Darsombra: One-Man Guitar Army

Baltimore's Brian Daniloski finds inspiration for his electric guitar symphonies in an unlikely place

Brian Daniloski was surprised when he got a call from the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival asking him to write music for an upcoming production of Macbeth. Daniloski, after all, was best-known in the city for his decade-long tenure as a guitarist in the abrasive noise-rock/metal band Meatjack. That band had contributed the song "Upstart" to the soundtrack of John Waters' Cecil B. Demented, but they'd never had anything to do with the city's more upper-crust arts community. Shakespeare? That, Daniloski thought, was entirely out of his range.

"I said, ‘Are you sure you want me to compose music for Shakespeare?" Daniloski says. "‘You've heard what I do, right?'"

But it turns out Daniloski was the right man for the job. What he does is compose slow, cerebral but haunting music for solo guitar and a stack of effects pedals, loops, and studio tracking. His work is like a one-man-band interpretation of Glenn Branca or Rhys Chatham's electric guitar symphonies. It's nothing like what he did with Meatjack; it is, in fact, almost ideally suited for use as a film or theatrical score. But it's also engaging on its own, almost ambient but not quite—the droning, ethereal 17-minute "Nights Black Agents" slides by like a whisper, but the guitar workout on "Lamentings/Auguries" recalls the most fractured solos of mid-period King Crimson. Repetition is its essential element, but there's always something else going on, too—slight, slow tonal shifts, melodies buried under the weight of the layered tracks, tapestries of feedback and distortion.

"It's all guitars," Daniloski says. "All guitars and a lot of voices. I use a lot of delays, a little bit of looping. Sometimes I stack sounds, sometimes it's really minimal. I always wanted to have a full sound, so I ended up setting up a drone and laying everything on top of it."

Darsombra began as a side project. It was a way for Daniloski to counter the power-drill style his principle band demanded. Mostly it was a hobby; he played guitar at home and experimented with his rack of pedals, figuring out the kinds of sounds he could make, and exploring the possibilities of loops and multitrack recording. After a while, though, Daniloski realized that he wasn't the only person making music this way. As Meatjack started falling apart, Darsombra became his main project. (He's also recently started a guitar-and-drums duo.)

"I had this thing where I'd play and make some crazy sounds, and I thought "Okay, that's kind of neat,'" Daniloski says. "Then I saw that other guitarists and musicians, like Joe Preston in Thrones and Robert Fripp, were doing their one-man things. It was like what I used to do at home, but they were doing it in front of people."

As Darsombra, Daniloski released his first CD, ecdysis, in 2006. His next project was the Macbeth score, which—with some editing and re-arrangement—turned into the 2008 album Eternal Jewel. (The title comes from a monologue in the play's third act, in which Macbeth voices his murderous resentment of Banquo.)

"I took a bunch of it and juggled it and fleshed it out," he says. "When it was time to do an album, I thought I'd just put this out. I think it's some really amazing stuff, and a lot of it stands by itself as a Darsombra thing."