Except to switch up instruments they’re nearly invisible. The sound looms large and carries out, moving in swirls and climbs and spreads. It’s the point, but also it’s not the point.
Barn Owl is the essence of sound as it happens, not as it is controlled. And the guys on the stage, Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras, consider themselves the conduits to the music’s vibes as they appear – called up, but not demanded.
Seeing them play a couple weeks ago at San Francisco’s Edinburgh Castle was to watch a room full of people who’d expected to come and hear rock tune into something completely different: The Drone.
At its core, The Drone is sustained notes. Tones. Sounds that are individually examined and turned over. It’s in the tradition of singing bowls and didgeridoos and music being connected to the spiritual world as much as the physical.
“Music used to be an interactive experience,” Evan says. “You were engaged. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
“At the beginning of all our shows I want to tell people not to get wrapped up with what we’re doing physically, but to listen with a different set of ears, to be open to what could happen just from listening to the music,” Jon says.
“Drone can be used to answer questions that you couldn’t usually answer,” they say. “It’s a vehicle to enter the spiritual world from the physical and take something back.”
At the Edinburgh Castle people seemed to become entranced. The music enters your head and worms its way around, like acupuncture opening up energy channels.
Barn Owl truly believes in something greater then itself. The Drone is their contribution to society, which they see as on the verge of collapse.
The most important thing about the Drone is that it takes from the past and combines with the tools of today. Ancient rhythms and feeling created with electric guitars and pedals. That kind of combination is what society needs right now. Peak oil. Peak water. Global Warming. A re-evaluation is needed.
“Our doom’s in sight,” Jon says. “Our doom is in sight.”
There are a million scenarios out there. Generally, people feel far from the Earth even when they’re standing on it. So many people buy into the ride-the house, the car, the family. That’s the easy way out, Barn Owl says. There may be a lot of good that comes out of that life. But the problem comes when you’re trapped doing something you may not want to be doing. Doing your part in making the world a better place involves you being happy with what you’re doing and projecting that energy onto everyone else.
The Drone is Barn Owl’s way of doing that.
“The Drone is a representation of the order and life that exists within everything. It’s a medium to channel life,” Jon says.
When they play live the music is mostly a prepared improvisation. There is a general composition to the songs, but the details come out as they are played.
Creating the music is a matter of jamming together until strong pieces form. They keep coming back to those individual pieces. The idea of free music is what motivates them.
Completely composed music doesn’t interest them. Composed music is egotistical and commoditized. It’s created to be listener friendly, something you can hear again and again.
They’re interested in the idea of impermanence. It’s a healthy concept to get comfortable with. In our culture everybody is into permanence and that’s evidenced by composed music.
Wanting to hear songs live the way they sound on the album is not a true reflection of the moment. In music as well as life, if you’re obsessed with always wanting the same things, you go stagnant as a person.
And that’s the problem. We have become stagnant as a culture. Since the Middle Ages maybe. That was when we made the choice to live materialistically instead of spiritually.
Free music counteracts that.
“When we’re in the flow, the niche, and the Drone is creating itself, it’s something we couldn’t create if we thought about it. I don’t even feel like it’s us,” Jon says. “It’s like the lives of ancestors passing through you.”
A good show is when they’re able to get into a trance state and have the ego eliminated. Afterwards they have to ask each other, “Do you feel weird, man?” A bad show is when they feel like they’re in the same place as where they were before.
It’s hard to be in the same place after listening to Barn Owl though. Their plans right now involve touring the west coast. And spreading the Drone.
Justin Vela is a long-time NadaMucho.com contributor whose words or photos have appeared in The Seattle PI, The Stranger, The Olympian, The Gunnison Times, and TIME magazine.