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Textural Guitar-scapes [2014-12-30]

Veteran experimental guitarist Mike Fazio has been releasing his textural, freeform and improvisational music for upwards of 20 years now.  Decidely anti-promotion and fully willing to let his legacy disappear into time, it's not surprising if you've never heard his name, but any person who believes in the possibility of 'beautiful', liquid toned amplifier feedback would do well to investigate his droning sound projects, primarily released under the A Guide For Reason, orchestramaxfieldparrish and Fazio monikers.  Mike was kind enough to provide detailed insight into his outlook and process in this email interview.

m[m]:Who were your early inspirations and influences?Many different ones. I'd have to say in order of succession: MF:Beatles, Stones, Bowie, 50's and 60's bebop, music from old television shows, ambient, modern classical, British post punk. Miles Davis, Enrico Caruso, David Sylvian, Eno, Bill Nelson, a certain ratio, Dominic Frontiere, Krzysztof Penderecki, Steve Tibbetts, Phil Manzanera, Hafler Trio and Coil are all key in my artistic development, to name a few.

m[m]:Your music has a very live feeling, and sounds like it could be the result of many improvisations layered on each other. How do you begin work on a new piece? What are some general patterns of your process?                                                                                                  MF: All of what I released in the past 15 years are improvisations either by themselves like 'The Silent Breath Of Emptiness' or recorded over one another, without any forethought as to what will take place when I begin recording. The original improv acts as a template for any additional ones. There is an intrinsic magic involved in a process like this. It works, or it doesn't. The composer decides what to release to the public this way and has the foresight to make proper judgements (hopefully) of what merits a release, since I firmly believe not everything one produces warrants release and distribution. Approaching music as a preconceived written art form and then recording and producing for commercial consumption will always force the artist to try and release the end result onto a listening audience due to the time and money and personnel invested in the project whether or not it is artistically worthy of a release. Sometimes, a risqué thing in my eyes. The New York bands I was involved with in the 90's were involved with music with mostly strictly written parts and arrangements. Any music before that I contributed to such as Chill Faction, Copernicus and my first band AE were always improv based and finely honed to be structured for live presentation with like-minded fellow musicians as collaborative projects, which all worked beautifully. So I have been involved with both modes all of my life. I prefer improvisation and especially with other players, hands down.

m[m]:Are your sounds predominantly sourced from your guitar, in general? What is the sound source on works such as A Guide for Reason's "VII - VIII"?                                                                          MF: Most are electric guitar and pedal steel guitar in non-standard tunings, using mostly digital effects and analog overdrive effects joined in unorthodox ways. Lots of controlled amplifier feedback and howling. Hendrix started that with 'Third Stone From The Sun' so it's not exactly new. I could only imagine what he could be doing with modern technology if he was alive today. I try and keep synths to a minimum unless they intrinsically play a role in the project such as in Gods Of Electricity. Music I produce as A Guide For Reason and as Sonic Arts Society are both a mix of synth, processed guitar and mechanical sounds. I sometimes build mechanical scenarios from industrial and household materials and tape the results or will often find myself in industrial locations and will record the environment on a portable recorder and then process all that later.

m[m]:Do you prefer analog or digital gear? What are some of the devices commonly used to process your sounds? Were your albums recorded using a DAW?                                                                                   MF:I prefer digital gear and plug ins. I used tape recorders up until about 2003 but have been using a Metric Halo LIO and Digital Performer ever since. I think orchestramaxfieldparrish's 'Tears' and Jo Gabriel's 'Tinderbox' and 'The Unreachable Sky' albums were the last recordings I produced on any sort of tape with a 48 channel mixing desk.

