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interview: Markus Reuter

By Anthony Garone

Composer, touch guitarist, and ambient musician from Germany

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Be sure to check out our June 2017 follow-up interview with Markus.

Interview video

Interview Audio (Podcast)

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Special Thanks

Special thanks to Lucas Lee  for doing the transcription of this interview! Lucas Lee’s studio albums featuring Pat Mastelotto  (King Crimson) and Stick Men with Tony Levin and Markus) and Tobias Ralph  (The Crimson ProjeKCt, Adrian Belew Power Trio) are now both available at CDBaby. I love that people want to help with the work of this site. Thank you, Lucas!! If you’d like to help out with the site, let me know.

Some Context

After I attended the Guitar Circle introductory course in Mexico in February 2015, I made a lot of new friends on Facebook. Then, I started hearing a lot about this Markus Reuter guy, seeing him pop up in interesting discussions and seeing my new friends praising his music. Turns out, he’s a very, very experienced GC participant with a unique take on composition, performance, etc.

Don’t know who Markus Reuter is? Check out his website! 

A few hours into research, I saw that he’d basically invented a new kind of guitar called the Touch Guitar , wrote a stunning orchestral ambient piece called Todmorden 513  based on a combinatorial algorithm that generated all sorts of sequences and chord structures, and had a super-unique take on music as a whole.

It became immediately obvious that he was an ideal candidate for a MWM interview. Enjoy this no-holds-barred conversation!

Interview Transcript

A: Hi this is Anthony from MakeWeirdMusic.com and I’m here with Markus Reuter, all the way from Berlin. Markus, thank you for joining us.

M: Hello.

A: The site is about discovering new artists and expanding your creative horizons. You’re a very creative musician. Can you tell us about yourself and how you got to where you are today?

M: Well, that’s a very good question. Somehow I got motivated in my very early teens to become a musician but the word “musician” really isn’t big enough to describe what it’s about, what I’m doing. It’s more like I’m trying to find something that I want to hear. It’s like I have this vision inside me that I somehow feel driven to find what that vision could be in the real world. So it’s been a very, very long process.

It started, I think, when I was around 9 or 10 years old. Even now at almost 44 years, I feel like I’ve only just started. This feeling of always being uncomfortable where I am as an artist is part of what’s driving me. So the worlds that I’m looking for with my music are undiscovered worlds. So speaking of “weird music,” I believe that there’s still a lot of uncharted territory in music, even though some people believe that everything has been said or done. I think that’s just plain stupid, to tell you the truth. Especially with the western system , the 12 notes of the chromatic scale  we use, I think there’s still so much more to be said, because almost 100 years [ago], the knowledge was at a high point, really, and then disintegrated a little bit. We had the whole, let’s say, rock n’ roll, pop music thing happen.

I think we’re at a time now where things start to fuse again. So, there’s all the knowledge of rock and the classical, combined with what used to be called punk, the DIY scene and stuff like that–experimental music. I think we’re in a post-modern time where experimental music and experiments really do not lead to new results anymore.

So what I’m trying to do is fuse, to build a bridge between old knowledge and new technologies–a new knowledge, you could say. But it’s really–I could go on talking about it on an abstract level or we can really speak about something specific and I can explain what I mean.

A: Well, you said you get uncomfortable and you try to dislodge yourself from that comfort. What are some of the things that help you to recognize that you are comfortable? What are some of the things you do to dislodge yourself from that comfort?

M: Mainly, it’s interesting because what does make me feel comfortable is if I don’t understand. If I get the feeling that there is something that I don’t understand that makes me happy. That makes me feel comfortable. Because for me, the world is boring. The world is extremely boring.

Let’s just stick to the music, you know. I’m looking for states that make me feel uncomfortable and that means that’s the music that I haven’t heard. That’s like, for example, with my main band, Centrozoon , which is a German/Swiss project. We have this rule that whenever we hear something we played that we don’t like, that’s what we’re going to explore. If we’re recording, we’re not keeping the things we like. We throw those out but we keep those that we don’t like. We put those recordings out and we treat them like the most beautiful children. That’s one way of raising something new. Things that aren’t beautiful. Things that you don’t recognize right away. Things that you actually nurture and then kind of at a later point, in hindsight it becomes beautiful.

