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  • Müesk

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    • Hot on the heels of the release of “So Far”, we catch up with the electronic composer behind Müesk, Steve Mueske, to chat about Electronica, Microtonal compositions, and the awesomeness that is his new album. As a collection, it represents years of inspired work. As ever, Steve’s work is of the highest quality. Showing a master at work, “So Far” simply shines. So Far is a joy to listen to and a must for fans of electronic music.

      Web Site: https://muesk.wordpress.com

    Yep, it’s our awesome interview with Müesk, aka Steve Mueske, inspirational Electronica dude and microtonal composer, poet, and all round nice guy....




    Interview Q & A



    You describe your music as “Electronic Music, somewhere between ambient and avant garde” and that you see yourself as a refugee from the progressive music scene. You have also described the process of change as that of a “reinvention”. Was it a deliberate, directed redefinition of your art or was it more of a gradual evolution?



    I grew up listening to metal. In my teens and early twenties I wrote progressive heavy metal and played gigs with metal bands in the upper American Midwest. It was fun, but not sustainable, partly because it is a niche market and partly because we played all original music and were not signed. I got married, went to college and then grad school, but found that I really missed making music. In the early 2000’s, technology was making the computer-based home studio a reality. I wanted to do something completely different than I had before (I didn’t want to rehearse 4 - 5 hours per day and drive 300 miles for gigs), so I jumped into making electronic music. Of course, my focus has evolved, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. The past few years, I’ve become interested in a lot of the pioneering work of artists like Ussachevsky, Dockstader, Xenakis, and Chowning. The early practitioners actually had to invent the methods and principles we take for granted for every day. we live in a very exciting time, musically.



    You have a collection of your works available through Pink Dolphin Music. Can you tell us a bit about the release?



    It’s a retrospective collection of 29 songs created between 2002 and 2017 that covers material from my first two albums plus seven uncollected tracks. It is available on limited edition double cassette, digital downloads from Bandcamp, iTunes, and streaming sites such as Spotify, Deezer, and Apple Music. With the exception of a handful of songs, it’s pretty much everything I’ve done in the past 15 years.



    This is your first release through Pink Dolphin. Can you tell us how that came about?



    I’d had a bit of bourbon one night and decided to send Rich (the label owner) a demo of a recently completed song through Pink Dolphin’s account on We Transfer, just to see what his reaction would be. In the comments I mentioned that I was an independent artist with a few albums and seven new tracks and tossed some ideas out, one of which was doing a retrospective. I’ve been in a kind of gathering phase and the idea of releasing the bulk of my work in a unified collection really appealed to me. To my delight and surprise, he liked the idea and has been very supportive.



    Of those works, do you have a favourite? If so, can you pin down why it is your favourite?



    I suppose my answer will change based on mood, but there are a few pieces that were very challenging to create. “Entropy’s Song” comes to mind because it is written in 26 ed3 (an octave and a half divided into 26 steps), is in an odd time signature, and was very labor intensive to create. There was one part, for example, I generated about three dozen chords, cut them up in an audio editor, loaded them into a sampler, then routed them to different tracks, where I could process them with different effects, panning, levels, and so on. Another part uses drum track sequences of different lengths to create a kind of simple polyrhythm. 


    Because the guiding aesthetic was decay, I got a chance to play around with saturation, distortion, bit reduction, and such. Hopefully, a lot of that is transparent to a listener. Half the fun of doing this kind of music is trying to see what is possible. The struggle, of course, is that no two songs have the same architecture. I have to discover how to create the song as the song is being created. From a sound design standpoint, “She Dreamed the Swans” was a huge undertaking. In that piece I wanted to create a disturbing sense of otherworldliness; part of the design aesthetic, inspired by tape music, was to mimic the sound of loops without actually using loops.



    She Dreamed The Swans



    Do you have plans for any future releases?



    I don’t have anything definitive, but I am working on a series of pieces I’m calling my RTM series. I would like to release them at some point as an EP. At some point, too, I would like to return to my roots and mix a heavy aesthetic with something more contemporary -- maybe a post-industrial metal ambient kind of thing, I don’t know.



    When you create music, what is your personal purpose or goal?



    The most important thing for me is that it has to have artistic merit. It has to feel authentic, grow organically, and explore territory I haven’t been to before. My hope is that for listeners it encourages a kind of lucid dreaming. I often get comments like “that would be great for a movie soundtrack or video game,” which I find interesting. Ideally, I would hope my music could be the soundtrack for your own private daydream or adventure. Each piece is short and focused thematically enough to invite a short adventure or reverie. I want each piece to be progressively more challenging, but not so esoteric that it exists in isolation and alienate listeners.



    What draws you to your genre?



    I’m not really sure what genre I work in. What keeps me interested in electronic music is the limitless world of sound to learn and explore. I’m not bound by a typical song structure other than my desire to keep pieces relatively short. I like texture, I like learning. I like juxtaposition, playing with sound. In fact, probably two hours of every session is dedicated to “play time.” This is valuable because it fills my mind with ideas. Even if I don’t use something right away, the seed is planted and will grow at some future point.



    The realm of possibilities is limitless; sometimes I’m just in awe of the tools we have available.



    You have created a number of microtonal or xenharmonic pieces, ie pieces using a tuning and scale other than the

    standard Western 12-tone temperament of pitches. What first attracted you to alternative tunings? What is it

    about microtonal that makes it such a fertile ground for you?



