks hidden because I was less confident then.
Here is one of the bedrooms that some of the record was made in. Ratty rug, op shop desk, boxes of books and electrical cords and musical equipment in the corner. I know them well.
This room was at the top of a viciously steep staircase in a share house opposite the cemetery on Lygon street in Melbourne, A sweaty, speedy man once broke into the downstairs living room while I was up there. When I questioned him about breaking and climbing through a window he said he was looking for a ‘guy that owed him money for choof’. That wasn’t me, patently. I promptly showed him the front door.
People talk about making music in their bedrooms but some of your music is pretty harsh. How did your housemates react to tracks like “Dead Badger” and “Doom Sore”?
This music was made on headphones using direct inputs, in the middle of the night. At the time I was very protective about people hearing anything before it was perfected – so, I don't think anyone really heard these tracks during their creation. What my housemates probably didn’t appreciate was me being perched in front of the television for hours on end, sampler plugged in, waiting to capture the perfect incidental snippet of noise.
Without going into too hard-tech-talk what set up did you use for these recordings?
They were made by recording analogue and digital signals directly into the computer, then editing them meticulously later. The sources were organ, consumer-level synth from 1985, a Sequential Circuits Drumtraks machine, sounds recorded to cassette Walkman, feedback and sounds arrived through experimentation with microphones and a mixer, and sometimes tones created in the computer itself. Pieces of sound would be captured at low bitrate on a 1990s box sampler and looped or played back – but only tiny slices as I had no memory card. The set up was extremely basic – I remember editing everything using the laptop’s touchpad because I didn’t have a mouse.
Has your set up changed much over the years? At a recent show, I noticed you flipping over a microcassette in an old an answering machine, then doing something weird with its playback.
My set up and composition process are always changing to keep me interested. The microcassette transcription machine I found recently in an office bin where I work. I’ve since carried a dictaphone and the sounds played back that night were recorded around the house and on my way to and from work. The box is one half of an intercom machine I had as a kid. I’m most interested in non-musical and readymade sound sources – if I have to use an instrument I try to undermine or short-circuit its intended function. Last night, for instance, I tried taping down the synth’s keys to prevent me from ‘playing’ it.
You mention sampling hours of sound from TV for a perfect snippet of noise, that’s pretty obsessive.
In the early 2000s the ABC broadcast every episode of Doctor Who in sequence. I became obsessed with the early series’ electronic sound design and started recording the audio to tape, to listen to without the distracting visuals. This led to not being able to watch anything without listening out for samples. Before this I did the same thing with late-night AM radio, which is another inexhaustible readymade sound source. I love Bernard Parmegiani and Tod Dockstader's electronic concrète recordings and I’m pretty sure they use radios and tape recordings in this way. It’s the same idea with some of the No Wave people – just approaching a sound source or object with no preconceptions of how it should be used. I love that Boris Policeband used police radio recordings in his performances.
"Surplus Behaviour" is available digitally and on cassette October 10 from Endless Melt.