Playing on the Moment's Edge
by Anil Prasad
Last February, the Reuters news service ran a story that asked "Is there dark matter in this galaxy?" The piece described dark matter as that which "cannot be seen by conventional means but which makes its presence known by its effects on gravity." While the existence of dark matter is a topic of heated debate amongst astrophysicists, five renowned Bay area musicians have used the abstract concept as a very real springboard for a spatial odyssey in improvisation.
Dark Matter is the title of the debut CD from that quintet. Known as Cloud Chamber, the group is comprised of guitarist Barry Cleveland, bassist Michael Manring, bowhammer cymbalom (a Hungarian hammer dulcimer) player Michael Masley, cellist Dan Reiter and percussionist Joe Venegoni. The disc is an entirely improvised, all-instrumental outing that eschews conventional musical thinking in order to pursue spontaneous and unpredictable directions.
Cloud Chamber straddles many genres, styles and moods in its free-spirited and sometimes epic-length explorations. The group incorporates elements of world music, jazz, classical, ambient, noise rock, progressive rock and even a touch of punk angst. Featuring shades of Frank Zappa, Dmitri Shostakovich, Brian Eno and late-60's Miles Davis, Dark Matter possesses an unclassifiable sound that truly embraces the idea of music without borders.
The group's musicians have shared the same aural gravitational pull throughout the '90s. The genesis of their musical relationship goes back to a Bay Area musical retreat known as 'The Lodge.' From early 1991 until the mid-90s, The Lodge was home to a series of improvisational music gatherings featuring virtuoso players from around the world. Cleveland, Manring, Masley, Reiter and Venegoni were regular participants in those sessions, the first of which was recorded for Echoes, a program aired on many National Public Radio stations across the United States. Elated at the possibilities of taking their improvisational leanings to the next level, the fab five decided to form Cloud Chamber in 1995.
Cloud Chamber's members all possess an accomplished and varied track record. Cleveland has released two critically acclaimed discs of intricate, processed guitar soundscapes. Manring is acknowledged by many as one of the most innovative players to ever pick up an electric bass - something his four solo recordings and collaborations with Michael Hedges, Alex Skolnick and Henry Kaiser attest to. Masley and his one-of-a-kind shimmering, spectral cymbalom sound graces several solo releases, as well as famed albums by Ry Cooder and Garbage. Reiter's career has been equally diverse, having performed as principal cellist with the Oakland Symphony Orchestra and on recordings by legendary Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan. Venegoni also has several CDs to his credit and has composed music for several independent choreographers and dance companies including Janice Garrett and The Gash/Voight Dance Theatre.
Â© Copyright 1998 by Anil Prasad. All rights reserved.
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Barry Cleveland (guitar), Michael Manring (bass), Michael Masley (bowhammer cymbalom, original instruments), Dan Reiter (cello), Joe Venegoni (percussion)