I think it’s the same with a lot of music, especially with looking at the biographies of a lot of the artists that have been discovered when they’re long dead. So it’s really about finding something that hasn’t been said. For me, that really includes that when I’m writing music or creating music, I do want to find a music in a language that no one has heard before.

A: You talked about vision. You sound more of like an artist using music to manifest that vision than somebody who explicitly chooses music out of a love or adoration for the craft, in a way. Can you talk about how you came to find music to create that reality of your vision?

M: The word “vision” has nothing to do with being visual, you know? It’s not something that’s represented in the sense of vision and it isn’t even represented in the sense of hearing for me. It’s really about states of emotions, feelings–and even that doesn’t really cover it. It’s almost like a sixth sense kind of thing, there is something that I do want to capture. So really, how did I discover that music or sound is the medium? I think the answer is very simple. Sound and vibration is the ultimate medium. It’s what the world is made of.

My understanding of the world, my worldview, is that everything’s a vibration. You can basically track everything down to vibration. You break it down again, but it’s all vibration. That’s why musicians or people who manipulate sound are basically–and let me just use this word carefully–are basically gods, you know, just in the sense of the word that you’re creating the materials that have been used in order to build the world. So that’s why music really is, for me, the most fundamental art there is. Even though other arts plug into the same thing. Music is the most basic, the most simple, the most important, I would say.

A: So you talked about how everything is a vibration and that music is a very basic fundamental thing in the world. Your ambient music and a lot of your music doesn’t seem to follow a traditional song structure in the rock or western sense of intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge, that kind of thing. Do you feel that that’s a layer that’s been added that’s unnecessary or that you have worked through that and come to understand music differently in a way above or in parallel to that?

M: Yeah, I mean… the idea that musical pieces should be structured into sections–or that you are repeating sections and stuff–that’s really what I call “songwriter music” where the approach is to tell a story that’s usually also told with words. So in a way, the music becomes a secondary thing. I don’t necessarily mean in quality, just in terms of the message.

So yes, I have worked with those structures in several projects–things I have produced and also my own projects–and I’ve come to realize that there’s the tendency to edit yourself or to edit the music when you’re approaching it like a songwriter because you’re asking yourself–because you’re telling a story, it means you already know what the story is. That’s not my approach to music, that’s why my music is so different in its form–I don’t know which story you are telling yourself when you’re listening to the music I’m making. So I can’t be–or I try not to intervene, you know, and kind of cut things down to tell my story–but I want you to be able to hear your story. And that’s really where song structures, I think, might work for some people, because you’re still making up your own story.

But for me, it was just important to kind of let the music speak for itself and for me there’s no such thing as too many repetitions. It’s really that for me, the music itself–or let’s say because I’m basically composing conceptually. So the musical concept tells me what the structure should be, but it’s not anything that I’m superimposing as a human being in terms of, “Oh, this means that and this means that,” you know? So that’s really the reason why.

I mean it’s interesting, like, for example one of my first professional groups, Europa String Choir , which was a chamber group. There were really interesting things happening when we were writing. We were actually using the songwriter’s approach, but it was fun because we realized sometimes you don’t even want to repeat something twice. You just want to repeat it one and a half times, or two and a half times. It kind of came together in a recording project in the sense that when we were recording those pieces that have these more interesting complex forms, we figured out, “Ok let’s play at 105BPM and listen back to and see what it sounds like.” “Oh no, it’s a little slow” and we’d try 106. Then we’d try 105.5 and it turned out 105.5 was the right tempo.

So what I mean is really what was happening–or what was happening for me–is that I’m kind of raising the resolution of what I’m doing, how I’m experiencing music. So, the DAWs  that we have that are all set to 120BPM when we open them up and a lot of music is around 120BPM. And that’s like–it’s sad. It’s especially clear so many people are not listening.

