Markus Mehr has just released his epic new album In, the follow-up to his critically acclaimed solo debut Lava, and the first in an ambitious yet perfectly realised trilogy, completed by the forthcoming On and Off. Markus chatted to video artist Stefanie Sixt about his music, her visuals, and their ongoing collaboration. Check at the bottom of the interview for competition details.
Markus Mehr: Although I work with you, Stefanie, I’m not physically with you when you start to collect material and ideas to generate the visuals for our collaboration. Please tell us more about this process and your approach on my piece ‘Transit’ (featured in part three of the trilogy, Off, to be released in January 2013)?
Stefanie Sixt: Well, the process is always dependent upon the subject and the sound. In the case of ‘Transit’, it all started with research about life, death and the question of a spiritual life after. Posing a thousand philosophical questions and reaching almost no answers, I had to make a decision about how to visualise an abstract field.
During my walks in nature with my dog, Sanzcha, I started taking fuzzy black-and-white photographs of light reflections. I’m using animation to create new worlds out of the footage, which in most cases aren’t reminiscent of the original shots at all. Turning the world upside down – that’s fun! Not everything is what it seems to be. We are just some narrow-minded humans, trying to understand a bit more of the world. Speaking of understanding, how did you get the idea to create a 50-minute piece comprising one repetitive mantra? Didn’t you worry that it would bore an audience to death?
MM: ‘Transit’ actually comprises two different themes, so the piece has an A/B/A/B/A structure. By the time we were talking about collaborating on a new performance, I was working on a piece of music that would later become the B section of the composition. This particular part perfectly fitted what we’d been talking about in terms of theme. It’s the harmonic, bright and friendly part of the track. It loops around itself very slowly. I call it an electronic canon! Cyclical sounds or patterns are something you can find in almost all of my music, especially In, On and Off.
SS: What prompted you to use your toothbrush to create sound?
MM: A sense of fun and curiosity! I’m still fascinated by people like Keith Rowe, for example. He experimented with using things on the guitar; I tried something on my own. Devices like shavers or ventilators held over a guitar’s pick-up can do some really interesting things and create nice noises. Combining these two patterns turned out to be my inspiration on ‘Transit’. However, in comparison to ‘Komo’ (from In) or ‘Synchron’, the work on the live version of ‘Transit’ was a much closer collaboration between the two of us.
SS: On our first project, ‘Cousteau’ (from Lava), we worked pretty much on our own until we got on stage.
Now we’re influencing each other while we’re creating the piece and rehearsing the performance. It’s much more complex, I would say. In your opinion, what do the visuals add that music can’t express?
MM: For our live performances, the visuals are very, very important. It opens up new dimensions, intensifying and deepening the viewer’s emotional response. Our work together is really falling into place. Not all visual work fits my music – and vice versa. However, when it comes to listening to my albums, the music has to stand on its own. My approach is to offer a package of sound, sometimes brutal and distorted, sometimes moody, melancholic and relaxed, when we play live. But following up on my first question, the visuals on ‘Transit’ have a very clear, almost technocratic appeal, but without being cold.
SS: Maybe it’s due to the origin of the visuals – it’s all organic. Within the process, the technocratic aspect is added. In the end, this might evoke the emotions people tell us about. Your sound compositions are similar, aren’t they? Even though your sounds sometimes build up into pure noise, there’s always enough melodic space to sink into. That’s why I’m into your music.
MM: Very often the starting point is a musical phrase I found somewhere. Most of the time a harmony or melody attracts my attention. Once I’m attracted by a phrase I start to play around with it and see if the idea for a piece emerges. A lot of the time I do reject things because nothing comes up at all. But when an idea starts to work, the excitement builds. Arranging, distorting and playing around with the fragments is a very satisfying part of the process. It becomes easy, once you have a vision. I hope people will like it.
SS: I’m convinced they will. Your music is like a dialogue, an inner journey. It’s awesome to add my visuals to your music, taking the audience even further on this audiovisual trip.
Markus Mehr’s new album In is available now in limited edition CD and digital formats from the Hidden Shoal Store. We are also offering a CD copy of Markus Mehr’s Lava for one lucky winner. All we require is for you to tell us the name of the 2nd track on Mehr’s latest release In. Send your answer to contact[at]hiddenshoal.com with “Markus Mehr Competition” in the subject line. You’ve got until April 21st, 2012.