m[m]:What differentiates your different projects? How do you decide what alias you will use? What are the meanings beyond ambiguous names such "orchestramaxfieldparrish" or "a guide for reason"?                                                                                                                                        MF:That's a deeply personal decision that gets answered when I'm actually recording and the music itself dictates which project it is. I think there is enough distinction within each of the projects now that warrant the nom de plumes. I don't wish to elaborate on my views on the names but would rather have the listener form their own thoughts and get what they may from them by actually listening to the recordings. Otherwise, I am forcing my opinions on a listener. Unfortunately, there seems to be about 100 other people out there with my personal name all vying for attention on the internet these days so the aliases make more sense to me. orchestramaxfieldparrish's 'Crossing Of Shadows' is very much it's own entity and A Guide For Reasons's 'Iconography' is it's own as well. The two are distinct individual artistic statements. Music should speak for itself rather than imposing any preconceived commercialism or so called 'marketability' onto a potential listener. I think the feedback I've gotten over the years from some dear friends have warranted this approach. I don't produce music for mass consumption, it's obviously meant for a small audience. I have been told that it's commercial suicide to produce music under so many different names since most people will not make the connection to me. Who cares! I've been doing this way too long to ever conform to others' ideals. I always try my best to move someone's heart and emotions in a most positive way with my music and it's always a joy for me to create. But, I do tend to have a dark and contemplative quality throughout, but never an evil one. 'Interiors' is definitely my darkest work, but it was done at a very bad time in my life and it was a natural outpouring of what was going on and the loss I endured. It's tense and disturbing and gives no answers, much like a bleaker atmosphere than Joy Division was but without any reference to their actual sound they had. It's definitely not for most people and it is intended not to be (just as Joy Division is not for everyone). But that's ok. I believe it has it's purpose.

m[m]:What became of your work pre-2000? Is it available anywhere?                                                                  MF: Some is still available on lp and cd if you look hard enough. Most was done for cassette and is pretty much gone. Some of it was never ultimately released by interested labels. Those old spec time label deals some musicians were lucky to land back in the day. In the 80's I did a series of cassettes of ambient and experimental guitar and would pass them around and drop them off at record shops and ask the owners to pass them on to those they thought would appreciate them and were buying something similar like a Fripp or Eno bootleg. The old D.I.Y. process in motion. One can't do that now since the record shops are gone. I guess today's equivalent is using Bandcamp's 'name your own price' feature, but it's not tied with someone's interests like the scenario I just outlined, therefore diminishing it's importance and the ability to reach those you want to who would appreciate a certain type of music. There are no real musical communities anymore, not even on a grassroots local level and most people are only concerned about their own well being today instead of strength in numbers to promote music, exactly the wrong approach. Myspace was great while it lasted but it's been reduced to a digital graveyard now.

m[m]:The voices sampled on your albums have a very familiar quality, yet I cannot place where I may have heard them. Do you care to disclose the sources of these?   MF: That would spoil the mystery if I did.


m[m]:Who do you find yourself listening to these days?                                                                                              MF:Lisa Gerrard's self-released 'Twilight Kingdom', Johannes Dimpflmeier's self-titled cd on the and/OAR label, anything and everything by Steve Tibbetts, Kip Hanrahan, Lech Jankowski, Ian Holloway and Alio Die.

m[m]:How do you derive the strength to move forward in life?                                                                         MF:Family and friends.

m[m]:You don't seem to take any issue with your older recordings being lost to time... Is this accurate? This strikes me as a realistic viewpoint, as any preservation or remembrance within culture would eventually disappear; your work would be only slightly less ephemeral as a result of recognition or re-issue. Still, I for one would love to hear them. Any plans for digital re-issues through bandcamp or some similar service?                                                                           MF:Sincere thanks for your interest but I doubt I would have the time to devote to reissuing anything from the 80's or 90's at this point. It would take quite a bit of effort and I'm afraid a lot of the versions I still have around are second or third generation copies and even with meticulous remastering on my part with today's technology, I'll know they are from inferior copies and that would ruin it for me and I'm sure for some listeners, so I would have to say that they are mostly relegated to the past.