So I mean, just saying, it wasn’t meant as a criticism, but as an example that technology kind of gives us this–I mean technology and education that gives us this grid that we believe things should be in, and what I’ve been doing is to kind of raise the solution of that grid for myself. I still believe that a grid is nice, just like I said that we have the 12 notes that we can work with and that there’s still a lot to discover, we can still discover a lot within that grid, but we should try to subdivide more.

A: That’s so interesting. You said that you want people to hear their own story and your stories, but you also said that a lot–or some of your music at least is released as the songs that you didn’t like, the things that made you uncomfortable. Do you believe that any of the discomfort carries to the listener? Or is it just that was your experience and you believe they’ll still find their own?

M: So the funny thing is that what I actually said was that it makes me feel comfortable. It’s the discomfort that makes me feel comfortable because the discomfort is the sign that I’ve discovered something. I hope and I believe that’s what’s carrying over to the listener too, yes? I think so! There’s something that you need to latch onto as a listener.

Just as a human being, we’re going through this world as the most advanced pattern-recognition machine that there is ever going to be, probably. So we’re walking through this world and we’re seeing something. We’re hearing something. We’re feeling something and we latch onto that and we develop an interest in it. So for me, for example, that was actually the band King Crimson, which you know, but it wasn’t the music of the bad King Crimson. It was the name. My piano teacher mentioned King Crimson to me and I knew there was something there. I knew there was something behind that name that I needed to follow up on.

Only like 2 years later or so, I discovered the music and it turned out that yes, I was right. So really the pattern recognition–it really extends to, let’s just say “between the lines.” We’re really such amazing beings and we’re not aware of it, really. Like the subconscious processes so much and it kind of picks up on vibes, yeah? That’s really what I’m very interested in also with my music. Just to kind of feed the subconscious at the same time as the conscious and then I’ll try to get the people to get into this state where somehow the gates open, you know, both going inside and going outside.

So what people get where they get creative themselves and in a way–and this might sound, I mean it still sounds funny, but I think if there was anything–if you would ask me, “Markus what are you doing here?” I would say that I’m actually a “healer.” I don’t want to be a healer. It’s not that I’ve chosen that. And just the music for myself, that’s my medium. That’s my world. That’s where I feel good. That’s where I can develop. That’s also the world I can withdraw into. But for other people, I think it does the same.

Coming back to your question… Yes, it makes people feel uncomfortable and that’s a good thing. I don’t need to do things to make people feel comfortable… that’s just not the way I am. It’s not my responsibility to make you feel comfortable. You should feel comfortable. It’s not my responsibility, but I can create something that might inspire you.

A: So it sounds like… I would imagine that all of this developed over time–this perspective developed as you grew up from an adolescent to adult and then also as somebody who was taking maybe some piano lessons and got formalized education elsewhere on other instruments. Is a lot of this stuff a result of dissatisfaction with standard songwriting in music techniques or is this just kind of… were you born with this intuition? Were you born with these feelings? Can you tell us about the development of this perspective?

M: Anthony, that’s a very deep question. It’s extremely personal and if you mean that, I can tell you. I think it’s my childhood and like the greatest musicians, the greatest artists, they had a shit childhood. My childhood, from my perspective from what I know now wasn’t bad. But maybe there was something. Like for example, as a 3 yr old I was alone in the hospital for 3 weeks. I don’t know, maybe that’s why I became a musician. That’s why I have the drive to create. Maybe they tied me down at night. I don’t know. It’s something like that.

It’s really, really simple. I think if we–like all of us, if we look back, there’s something that drives us and it’s usually something bad, you know? I mean it’s like not a lot of people talk about this, because like especially artists and the old model with record companies, you obviously try to keep a distance, so you wouldn’t really say these things. But one of my greatest influences is Mike Oldfield  and he has always been very straightforward about what happened in his childhood. He started to ride out real battles when he was six years old or something. Somehow I think that this drive, and this is something that Freud  said we have: the drive to die.

