TONI BROWN
HISTORY THROUGH JOURNALISM
Bob Bralove

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Bob Bralove
By Toni A. Brown

Bob Bralove joined the Grateful Dead technology team around 1987. His expertise in MIDI-technology was welcomed by the advancing technical format the Dead was adapting. Bralove became the man-behind-the-curtain, joining in the Drums/Space portion of Dead shows, as well as giving voice to Jerry Garcia's spatial meanderings and providing splices of soundscape through his MIDI-synthesizer throughout each show. His presence added many new dimensions to the Grateful Dead's musical horizon.

One of Bralove's latest projects is a duo with Tom Constanten called Dose Hermanos. They recently toured, completed a recording and participated in the West and East Coast Illuminati orchestral creations arranged by Joe Gallant, The Blues For Allah Project. As if that weren't enough, Bralove's band, Second Sight, recently signed a record deal and will release an album soon.

The articulate, soft spoken Bralove has been profoundly affected by the loss of Jerry Garcia, as we all have. The following interview updates us on some of his insights and projects.

What's your life been like since the loss of Jerry Garcia?

Bralove: It's a pretty heavy question. I've been going through a lot of emotional stuff. It has been a mixed event for me. Because of the pain of the loss, I have compensated by playing more music than I have in a long time, and these shows and the response of the audience, and being able to work with somebody like Tom Constanten who is so brilliant, sort of opened up a whole new world of musical expression for me.

There are lessons that I learned by being involved in such a glorious scene. I'm trying to practice every day, so it's like there's a coming through the other side of the pain that's happening. It doesn't happen all at once for me, but all this energy, I end up feeling that the Grateful Dead made it very easy for everyone to be creative. And it was a wonderfully warm and creative open place-and the creativity came from within every one of us-but they had this place where it could come out. And now I've realized the important thing is to find the creativity, though maybe it isn't as easy now. I have to work harder to find the ways to release my creative energy, but it's such a high that when you do it, everything seems worthwhile.

Did your time with the Grateful Dead affect your musical stylings?

Bralove: Yes. I think you get very spoiled with the Grateful Dead. You have an audience that expects you to take musical risks because they understand that the magic is in taking risk in live performance, stretching in ways that you never expected you could, opening up your whole being to the moment of the music, and when that happens, the audience always seems to know and that's what they're looking for. They understand as well that it's not a risk unless you don't make it sometimes. They understand the nature of risk, they understand what adventure is, the danger in adventure, that the danger is real. Things don't always click the way you want them to, and you're walking out on the edge and you stumble because there's real places to stumble. But when you land it, it's huge. In a lot of other environments, the audience is not expecting that. They don't want that from you, they want to hear the record. But that's not what's happening in this scene. People want to see that risk happen.

The Blues For Allah Project was very transcending, and from an East Coast perspective, there hasn't been such a communal feeling since our great loss. Joe Gallant did such an incredible job in bringing this together. Do you think the Illuminati concept will continue?

Bralove: Joe is brilliant. It's the charts, it's what brings everybody to a focus in such a short amount of time. It was a great experience. It was fun playing; it was fun being part of such a large ensemble. It's been a long time since I worked with that many people at once. It's a completely different kind of thing. Just a lot of wonderful ways that everybody was inspiring.

Do you feel you had room to improvise during the Blues For Allah Project?

Bralove: Yes, I found places I wanted to go. I think I learned because it was so new for me. I wish I was starting in the place I ended in terms of my approach, but someone said to me, "Well, life's like that!"

Even before the Grateful Dead changes came about, you'd been working on your own solo project, Second Sight.

Bralove: That's very exciting. We're closing a four-record deal, and I'm sure something will be out by the summer.

Second Sight consists of me, Henry Kaiser on guitar, Bobby Strickland on saxophone and woodwinds, Mark Van Wagenigen on bass and Paul Van Wagenigen on drums. And Vinnie (Welnick) sits in with us from time to time. It's so much fun to play with musicians that inspire you. That's what it's like with that band, and that includes Vinnie. It's such a joy to play with him. He's starting other projects and doing different things, so he can't make a commitment to the band on a full-time basis, but he joins us on half of the album and on some shows in the Bay Area.

Tour plans will solidify when we get closer to releasing the album.

What would you call the music Second Sight plays?

Bralove: I would call it a clear, modern psychedelic band that uses the improvisational styles of rock 'n' roll in songs, but we use a lot of references. Everybody is wired; everybody has samples and tricks up their sleeves. The interesting thing is it's probably because of my education with the Dead. Technology is never an issue, but the music is the issue. Everybody is wired to the gills. So it's very finely sculpted, and there's lots of room for everybody to improvise and speak and create personalities and tell stories. It's wonderful.

You have a release out with Tom Constanten called Dose Hermanos.

Bralove: T.C. is just the most unusual person I've ever met. Working with him has completely changed the way I play the piano. He has shown me ways to approach the instrument that are, for me, breaking fresh ground in terms of how I'm relating to touching the note. His hands are really agile, very sensitive; he plays with a huge dynamic range. It's a great education for me.

He comes over to my house overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and we play the fog in sometimes. I have a master's degree in composition, so I went through some of that twentieth century compositional training. We have similar references in terms of the Ives, Bartock, Debussey kinds of things, and we can draw on that. I can quote Stravinsky to T.C., and he knows how to respond to it. So he knows the tensions and the consonances and dissonances of a Stravinsky piece the way I do, and so if we get into that, we know where we're going. If it goes into rock 'n' roll, if it turns into jazz, [we can read each other].

You're actually educating your audience on an infinite scale.

Bralove: Could be, but I hope we're entertaining them.

If you can entertain and educate simultaneously, it's an ideal environment.

Bralove: It would be nice to think that, but I know I'm not a teacher (laughter).

What are your future plans?

Bralove: For me, the way to deal with this loss is to create. It's the only antidote. That's the only response to death that makes a difference to me, that makes me feel whole again, because you understand that through death there is rebirth and there's change, and the change is just something you have to adapt to.

Bralove has recently been performing with his band Second Sight in the Bay Area, having appeared at Palookaville in Santa Cruz, the Great American Music Hall and the Family Dog in San Francisco in recent weeks.

This article originally appeared in Relix Magazine, Volume 23 #2 (April, 1996).

Copyright 1999-2004 - Toni Brown

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