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Finding musical freedom in the abstract

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Joe Clark is free. The experimental guitarist is unfettered and unchained by conventional music norms. By elevating the atmosphere and making it paramount, he is, in a sense, turning the music inside out. What comes out is a wash of texture and sound that is both soothing and unnerving; it's the sound of naptime on a bed of nails.

It was while playing in metal bands that Clark stumbled upon what would turn out to be his passion, his sound. "I had this delay pedal," Clark says. "And I discovered if I just turned everything up all the way that it just sounded insane. And if I could pick fast enough it sounded like voices. That definitely led me to find more music like that, and then dive into the more atmospheric, experimental stuff."

Clark, who's 25, spent a good deal of his early 20's on the road, easing the monotony with experimental music.

"Those records were like an hour long," he says. "So I'd be in a van for five hours at a time, and it was way easier to pass the time with five records."

As Clark dove deeper, he discovered the benefit of music — be it a tune or a lick — without the predictability or accessibility of melody (something he refers to as "normal music"). Clark plays normal guitar in the relatively more conventional post-hardcore band Druse. But in listening to his solo work, if you can get past the dissonance and noise, a sense of euphoria is waiting on the other side, under the surface and in the cracks. It's all exemplified on his cassette release "Throw Me In The Susquehanna."

"One of the beautiful things about this music," Clark says. "I find more melody in the empty space. In the repetitiveness, you can find little details."

For Clark, it isn't so much creating as it is waiting for the sound to arrive.

"It's a lot of experimenting," he says. "It's a lot of endurance practice almost. I usually don't start with writing something down. Typically I'll have a relatively small idea, like a base layer; then I can do something like hit these guitar pedals and make this crazy sound. Then I record it if I'm writing for a record. I usually go back and write down notes so I'm able to be close to recreating it. Certain moments are similar but it will never be the same, because that's the nature of it. There's no way for me to do it exactly the same way. You always want to push yourself to find something new."

Clark lets the music be. He's more conduit than creator; lucky to be there when the music shows up. And he encourages protracted listening sessions once it gets there to get the full benefit of his compositions.

"For me," he says. "I like to listen intently for half an hour. It's hard to zone in just after a minute. It doesn't feel natural to me."

When performing live, elements of volume and performance come into play. The venue dictates what comes out and how. For instance at louder venues like the Bug Jar, Clark uses three amps at max volume.

"It's a whole different experience and the audience gets hit with sound, so instead of hearing the textures of the guitar looped, they're physically getting hit with it. With the South Wedge Mission, it's a little quieter and you can hear the atmosphere and reverb."

Ever the sonic explorer, Clark is now exploring the analog world by incorporating a four-track cassette recorder, and looking at some collaborative work where he can share the credit.

"And the blame," he says.

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