October 18, 2018

A conversation with Mute State - Questions, answers and the Mute State philosophy 

A conversation with Mute State - Questions, answers and the Mute State philosophy

The Backstage team


Tao's beast of set up.

This week on Backstage we are lucky to have Tao Højgaard, aka the man behind Mute State. Tao’s musical background is so eclectic; it does not fit conventional genre boxes and his philosophical approach to music presents so much food for thought. His upcoming Low-Fi concert together with rapper Al Agami is a testament to that. The concept of the show is that the host chooses a book from her library. Tao interprets the title and book cover musically, and when he has nailed a definable vibe Al Agami starts freestyling and exploring the text, the music following him wherever he goes.
It would be an understatement to say that we are excited for this one.


How would you describe Mute State the project?

T: My aim is to create nonlinear music, or movement without movement if you will. Imagine you are looking at the surface of a pond. At first you might look at your own reflection, after a while you notice the reflections of the clouds. You dwell at their shapes and movement behind you. Now you shift your focus to the surface itself with all its rippling activity, a leaf might come sailing by. Eventually your gaze will penetrate the surface, now you might be looking at the bottom, noticing the sandy texture, the movement of plants etc. None of these elements ever seizes but are constantly in effect and in constant relation to each other – were you to be there experiencing this microcosmos with someone else, his or her experience would be different from yours, not in terms of taste and preference because those will be irrelevant, but in the order and nature of what caught your attention and what you brought into this environment yourself. I have dreams about achieving this in my music, and that is what the Mute State project is about.


When listening to your music the element of improvisation is clearly there, but it is not as clear what was written before and what was improvised, could you unveil some of the work processes in both live and studio work?

T: Initially everything is improvised, you see I only use computers as a recording tool, that means that everything is built in the here and now with the guitar and samples of speech being processed and looped to oblivion with a bunch of guitar pedals. The big difference between live and studio work, is that when I am playing live every decision counts in the overall expression “I did that, I made that sound right there, and whatever comes next has to relate to that” that takes an enormous amount of mental presence in what you are doing. In the studio, I have the possibility to go look for a certain tension or expression without worrying about what the search for it might sound like. That means that studio work holds great significance in finding new techniques and stuff to play live, in reverse my live sessions helps to preserve the element of immediacy in my studio work.


"I no longer see jazz as a specific sound or genre but as a fundamental set of values, an approach to creation if you will – jazz is not how it sounds jazz is how it is made."


You have a background in the European punk scene in the nineties as well as a long ongoing career as a jazz instrumentalist, it seems rather a big leap, how did that leap come about and do you draw from these backgrounds in your electronic music?

T: Well yes I was a part of the punk community, and that was my base when I rediscovered jazz. Musically punk is about energy, an immediate burst of energy with a strong element of nihilistic aggression, however this high-octane aggression-loaded burst of energy was only a part and certainly not the whole of my musical ambition, so I began to feel restrained. I had always been intrigued by jazz and felt a kind of homecoming when I started to look into it – you see in jazz you are allowed to express any emotion right when you are feeling it. You are making up a story in which you can make all sorts of twists and turns along the way without any regards to musical genre or basic values of a particular style. Today I no longer see jazz as a specific sound or genre but as a fundamental set of values, an approach to creation if you will – jazz is not how it sounds jazz is how it is made. Punk merits are still very valuable too and one important lesson to be drawn from punk is to allow yourself to explode – or implode as the minimalist´s equivalent, well let´s just say that punk represents courage in creativity. On a more technical level the bass lines of metal often holds a tension not unlike the tension in the augmented chords you´d find in jazz, and that is interesting to an electronic artist. Electronic artists tend to see themselves as making huge paintings with sound, and in that regard I am no exception – taking that big fat color of a metal bass line, making it coexist and relate to a certain vibrancy or subtlety of a processed chord or field recording, that demands presence, and going with it demands courage, and there you have it – jazz and punk really do go hand in hand (laughs).


Your alias “Mute State” seems a contradiction, why would an artist with sound as his field emphasize a mute state?

T: You just won’t get to the core of anything if you never stop to listen. When you are reflecting, you are debating yourself, and everybody hates to debate someone who does not know how to listen. Mute State should be seen as a celebration of “stopping up to listen” the common condition for both artist and audience on which a performance can evolve into art – individually perceived by all of us, but we agree in silent knowledge that it´s there, a social mute state which elevates the experience into an experience of art.


Did you have any particular influences that turned you on to electronic music, and does your electronic endeavors hold any significance to you as a jazz player?

T: What let me on to electronic music, was an assignment to compose the music for a documentary. The director of the documentary asked for suspense but didn´t know for how long she would need that suspense to hold as the movie was not yet in the editing phase, that let me on to some very inspiring experiments on minimalism and how to imply different moods just from modulating a single layer. These experiments taught me quite a lot and I was hooked, I think they turned me on to values in music which I never knew existed, and I think they have helped me grow as a composer and instrumentalist and maybe especially so as an artist. After being let on to these new musical values I started to check out all sorts of electronic musicians and found a wealth of inspiration, and equally important I began to hear those new values being in effect in all the old jazz recordings I knew so well – Miles Davis being the paramount example.

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