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Clip: Lanterna

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  • Carl Z.
    Lanterna s vibrant echoes j. poet Sunday, April 16, 2006 Henry Frayne,
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 16, 2006

      Lanterna's vibrant echoes

      j. poet

      Sunday, April 16, 2006

      Henry Frayne, the guitarist who records under the nom de musique
      Lanterna, is slowly rewriting the rule book on instrumental rock,
      although calling his music "rock" doesn't really do him justice. In
      Frayne's music, you can hear bits of John Fahey's American Primitive
      Guitar -- flurries of rippling arpeggios, rich ringing chord clusters
      and long, sustained single notes that hang in the air buzzing like
      fat, happy bumblebees. There are also hints of Michael Brook's
      world-music influenced minimalism, a bit of new wave pop and an eerie
      drone that harks back to both Eno's first post-Roxy experiments with
      ambient music and Joy Division's dark synthesizer-accented dirges.

      "I have a talent for melodies and creating big, echoey, reverberating
      spaces," Frayne says, calling from his day job as an engineer at WILL,
      the University of Illinois radio station in Champaign-Urbana. "It's
      not that I don't like bands with singers, but I wanted to write songs
      that could stretch as long as they wanted to without having to worry
      about pop song structures. It may be a cliché, but I think of (my
      songs) as little movie soundtracks. That's why many of the songs have
      one-word titles: It's to give people a place to start. They can make
      up their own stories as they listen. It's always interesting to see
      the different ways people are affected by the same song."

      Badman Records, the San Francisco company that Frayne calls home,
      thinks so highly of his music that it created a new instrumental
      subdivision called Jemez Mountain. Lanterna's new CD, "Desert Ocean,"
      is the first release for the new label. Like Frayne's past efforts,
      "Desert Ocean" ranges far and wide to explore the possibilities of
      instrumental guitar music, mixing the familiar with his own singular
      vision. "Surf" actually has hints of surf guitar, but the wave the
      song rides is moving as slowly as a glacier. "Fog" sounds like the
      theme music for a sci-fi epic with a ghostly, shimmering guitar line
      floating over an ominous bass tone that seems to portend impending
      doom. "Venture," a track that comes close to being a traditional song,
      features Frayne humming along with some guitar work that brings to
      mind the jingle-jangle of early

      "I loved (R.E.M.'s) first three albums," Frayne says. "You couldn't
      understand a single word Michael Stipe sang; the vocals were just
      another rhythmic element in the mix. I have no talent for putting
      words together, but I love the texture that humming in the background
      gives to the music."

      Frayne builds his compositions slowly with the help of producer Mike
      Brosco and drummer Eric Gebow, whose inventive percussion work keeps
      things from getting too cerebral.

      "I did the basic tracks for the album with Eric over a long three-day
      weekend," Frayne says. "We hadn't gotten together to rehearse, so the
      music stayed fresh. We'd play a tune a few times, then do a take. Some
      of the tracks were built on first takes because flying by the seat of
      your pants gives the music a loose, natural sound."

      After the basic tracks are down, Frayne adds extra layers of sound
      using acoustic and electric guitars, bass and an old ARP synthesizer.

      "When I start filling out the sound, there's a process of trial and
      error to add the background ambience and figure out what works where,"
      he says.

      The process takes time, but Frayne says he's used to it.

      "My so-called career is usually in shambles before anything good
      happens," he says.

      Frayne had to wait five years for his first work as Lanterna to make
      its national American premiere. The music made a circuitous and
      time-consuming journey that spanned continents before finally showing
      up in retail outlets.

      "I was in an experimental pop band called the Moon Seven Times, adding
      atmospheric guitar parts to the songs that were similar to what I'm
      doing now," he says. "We made our first album six months after we got
      together, but due to record company politics, it didn't come out for
      three years. As that band wound down, I decided to take control of my
      music. I began working on Lanterna after buying an old leather-bound
      Italian-English dictionary and seeing the term 'lanterna magica,' an
      early kind of film projector. Then I met graphic designer Bruce
      Licher; he inspired me to put some music into a nicely designed
      handmade box as a limited edition of 400."

      For Frayne's first excursion as Lanterna, he composed 23 songs, enough
      to fill both sides of a 90-minute cassette. It was packaged as "The
      Lanterna Box" in 1992. The box sold modestly, but those who bought it,
      loved it.

      "Somehow a copy got into the hands of a guy in Greece who had a record
      company," Frayne says. "He put out an LP edition of 1,000. He sent me
      15 copies, then got into financial trouble and the other 985 copies
      got destroyed."

      Meanwhile, Frayne met photographer Kevin Salemme, whose mysterious
      photos of landscapes Frayne still uses on his albums. Salemme
      suggested using Frayne's music as the "soundtrack" to a collection of
      photos he was pitching to Rykodisc's fledging book division. Ryko
      passed on the book but offered Frayne a record deal. In 1997, the
      company released 17 tracks from the cassette box as "Lanterna"; the
      enclosed booklet included a generous selection of Salemme's photos.
      Soon after its release, however, Chris Blackwell's Palm Entertainment
      bought Ryko and Frayne's contract evaporated.

      "A few years later, a friend connected me with Dylan Magierek at
      Badman. I'd recorded 'Elm Street' back in '99 and felt like I was out
      of gas," Frayne says. "Then Dylan walked in from left field and saved
      the day. 'Elm Street' finally came out in 2001. 'Desert Ocean' is the
      fourth album I've done for him."

      Frayne often tours alone, soloing over loops he's created in the
      studio, but April 24 at San Francisco's Make Out Room and April 26 at
      the Attic in Santa Cruz, he'll be filling out his sound with two pals
      from Seattle, bassist Grant Badger and drummer Rob Lloyd.

      "They play in a duo called the Guitar Defamation League," Frayne says.
      "Grant is a very active bass player; he'll help move the music in some
      new directions."

      Lanterna and Trespassers William play at 7:30-9:30 p.m. April 24 at
      the Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St., San Francisco. $7. (415) 647-2888,
      www.makeoutroom.com. Also: 7 p.m. April 26 at the Attic, 931 Pacific
      Ave., Santa Cruz. $10. (831) 460-1800, www.theatticsantacruz.com.
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