Bardo Pond: Sculpting Sound from Disorder, Interview

Philadelphia’s Avant-Garde Rock Innovators Bardo Pond

Bardo Pond is a Philadelphia-based psychedelic rock band, active since 1991 and currently signed to Fire Records. The group consists of Michael Gibbons and John Gibbons on guitars, Isobel Sollenberger on flute and vocals, Clint Takeda on bass, and Jason Kourkounis on drums. Their music, which combines noise, acid rock, post-rock, shoegazing, and space rock, is characterized by long improvisations, powerful riffs, and feedback. The band formed from a shared passion for freeform music, creating their unique style through long jam sessions. They released their first cassette, Shone Like a Ton, in 1992, followed by the album Bufo Alvarius in 1995. Their next release, Amanita, saw them join Matador Records. Bardo Pond’s music is characterized by a minimalist, exploratory approach, influenced by their backgrounds in visual arts

Bardo Pond’s official website, Instagram, Bandcamp

How did the idea of forming Bardo Pond come about, and what were your initial musical visions? Could you describe the very first session where you all played together? What was that like?

The band formed over the course of three or four years. Honestly, when I think about it, it started years and years ago because everyone in the band passionately loves music. My brother and I, as kids, were obsessed with music and turning each other onto new things, going to shows together, and loving music. We would record sounds and noise making and free noise before we even knew what it was. Clint and I met at a record store I was working at. He wanted to buy a Lester Bowie record that I told him wasn’t for sale because I wanted it for myself. I told him I was kidding, and we went to some free jazz shows. Isobel was learning Hendrix songs as a 14-year-old. When I was finishing up art school, I began a free improv thing with my girlfriend’s brother. At the time, I was an experimental music fan. The love of experimental and free music made me want to experiment with making sounds. It turned out to be a lot of fun, so I contacted my brother and told him about this. He had a new credit card, and we decided to go buy some instruments and get things going with each other. We told Clint about what we were doing, and he wanted to be part of it and joined us. The three of us became the Switzle Twins.

We made a lot of noise together; I recorded it. John was going to art school, and a fellow student of his wanted to come check it out. He was actually a pretty decent guitar player. He showed us how to tune a guitar and how to make bar chords and a few regular chords. This was when the band really started. Isobel was another friend of John’s from school. She started to hang out with us. One night, she informed us that she was actually a flute player. Once she joined us playing the flute, it really happened. Isobel was also a great singer. I remember at this time feeling like we had something special happening, and it was a beautiful feeling. Our heroes at this time were the VU, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, all the Cosmic German bands, Black Sabbath, Miles Davis, Pharaoh Saunders, Last Exit, Fred Frith, Daniel Johnson, Half Japanese, Yo La Tengo, Nirvana, The Dead C, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Neil Young, Hendrix, the No Wave scene was a huge influence, and all the Japanese music on P.S.F., to name a few.

Bardo Pondcontrast2
© Bardo Pond

Your music often involves long, expansive soundscapes. Could you describe how you go about composing such pieces?

We are kind of like minimalists. When we find ourselves playing something that we like, we investigate the sound to bring out what is in it to its most potent form. We find ourselves locking on to a sequence of sounds for hours. Phrases, riffs that we will repeat over and over, although you can never really play it the same way. A resonating power evolves out of jamming a riff over and over. We also love chance and unexpected combinations. The music forms itself organically. It offers us optional areas to explore. We follow different paths; eventually, the way to go is in front of us. We all work together to navigate the compositions.

Bardo Beach
© Bardo Pond

Is there a specific piece that was particularly challenging or rewarding to create?

Aldrin* from *Lapsed* was a fun one.

Looking back, which album or project do you feel was a turning point for Bardo Pond?

Each one is a turning point. They each navigate different depths of the same body of water, if you will.

Are there any specific pieces of vintage gear or instruments that you find indispensable in creating your music?

We each have our beloved gadgets, but honestly, it wouldn’t matter what we were using; we’d still do what we do. It’d sound a little different, but we’d still rock it.

Over your career, you’ve witnessed many changes in the music industry, especially with the rise of digital platforms. How have these changes affected how you create and distribute your music?

The rise of digital recording was a godsend for us because it enabled us to be able to affordably record our jam sessions with decent fidelity. We took advantage of CDR technology by self-releasing CDRs of our more experimental material. That was fun to be able to do. This CDR issue is being released on vinyl by Fire Records now as the Volumes Series. Beyond that, we’re still kind of old school in that we have released our music on record labels throughout our career.

Bardo Pond has been a part of the Philadelphia music scene for decades. How has the local scene influenced and supported your music?

It’s great to be a Philadelphia band. The city is full of rabid music fans. It’s a special place to be part of. We always have a great crowd at our shows here. All the people in the business, working at the venues, are all first class. Legendary house shows in town as well. It’s a fantastic place to hear music, see shows, buy music, and experience great unusual music. The Philadelphia Record Exchange is here, and The Arkestra is here.

Bardo Pond interview
© Bardo Pond

How do you handle the technical aspects of recording such dense and layered music?

It is, for the most part, our live sound that you’re hearing when you listen to our LPs. Some songs have some tracking or layers of guitars, but most of them have minimal tracking. Vocals are tracked to get a cleaner sound. Sometimes multitracks of vocals and flute are made. Acoustic guitars are tracked on some songs.

How have your individual backgrounds in visual arts influenced the aesthetic and sound of the band?

I think it’s been very influential on our music. The compositions are more like paintings or sculptures than musical compositions. Our instrumentation relates to the way a visual artist uses texture, color, and space. The experimental nature of painting, the process of creating/excavating a painting. Our tunes are constructed like paintings and sculpture in that they deal with experiencing space.

Bardo Pond 11
© Bardo Pond

Given the eclectic and experimental nature of your music, how do you approach live performances?

We create a set list. We know the songs and in what order we’re going to play them. Within these parameters, there’s always room for improv. It could happen in between songs, could happen within a song. When it does, we roll with it if it’s feeling good.

Living Room2
© Bardo Pond

Are there elements you adjust or emphasize differently from studio recordings?

There are a few songs where that has happened, and they are played live slightly differently than the recorded version, but most of the songs are pretty true to the recorded version. Having said that, the songs are always evolving. Even when we play them close to the recorded version, they are different.

Looking ahead, what new musical directions or styles are you planning to explore with Bardo Pond?

We will be treading the same waters. We always have some acoustic elements, some distortion, some feedback, some delays, some filters, some sustain, compression… We will be continuing the research we’ve been working on for all these years.

bardo pond interview retrofuturista
© Bardo Pond

Photos courtesy of Bardo Pond

Last Updated on June 21, 2024 by retrofuturista

Thank you for subscribing!
There was an issue submitting the form!

Sign up for Exclusive Interviews

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Now playing: Artist - Track