I met Barrett Clark for the first time years ago, at a small art gallery in downtown Oakland. My friend Nihar Bhatt was making his debut as a live electronic music performer, and Barrett had lent his sound system to the event, as well as his time and labor to operate it. (I learned this fact much later, and realize it was just one selfless act in a life defined by them.)
I struck up a conversation with Barrett outside the gallery, and talk immediately turned to music, as it goes with music geeks of a certain stripe.
As a lifelong fan of difficult music, I'm used to blank stares when asked “So what do you listen to?” Not so with Barrett. He was a consummate lover of the strange, the weird, the challenging, the unusual, the outré. Barrett knew and loved outsider music of all kinds, and waxed lyrical about it all with a big, goofy smile on his face.
To quote the words of the brilliantly talented Swedish crooner Jens Lekman, with whom Barrett toured, managing sound and audio, for years: "Barrett was one of the kindest humans I've ever met — a patient, caring, romantic goth kid who liked strange, dark music and all the beauty of the world."
Barrett, 35, was many things to many people: a devoted friend, a beloved partner, a brilliant musician, a community mainstay, and a peerless sound engineer. "Sound engineer" is reductive, as a matter of fact: Barrett was a bonafide philosopher of sound.
Long-time friend Tyler Green, who grew up alongside Barrett in Santa Rosa, sums it up: "Barrett grasped inherently where sound frequencies live, and how they interact with each other," Green says. "His knowledge was as deep as it comes. The right sound elements had their own space, and the elements that needed to blend did." Anyone can pick up technical knowledge, says Green, "but Barrett understood the artistry behind making live music sound truly great."
To Green, Barrett was more than a brilliant musician and sound engineer. He was an inspiration. "The first time I met Barrett, it struck me just how much of an individual he was," Green says. "It was fascinating and alien to me — and alluring at the same time, because I come from a conservative military family. As I got to know him over the years, one thing Barrett taught me will stay with me for the rest of my life: You can defy all the conventions forced upon us by society, be totally uncompromising, and still be a great person. Barrett was among the strongest, kindest, gentlest, and sweetest people I've ever met. The saddest part is that he was only getting better with time."
Within the experimental music community in particular, Barrett was respected and cherished. Tributes have poured in from some of the most revered figures in the scene. "Such a sudden loss is heart-wrenchingly sad,” say legendary British duo Chris & Cosey. “That we touched his life with our music is a privilege." Even Blixa Bargeld, the singular lead vocalist of German industrial music pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten, gave condolences to Barrett’s friends and family, remarking that his loss is a "terrible tragedy."
But for Barrett's close friend and fellow experimental musician Jay Fields, that is all beside the point. "Barrett was the next level — the next incarnation of those luminaries we all look up to," Fields says. "He was carrying the torch in the most humble, ego-free, delicate manner. We're now discovering his completed, unreleased music, almost a dozen albums' worth, and the music he was making in high school puts the big names to shame. That shows us how high his standards were."
Barrett's live-in partner, Valentyn Rosewood, remembers him as a devoted, loving partner. "Barrett was pure love, which he'd often remind me was something he learned from his parents," she says. He "loved deeply, fiercely, and was very protective."
Barrett and Rosewood met decades ago. "He told me this story over and over -- the first time he saw me, he knew he wanted to be with me forever," says Rosewood. "We kept finding our way back together. Sometimes with long gaps of many years in between, but we always found our way back to each other." He taught Rosewood "unconditional love and complete and total devotion," she says, adding that she will live her life "immortalizing his spirit by extending that same example to the loved ones in my life."
Fields has a photograph of himself with Barrett and fellow musician Michael Buchanan, taken by experimental artist Sean Dimentia the Wednesday before the Oakland warehouse fire. The four were meeting to plan the future output of the long-running experimental collective they co-produce called Katabatik. "I've looked at this photo a lot, lately, and I imagine him sleeping blissfully,” Fields says. “Rest in peace, my brother."
For more from Clark's label and soundsystem Katabatik, see the collective's Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages.
For more of our tributes to the victims of the Oakland warehouse fire, please visit our remembrances page here.
For a printable poster of the illustration above, see here.