Since late ‘90s, Jan St Werner and his creative partner Andi Toma have made some of the most awesomely fidgety, intensely digitally refracted, cerebral and celebratory dance music of recent times under the name Mouse On Mars.
Remixing – and reveling in – the disparate nature of their clients (The Pastels, the High Llamas, Ratatat to name but a few), Mouse On Mars can been seen as the playful Teutonic cousin to the poised craft of, say, To Rococo Rot. Collaborating with noted curmudgeon Mark E Smith on the Von Südenfed project furthered St Werner’s profile to the extent that he has resurrected his solo guise as Lithops to satiate his restless creative muse.
FACT caught up with St Werner on his travels to find out more about his most recent Thrill Jockey records-facilitated project, Ye Viols!, as he gave us an illuminating insight into his creative philosophy and practice. And zoology.
Where did the concept behind Lithops’ Ye Viols! come from?
“It’s a collection of tracks which have been used in the context of art shows, art films and performances. I edited the tracks, re-arranged them and made them tighter so that they would make sense as an album. The title indicates that the sounds have a purpose…it’s a kind of accompanying soundtrack for a renaissance group. Renaissance because it was a period where different forms of arts met science met literature etc to encourage a new humanistic world view. As all the sounds on Ye Viols! were derived from electronic sources, the association of a time long before the present seemed just right. A sound to connect different ways of looking at the world.”
It must have necessitated a different creative approach to your work with Andi/Mouse on Mars – did you find it a challenge?
“I prefer working in groups than doing solo work but as I constantly work on new sounds and sketches, I tend to have material which does not fit to any of my collaborative projects. There are also occasional requests to participate in art projects. I see those as collaborations, too but with partners who work in non-musical ways. So you can say that even the tracks on Ye Viols! is a collaboration of ideas.
“Working with Mouse On Mars is a productive routine which I can enter at any point. It’s not a problem to switch between those solo projects and my engagement in Mouse On Mars.”
Given the fact that this music was created to accompany artwork, is the music still ‘personal’?
“I always try to create non-personal music. I try to handle sounds in the best possible way to let them expand, interfere with other sounds, mutate or even be dysfunctional. I try to make music which challenges my perceptional conventions. I guess these presumptions are completely personal but my intention is to overcome the cliché of making other people hear “my song”. I rather make music which completely merges with its environment – not in a sense of ambient discreetness but as a maximum awareness for the situation in which the music is being performed.”
Tracks like ‘Handed’ and ‘Sebquenz’ stand up as great music in isolation/away from their original context. Was it intentional to have a collection of songs that did this?
“Sure! The idea was to compile a coherent album. Each track has a song structure: there are A, B and C-parts, recurring themes, bridges, breaks etc.”
Do you prefer curating sound installations to playing live electronic music?
“It’s true that don’t enjoy playing solo that much. I like dialogues; I want to be able to react. You can do that by playing solo, too, but as I’m happy to play regularly with Mouse on Mars I’d rather come up with other ideas for my solo appearances. Curating is a nice alternative to the production of musical material. You can claim a theme, discuss it with others, examine it from different points of view and watch it turn into something new.
“I also like to disturb my standards and question how to ‘do things right’. As a musician you usually record records and play live. I always liked artists who questioned these conventions. Music, writing, photography, gardening, ornithology all of this can be part of an artistic research. For me, the interesting aspects of art are about the questions you pose, the perspectives you offer rather than the genre you choose to belong to.”
Tell me about your label, Sonig, and Noiseroom.
“Sonig started out as an alternative platform for our own works but has become a completely independent label of its own. We’ve released over seventy records from international artists, mostly musical but also visual. Sonig has become part of a network of exotic artists from different backgrounds. Most recently Kevin Blechdom joined the roster. There are two new artist signings plus more releases from a&e from Paris and the Allophons, one of my favourite groups on Sonig. Frank Dommert runs the label on a daily basis from our office which is located in the back of Cologne’s A-Musik store.
“Noiseroom is a curatorial project which consists of an approximately ten hour long program of exclusive surround sound compositions from a heterogeneous selection of producers. There have been three editions so far. I conceived the room designs and directed the constructions. ”
What projects are on the horizon as and outside of Mouse on Mars?
“Mouse On Mars is currently working on new material for an album which will hopefully come out this year. We play regular live shows as a duo and trio and we will travel to Pakistan, India, the Emirates and Sri Lanka in March. In June I’ll be performing an open air composition in Italy which includes an array of street noises, church bells, acoustic instruments and electronic manipulations. There is also a quite noisy new project which is due to be released on Important Records sometime this year.”