Barrett describes his particular state of mind while composing, which relies on spontaneous reactions to sounds. Trying to put himself in the position of a musician on stage, he limits the time he allows himself to think about his actions, thus reponding on the spur-of-the-moment and coming up with result which is indeed composed, yet bears a direct link to free improvisation.
Barrett also emphasized the collaborative aspect of his work. He attempts to create interaction between several participants even across different phases of the creative process – for example, an improviser recording a solo, which is later re-worked by Barrett in the studio. The improvised material carries “the traces of somebody’s else thinking, somebody’s else musicality” into Barrett’s work, thus establishing a collaborative dynamic and a unique combination of ideas and sounds.
Barrett’s approach to the improvisation-composition-collaboration continuum can be seen in his BINARY SYSTEMS project. Six improvising musicians – all are long-time collaborators with Barrett – were asked to record solo improvisations, which he used as a basis for fixed-media electronic compositions (the music will be released on the digital label Strange Strings). Barrett regards the process of sorting out the recorded material as a fundamental part of his work, thus highlighting the importance of listening as the core of the collaborative process. The real-time, improvisatory listening-and-response becomes a compositional method which relies on spontaneous reaction to sounds rather than on pre-established musical or theoretical criteria. In this way, free improvisation – which normally takes place in a physical space, and in real time – is translated into a remote collaboration. The working speed is also affected: it becomes substantially rapid, and, one may say, intuitive (“If I started thinking about it, I would stop doing it,” and “if I worked on it for another year, I couldn’t make it any better,” as Barrett acknowledged).
Barrett presented his collaboration with the electric lap steel guitar player Daryl Buckley (Elision ensemble, Melbourne). The music is a complex collage of improvised material on lap steel guitar (also using an array of effect pedals) and electronic sounds (some of which were produced by processing the guitar sounds). Listen to Dysnomia (Barrett / Buckley):