Photo: Press (Sebastian Mullaert)
Sebastian Mullaert is one of those artists that barely need an introduction. Whether as a member of the duo Minilogue, as WaWuWe or under his given name, the native Swede has carved out not one but several niches for himself. While his forthcoming album Natthall was produced together with Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchester, the prolific producer’s latest solo effort A Place Called • Inkonst from late 2019 had already seen him shift gears. The improvisational and site-related character of the LP is mirrored in his contribution to our Groove podcast, a recording from last year’s Garbicz festival. One and a half hours of Mullaert in his element, improvising freely yet never fully leaving the dancefloor behind.
Your latest album A Place Called • Inkonst came together during a residency at the cultural club of the same name, also home to the Kontra-Musik label. You deliberately positioned yourself in the middle of the dance floor while making music in order to achieve a “figurative role reversal between a dancer and performer”. Why was that so important to you and what impact did it have on the music you were writing at the time?
A Place Called… will be a continues series of albums in which I explore how a room, a space affect my creative expression. The vision for this series is to bring in my live gear and place it and myself in an audience’s perspective at different locations and rooms, and let improvisation take place. I believe we are always traveling through different rooms or dimensions, whether physical, mental or emotional ones. How do these rooms affect each other in the creative expression, how do the rooms affect the expression and how does the expression affect the rooms? I took my gear to the left-field music and art hub Inkonst in Malmö and spent six weeks exploring, jamming, improvising, and feeling. This album is the result from these jams. To me, this album sounds different to anything else I’ve done, I feel the urban city and the beautiful place of Inkonst when I listen to it now afterwards. If that’s just my own nostalgic attachment to the time at Inkonst or if there is truly echos from Inkonst embedded in the music I don’t dare to answer.
Normally, you work in a reclusive studio deep in the woods. Did the industrial environment at Inkonst along with all its acoustic idiosyncrasies change the way you were playing?
Yes definitely, my initial idea proved to be right in my opinion. Many different aspects affected me and the music; for example the room itself, the smell of club and all the memories that it triggered in my mind. And not to forgot the difference between playing on a big PA on full volume and playing in a perfectly tuned studio. I wanted to record this music with the same feeling as the audience who will dance to it, while actually dancing myself. I feel the album sounds much more urban than most other things I’ve done recent years also I feel a certain urban melancholy that I feel very connected with the life of Malmö.
After the residency at Inkonst had come to an end, you had about 20 hours of music. How did you narrow that down to a single album?
It was a combined listening effort by Kontra-Musik’s Ulf Eriksson, my manager Nikolay Seizov and myself.
The music is based on improvisation and you have made it clear that you tried to challenge yourself to try a different approach during the residency. What does it mean to improvise for you, however? Certain stylistic norms – say, a 4/4 time signature in dance music – or even technological frameworks – Western scales for example are quite literally hard-wired into most music gear – are hard to overcome.
When I improvise I don’t have an agenda to overcome anything and I don’t try to make something different. My approach is based on allowing what is and let the creative process guide itself. Certain limitations as the ones you suggested can often be great gateways for creativity to flow. One might think that what I just said would contradict the concept of this album, but for me it’s two different phases of the creative process. Step one is to place myself and prepare myself – in this case the concept – and then “forget” the concept and see what happens in the creative flow when I start to improvise. To improvise in this way is a very enjoyable adventure and I recommend anyone who’d like to express themselves to try it out. The art of improvising is beyond judgment so you have nothing to lose.
In 2018, you started the Circle Of Live project, inviting other producers to join you for collaborative jam sessions. You’ve drawn a parallel to jazz, however jazz musicians are usually limited to one instrument, whereas the producers involved in Circle Of Live have infinitely more possibilities. How do you prepare for these gigs and what does it take to keep everything together?
At our Circle Of Live jams, the artists come with very different set-ups. I have intentionally tried to invite artists with different approaches to play live to enable interesting situations. I also suggest the artists to try different ways of playing compared to when they play alone, also to just come with one or two instruments or to approach different moments of the jam with just one instrument. All these are just suggestions and possibilities, the main idea behind Circle Of Live is to open the door for creativity and free expressions by inviting in people without demanding anything from them. So for the Circle Of Live jams there are very few plans, often we start slow and soft just to create a first stepping stone and then we leave it open and free.
Your contribution to the Groove podcast is based on some recordings you made during your Inkonst residency. How did you select the material and how did you approach the mix?
Actually, I changed my mind about the mix! To honour the values of improvisation I chose a live recording that I made last summer at the amazing Garbicz festival in Poland. Some parts and sounds can be heard from the Inkonst album.
Nowadays, you mostly play live. Which role does DJing play for you?
In the past, I did a fare bit of DJing, which was a great way for me to tune in with telling a longer musical story for the dancefloor, but performing live has always been closest to my heart. These days I rarely DJ.
Last but not least: Where can we see you live or even behind the decks in the near future and what are your plans as a producer?
I’m just back from an wonderful America tour and next couple of months I have live shows at Berghain in Berlin, Bassiani in Tbilisi and a B2B set with Mathew Jonson at Fabric in London to name a few. In end of April I have the world premiere with my modern classical project together with the amazing Subchamber Ensemble during the Intonal festival in Malmö. I also have two new albums coming up. First, there is my modern classical album called Natthall, which is based material I recorded with the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. June will see the release of my first WaWuWe album, which will be out on the Swedish label HYPNUS. Many thanks for the interview, your support is deeply appreciated.
Stream: Sebastian Mullaert – Groove Podcast 243
No tracklist available.