So there’s this drive to die and somehow, some of us become creators and we are all creators. It’s just a continuum. So there’s nobody in this world who’s not creating but some of us just have this need to do that. I’m just one of them.

A: So you talked about being a creator and that possibly stemming from childhood wounds or illness or something bad and then you also said that you found yourself to be a healer for music. Are those things that tie together? Does music heal some of that wound or whatever it is that motivating you?

M: To be honest I’m not sure if the music is the healer. I think we are still the healers for ourselves. I guess that you can kind of, in a way, misuse music to have an excuse not to heal yourself. But still, I don’t really believe that anymore, but maybe 10-20 years ago I would have said that’s why we have happy music in the world… to close up our own responsibilities to heal ourselves. But that’s a little extreme. It’s not that way, but it’s food for thought, you know?

Consuming things can always distract you and you can distract yourself by looking at the greatest paintings. So it’s not necessarily the piece of art itself that is healing, but it provides the materials that you need to heal yourself. So I mean, like this whole idea of what I said earlier that people who manipulate sound are gods. I also think there is something like that there are demons, but that would be like in the Greek mythology .

I think there is a lot of wisdom in the Greek mythology. The gods themselves–they fail, you know? The demons, there are very bad demons, and there are demons that are not so bad. It’s a spectrum. A spectrum of beings, where I think if we think about it, it makes a whole lot of sense. There are some people that are creating the materials with which the world is being built and there are others that are then on a different level creative, using those materials in order to build something. It’s not really like there’s really good and bad, or a yin and a yang, there are levels of materials that are being generated in this world, and music, I believe, is one of the really basic ones.

When I’m talking about music, I’m not necessarily talking about what we consider to be music making, but also listening, you know? The act of listening is also making music. So you could be in the wild without any musical instrument and you’d be hearing the birds and the waterfall or whatever, and it would be music to your ears. Just the act of listening turns it into music. So somehow that’s–in simple words, it’s kind of like one of the energizing factors in this world.

A: Now as I mentioned, this site is for helping people to discover new kinds of music and new artists. You are the first ambient artist–well actually, Michael Manring does ambient as well. But I’d like to ask you specifically about ambient music because you obviously have a lot of deep opinions and thoughts on music and its capabilities. So can you–what turned you onto ambient music and can you describe how ambient music reaches you in a way that’s similar to or different to non-ambient music, you know–more standard radio music.

M: Well, first of all, I would say that for me, what sounds like ambient music to other people, it’s just one particular kind of contemporary music in the sense that it’s more concerned with the music than the marketing or the packaging. It’s more like classical music than pop music in that sense. The cool thing about ambient music is that it–even though when Brian Eno  coined the term, the idea was for it to be like a passive listening thing. But with modern–or I’ll just say post modern ambient music, it’s really music that people actively listen to, you know? You can do anything with that.

It’s just up to you. It’s not really printed into the music what you can do with it. So ambient music in that sense is really speaking of that: the emotional content of the music. What we’d describe as ambient music has the potential to be about a pure–or more of a pure expression of an emotion. When I say expression, I don’t mean that it’s an emotion that you as the creator have, but the emotion that the listener can kind of compose around the sound.

It’s interesting because it’s really all sort of technology that brought me into ambient music because I started using delay loops pretty early on when they became available in the mid-90s when the Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro–that’s the device that I used to record my first album, actually. It’s kind of like a microcosm. You’re zooming into sounds. You’re zooming into harmonic structures. You’re allowed to take your time and that’s what really makes this such an amazing genre.

Also, for personal development. I think I did it in order to practice making music. Like, the delay loops to play into it. You’re hearing back to what you just played right away and then you can add something. You learn about the spacing of the notes. You learn about the spacing in time, the spacing in the spectrum and all like that. It was really just fascinating and inspiring for me to have technology available that allowed me to compose in real-time that way. So I still do that when I’m making ambient music. It’s always an expression. It’s like real-time composition. It’s not improvisation. It’s real-time composition and I can apply similar concepts to the composition to doing it “offline.”” But the live composition has always been a very important factor. Really, ambient music lends itself to that.