MF:But I am looking into wav distribution for future releases though, even though most of my sales are sold as downloads now on iTunes and Amazon, I'm not a fan of mp3's or even FLACs for that matter and it seems like the cd format is unfortunately being forgotten by more people these days and vinyl is still only a fringe demographic, a mere shadow of it's heyday and worst of all, ever increasing shipping costs are becoming a real burden on small artists and small labels who wish to release vinyl but simply can't since they can't afford to take the financial risk. Even with the many benefits that the internet has given artists to reach people, the music industry is in flux now and declining due to streaming and cell phones, it doesn't work well for the artist anymore and probably won't for some time to come which is truly sad since I know some others out there have given up because of it. But I think wav files have a chance to succeed, although with them, one still does not have the tactile experience of holding an object in their hands and all of the rest that comes with it, but at least you get the full fidelity of what the engineer intended you to hear and I know there are many people who wish to hear full fidelity as opposed to inferior downloads if given the choice.

m[m]:It's good to hear people using DAWs for something so thoroughly devoid of quantization! I too enjoy the sound engine of Digital Performer and user-friendly workability of digital plug-ins. Do you prefer them for their ease of use, or do you prefer the sound as well?    MF:I've never used DAWs for their quantization. That's a foreign concept to me. I use them as tape decks and 9 times out of 10, I'll keep the mistakes in! I was very fortunate to work with traditional studio hardware for years and years so I know how they sound and what they can do in the right hands and some modern day plug-ins are spot on, some are terrible. Some are easy to use and some are difficult to dial in what you want them to do so they all run the gamut. You ultimately have to use them in several contexts and for long enough to find out if they work for you or not. I've even found free ones that are astounding, so there's some great ones out there if you look around. I still use hardware patched in front of or through a DAW though. It all depends on what I'm trying to achieve in sound design.

m[m]:You've said you prefer collaborative improvisations with other musicians, and yet all of the projects of yours I'm aware of are solo efforts, if I'm not mistaken. Do you have any current group projects? Do you often perform live? Have you ever thought of including anyone else's contributions in your solo projects?                                                                                                                       MF:At the moment my main focus is writing and rehearsing for a new live project in the works, as yet unnamed, with percussionist Thomas Hamlin who is a long time collaborator of mine and one half of Gods Of Electricity, which is one project of ours. The new music is nothing like the Gods material though. We plan on doing some shows if all goes well. There's a new Gods Of Electricity album as a three piece we did with David Conrad on upright bass, but I haven't mixed and mastered it yet. I've recently recorded again with Jo Gabriel for a movie soundtrack that came our way and we have plans to do more recording and a possible return to the stage, which we haven't done in about 15 years. As far as upcoming solo releases, there's the fourth A Guide For Reason album called "XIII - XIV" and one, possibly two new orchestramaxfieldparrish albums. Maybe some other things as well if time permits. I have on the rare occasion recorded with others for inclusion into my solo works but haven't released those pieces for one reason or another.

m[m]:What's your favorite / current guitar, and why do you like it? What kind of amplifiers do you commonly use?                                                                                                                                                             MF:My favorite guitar is a 1974 Gibson Les Paul Signature semi-hollow, an oddball Gibson model that no one really made famous. Sounds and plays more like an ES 345 than anything else. I've used this on all recordings since 1996 except for 'All At Once The Remote Go Forth My Soul And My Seeking, The Unknowable Becomes Known", on which I used a Klein chambered electric. I've also been using an old Breedlove CM Classic again for the new projects. Haven't used that since my 90's band Life With The Lions. I only use Fender amps, always did. I have two Custom Shop models that I use together in stereo, a Custom Dual Professional and a Vibroverb.

m[m]:I'm a huge fan of Alio Die and I certainly hear your 'layered improvisation' approach in his music. I like that you combine respect for spontaneity with a discerning ear for quality control when deciding what to release. However, as an improvisational musician myself I know that my ear and my initial opinion shouldn't necessarily be the final word. Do you ever revisit old recordings to see if your view on them has changed? Have you ever released something at the urging of friends who loved it?                                                                                                                                MF:I rarely listen to anything old that I've done but when I do, I always look upon them fondly. I'm glad I've done them and I don't ever feel I should redo them in any manner. It sometimes takes years for me to release something finally, so when I do, I'm at a point with it that I'm content with letting it go, out to others with no regrets. I value others' opinions on what I do and some things were indeed released from the urgings of others. It's a wonderful thing in life to have people around you that understand where you're coming from and give you encouragement for what you do as an artist. It makes it all worth while.
Thanks so much for your interest in my music. Best wishes.

Thanks again to Mike Fazio for doing this interview.  Most of his recent works are available for purchase through Faith Strange Recordings (

Josh Landry
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