Amps For Christ: Everything Is Recorded

Henry Barnes performs in Jawbone Canyon

This Sunday, a group of experimental music performers are gathering in Long Beach to support Belgian born touring artist Koonda Holaa. The event begins at 6PM in the Bungalow Art Center's Mondo Cinema Screening Room, located at 729 N. Pine Avenue, and features Ain Soph Aur, The Deglet Noor Fakirs, Actuary, and Amps For Christ (AFC).

For a variety of reasons, AFC's mastermind, Henry Barnes, is a central figure in this grouping, having worked with many of the featured artists. He's also a trailblazer. He was an important part of Man Is the Bastard [MITB], a pioneering hardcore punk band based in Claremont and, in that band, began to create unique instruments and hand built tube electronics emblazoned with 'Amps For Christ.'

Today, AFC vacillates back and forth between lilting acoustic folk tunes and face-peeling, feedback-laden high volume noise. Sometimes, he combines both to beautiful effect. This fearless exploration of sonics and genre prompted the L.A. Weekly to award AFC with the coveted "Most Uncategorizable Music" award in 2005.

"A lot of people playing [on Sunday] are connected with the venue that was in East Hollywood off of Melrose called the Il Coral. That is where I first met the Hop-Frog Kollectiv, and they were very supportive of experimental music. After that I went on tour from L.A. to Seattle with Koonda Holaa and it was fantastic. Carl Off [Ain Soph Aur] from Long Beach was always performing with Jeremy Morelock, [Deglet Noor Fakirs] who are both playing on Sunday! This is one of the reasons I think this coming show is so great. I became very close with all of these outsiders! In friendship and in artistic endeavors!"

Prior to joining MITB, Barnes was in a Covina based post-punk, pre-grunge band, The Dull but, even in high school, he was drawn to the magic of recording.

"I was always recording at home and I had been doing a lot of different styles of playing: High School Jazz Band, Hendrix-style trios, to Jug bands. My earliest roots are early American and British Isles traditional music through my Mom, who is a great Folklorist and was the first Poet laureate of the State of Maine . My Dad was the one who invited John Cage to come to Pomona College in the early 60`s."

All these influences, and more, are present in AFC.

"In MITB I played guitar and noise . Oscillators, and guitar through oscillators. I wrote about 1 out of 8 tracks. My parts were subtle but prevalent. I used a lot of low harmonics so, sometimes, it was like having three bass players! It was a Progressive band mixed with Hardcore. I loved that whole era because everyone was very open to new ideas, it was as far as you can get from corporate music!

"I learned a lot in that band! I learned about a new style of music to me and that was Hardcore. Eric Wood is one of the best writers of hardcore music and he mixed it with his progressive side and I mixed it with folk. It was powerful and never dull. We got to speak to mans inhumanity to man. Wood often reminded me of an orchestra leader and he was very strict.

"I built instruments and amps just for that band, and started writing Amps For Christ on them. It was a very expressive time. I also learned a lot about recording because I used my old 4 track reel to reel to record our first releases, and also some of the first Crossed Out (hardcore band from San Diego) records."

His hand built all tube electronics are not engineered to sound pristine. In fact, one could argue that the opposite is true. Still, there's a very clear intention.

"I love the sound of bagpipes so I try to make the strings act like them sometimes. The best oscillators in the universe are birds! I sometimes think of Mocking Birds but, other times, it is tractors and missiles!

"I am fascinated with beat tones, the note that is created by putting two other notes together, the dividing of frequencies by running them at each other. I also love Indian music so I build a lot of instruments that have a purposeful buzz to them which is called 'jawari' in Indian music. I am not opposed to standard concert pitch 440 hertz being the note 'A,' but I like the in-betweens better . I was watching some atonal music with other people and I saw people astral projecting from it!

One can make a case for the notion that Barnes' work has an unconventional spiritual component to it.

"I love Nature and physics, and looking at these things is the best way to get at the truth. Time traveling is in all of us: It is called imagination. I think there is something going faster than the speed of light in our blood and that is what gives us thought itself, not to mention memory and foresight. In humans, the fastest thing, as far as transcending time, is emotion. That is why emotion is so powerful. If you have the knowledge of what the Moon looks like you can travel there in your imagination, and it takes no time at all.

"As far as an ultimate power, a creator, I think there must be something in the form of alien beings that travel in time. Are there billions of alternate universes? Probably! There is definitely thought and knowledge behind our being here, in my estimation.

"Also everything is recorded by time itself. Time is the coupler. Every impulse to move a finger, or the movement of an electron around an atom, or a sub-atomic entanglement. It is all recorded! Maybe that is why I like recording music so much!"

Barnes works as a luthier at the legendary music Mecca called The Folk Music Center, in Claremont, but had to give a shout-out to a Long Beach institution.

"The only other instrument repair shop I feel is on par with us is World Of Strings, and they do some of the best instrument repair in the entire country!"

For the performance on Sunday, Barnes will be revealing new material, and a new instrument.

"I have some new songs. One, from some 6 months ago, is a bit prophetic, it says:

When the water starts to rise
Will we see through all their lies
Will it really be too late
When New York City is a lake
So we can all drive our cars
But we can not live on Mars....

However, the song ends happily, and in a hopeful vein.

"Also, I am going to bring a new instrument called the A-TAR that has 18 strings, some instruments that rotate with strings, and vintage cookie tins. I'll also have lots of amplifiers and oscillators, and my friend Franz Keller is going to be adding some very strong backgrounds on various electronic contraptions. So there will be actual songs and also some galactic explosions! Experimental music is the frontier for me now!"

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The show is taking place at the Bungalow Art Center's Mondo Cinema Screening Room, located at 729 N. Pine Avenue. A suggested donation of $5 is being requested, which will go to support the touring artist, Koonda Holaa. All are welcome, and none will be turned away for lack of funds.  

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