A: What first attracted you to ambient music and did it strike you as appealing at first?

M: Very much so. I think the first music that I would describe as “ambient music” that I heard was also was by Mike Oldfield from an album called The Killing Fields . A soundtrack album and there were just these really short ambient pieces on there. Just maybe a minute or so of really, really weird chords and those fascinated me a lot. It was just this… just the mood to have the sustained sound and you could just kind of zoom in onto the relationships of the notes with each other and it was like a whole world was opening up in just the combination of those static pitches and that’s really what was fascinating for me.

Around the same time, I got into contemporary classical composers of the 20th century, like Messiaen  and also David Betford  for example, who is really amazing. Those guys were always doing ambient music but what kind of set it apart and what kind of drew me in I guess was that they were always breaking the boundaries of what people considered to be consonant versus dissonant. And really that’s where my interest always was, to teach myself to hear things. To not even fall into this category of saying, “This is dissonant and this is consonant.” I’m still kind of in the process of breaking that barrier for myself.

It’s very relevant for an instrumentalist if you’re playing like me. I’m performing and I do not want to cringe when I play a “wrong” note and I’ve been working on that for almost 20 years and I’ve gotten very good at it. I can play any wrong note at any time. It might sound very bad to you but to me it sounds great. That was really one of the aims, I think the looping technology, the ambient music was one of the ways how I could accomplish that for myself, how I could practice that for myself.

A: That kind of raises another very amateur question that I wrote down. I enjoy ambient music, but I only have been exposed to what I would say are professionals, you know? laughs You, Robert Fripp , Brian Eno, Michael Manring, Michael Hedges . Is there bad ambient music? How would you know if it was bad, if there’s such a thing.

M: Dude, there’s no bad music. There’s either music or it’s not music. You’re the one who defines that.

A: Alright.

M: Just this idea of a “guilty pleasure,” which exists in the English language, yeah? The guilty pleasure–doesn’t makes sense to me. Like, you know, whatever floats your boat. Really.

A: That’s cool! You said in another interview where you found your voice at the age of 33. Can you–as somebody who has gone too far in the world of technique and instrumental noodling–can you tell me about how you found your voice and the path you kind of took? Because for me, I feel like I need to get a step away from some of that. We both did guitar craft stuff. For me it’s almost taken me too far into the technical direction.

M: Mm hmm.

A: But I wanted to hear about your side of things and how you found your voice in the path you took and the path that you’re on.

M: OK. So just this concept of your personal voice, I really–I wouldn’t use those words, because it’s not my voice. It really isn’t, because I’d rather consider myself to be like an interface, ok? So the voice is between whatever is there to inspire and the recipient. I’m part of the audience, you know. When I’m playing, I’m listening. That’s really actually maybe the wisest thing I can say or you could say to any musician: listen to what you’re playing or what you’re doing, right? I don’t ever question that, but probably it’s something that people just don’t do.

So I think that’s like if you want to find your own voice, just listen to what you’re doing. I guess that’s the answer. You know, and it really connects to the question you had earlier, like with looping devices. That’s what they do, you know? You play into them and it plays back to you right away, so you’re hearing what you did and you have the opportunity to decide for yourself if you, let’s say like it, or not like it. Or even if you don’t want to use those terms, how you would describe what’s happening?

Maybe you play 3 notes, and then you realize, “Oh the second note, that was a D. The D had a little bit of a buzz on it.” Then you decide for yourself whether the buzz is something you want the next time you play the D or no, or maybe you don’t want the buzz. Or maybe the D didn’t really satisfy you, so next time you’d play an E-flat. Really that’s how we kind of find our voice, just by playing things back to ourselves and that could be like, you could sit down with the instrument, start the recorder, and just improvise, just play, just move your fingers, don’t even improvise, just move your fingers and then listen back to it, and then repeat. That’s how you can find your voice.