    I’m not sure what first attracted me to alternative tunings, but I started gravitating to the music of Carlo Serafini, Sevish, Skiks (Bruce Hamilton), City of the Asleep, J.L. Smith, and others, and found a group on Facebook called the Xenharmonic Alliance where alternative tunings are regularly discussed. A lot of the mathematics and such goes over my head, but these tunings – and there are thousands and thousands of them to start with – provide new emotional colors, an enhanced and extended chord palette, different constraints for chord progressions and inversions. I guess what I like the most is the sense of being lost, the bewilderment of being on a frontier that is so alien to everything I understand about music.





    If we were to peek over your shoulder, what does your studio look like? What gear do you typically use?



    My studio setup is pretty minimal. It’s just a spare room in my house – a PC, two 77-key Roland A-37 and 25-key M-Audio Oxygen MIDI controllers, Adam A7 monitors, Sennheiser headphones. I do everything in the box, with a variety of DAWs, standalone processors, samplers, and plugins. The music is programmed and manually automated in Reaper, Renoise, and Sonar. I used to use Reason a lot in the early days, and just recently upgraded to the new version. A lot has changed since the version I last used. Each of these programs I use for different tasks / reasons, and the approach and architecture varies widely from project to project. I have a little toy Frankenstein, affectionately dubbed, The Reverend Frank N. Stein, who presides over everything. I used to have a small wizard, but he’s been lost for many years.



    What sets your music apart? What is unique, or at least uncommon?



    That’s a difficult question. I guess what I do doesn’t really fall into a neat genre / subgenre category. It doesn’t follow conventional song structures, per se, but it is also not so “out there” that it is inaccessible. I try to create music that is interesting and listenable and encourages the mind to wander and explore.



    Hopefully, what makes it unique is my mind and personality.



    What is your biggest musical challenge?



    I have a few challenges. Each piece always presents a new set of circumstances, a new set of problems to solve and ideas to explore. As someone who suffers from depression, it is very easy to get discouraged or become overwhelmed. Trying to cultivate a sense of curiosity and interest is one of the things I keep investing time and energy in.



    You are also a published poet. What is your favorite published poem?



    Some of my favorites are as much for the journey of creating them as for the pieces themselves. One that I particularly enjoy is a piece called “Two Reliquaries” which was published in Water~Stone Review in 2010 and then reprinted in an online anthology about dreams. It’s basically a diptych culled from dreams. The first section is from a series of dreams I had about a place called Nowhere, the second from a dream about survival and love in a post-apocalyptic world.



    Is there a symbiosis or synchronicity in your musical and poetic expression?



    Yes and no. They are completely different things with different approaches and mindsets, but I guess the  guiding aesthetic is similar. There is a need to cultivate and balance a sense of active creation along with surrender or listening. The poems take a much longer time to finish – some have taken as much as ten years or more. As of yet, there has been no interplay between the two, though people have often asked me if it is something I have interest in or will one day do. I have thought about it, but I’m not sure what the approach would be. I’m not interested in writing lyrics for these pieces or simply plopping a poem to a soundtrack. It would have to be something completely different, something hybrid. Maybe I’m overthinking this, I don’t know. I guess, at some point I will probably try something that unifies the two.



    Your current music project is a series of pieces that focus on rhythm and transmutation. Can you tell us something

    about that?



    This is the RTM series that I briefly mentioned earlier. I have one piece completed and am significantly into a second. It is focused primarily on rhythm, rhythmic elements, rhythm transformed into melody, melodies transformed through sound design into texture. Again, I hope that the end result is transparent to the listener, but I find that a guiding principle or aesthetic often serves as a useful guide. The pieces use alternative time signatures and the idea is to work with minimal elements and through layering and repetition create a sense of unification and movement, for example, reusing a short rhythmic phrase with different reverbs and panned in different places.



    Your work has been predominantly personal exploration. Would you like to collaborate with anyone? If so who,

    and why?



    I have collaborated with a few people, most notably J.L. Smith, who co-wrote “Entre Nous” with me, and Manny Marx, who cowrote a track called “Epiphany’s Moment,” which was released on a compilation of one minute tracks called Gone in 60 Seconds, Vol. 4, but is not included on the retrospective. Most of the collaborations I’ve tried, however, have failed for one reason or another. There are problems such as different OSs, DAWs, aesthetic concerns, time and availability, division of tasks, and so on. I’m always open to the idea, though. I think it would be great to do a short, focused EP with someone who has similar interests.



    Have you considered exploring visual art, especially that of videos for your music?



    I am, but I’m not sure that I’d be good at it. I don’t really have the drive or curiosity to push that pursuit in meaningful ways. It’s always in the back of my mind, though. Probably because I love interesting visual images.



    Given your lower visual art drive, and other demands on your time, would you perhaps consider working with a video artist on a collaborative venture? If so, what kind of video works do you find yourself attracted to?



    Don't get me wrong, I love art. My Twitter feed is filled with paintings and photographs. Collaborating with a visual artist would be very interesting. There is an organization called Motionpoems that pairs poets with filmmakers to make short pieces, and there is usually a soundtrack for those created by a group called Egg Music. I go to the premiers at The Walker Art Center and they are always amazing. So, yeah, something artistic and different.



    Can you offer any advice to our readers?



    Believe in yourself, even if it seems no one else does. Honor your art. Honor your craft. Open yourself to  the Universe and its endless possibilities. Flaws are good. Imperfections are good. The important thing is to be true.



    You can get your copy of “So Far” here...





    Or for cassette/digital:





    Other Useful Links


    Twitter: @SteveMueske

    Instagram: @stevemueske


    Steve Mueske on Patreon

    Edited by john

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