A: Did you overcome–you said you avoided cringing or you’re learning to avoid cringing when you’re playing a “wrong note.” Did you have to overcome fears to get to where you are, to create the music that you create, even to become a musician?

M: Yeah, very much so, but in a way I got lucky that my personality is like that I’m very um… well, I don’t know how to put it. Some people think that I’m arrogant. But it’s not that I’m arrogant, I just have this vision, I kind of know what is right and what is wrong, even if it’s in the greater context, what I consider is right is wrong, I don’t care, but at least I have an opinion.

I’m good at creating references and milestones for myself and that’s really what, at least that’s my path of developing of improving, you know. For example with the touch guitar, with a touch-style instrument. When I started out in the early 90s, people were saying, “Oh we don’t know anything about it… blah blah blah. Nobody knows how to play this instrument, blah blah blah blah blah.” And I said, “Ok yeah we don’t know how to play this instrument but we know what we need in order to play what we consider music. We need to be able to start a note and we need to be able to stop a note. We can look at the instrument and find out how to start a note and how to stop a note. That’s what we can do.”

That’s what I was always very good at, identifying what we know, or what I know, and then I could go from there. That’s really one of the secrets: to not get distracted by what you don’t know but to start at a point where you feel confident that something’s right. Even that, if that thing is right to you is wrong in the bigger context, it’s still is something that pushes you forward, because you’re not criticizing yourself. You’re not kind of putting your hands into cuffs before you’ve even started playing a note.

A: This kind of approach, I’d imagine, requires a very supportive audience. And thankfully for the internet, there’s an international community that’s open to this kind of music. Do you think that you could have done what you do and make a living 20 years ago approaching music in this sense where you are?

M: I started around 20 years ago, so…

A: Yes.

M: So the answer is “yes” I think. For me, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t really assume there is an audience. I don’t assume that people want to hear what I’m doing. I think that’s just wrong. I can get excited about something that I create and then maybe somebody else gets excited about it. But he group of people that is really getting excited about it is either extremely small, which is fine, because you know, it could be one person. It could just be me, that one person. Fine.

It’s not about quantity for me. It’s the quality. I believe that the whole–all the talk about music business, the new paradigm and stuff–really what it is for me is that quantity doesn’t count anymore. It’s the quality of the connection with the fans of the artist. The fans are your audience. I would even call them “friends.” If for example, I can put out a free download and maybe there’s one guy who really likes what I do and he puts in 100 Euros for a download of an album, so these 100 Euros do not represent the value of a CD or a physical product you would press, but it represents the trust in the artist that somebody really likes it, there’s nothing you can quantify there anymore.

It’s about quality and this is where things kind of start happening, like for example, I would have to sell 100 downloads of a 1 Euro song to get 100 Euros. That’s not going to happen. It’s much more likely that there’s 1 person that’s going to give me 100 Euros, and that for me is the new paradigm. That’s how it should be and that’s how it always was. It’s just a little detour we’ve made with the “music business.” The music business is just one example of this Greek mythology thing with the demons and the gods, where the demons are trying to keep the gods stupid and naïve, stuff like that.

So in a way that’s really like where we’re… well when I say “we,” I’m obviously talking about myself. Fortunately I’m at a different… I really don’t… I couldn’t be bothered without selling copies of something. I don’t care. It’s not what motivates, also. It’s different, I mean I read an interview  with Steven Wilson  a few weeks ago, which actually was not an interview, but an advertorial. Anyway, people were discussing it online as if it was a real interview.

A: I read the same thing. laughs

M: There was one point at which Steven said that he would rather have stuff out on Spotify so people could listen to it and I think that clearly, and I’m–this is not like criticism of this person, I’m saying it shows what his motivation is. His motivation is that he wants people to hear what he’s doing. That’s fine. That’s something a lot of us need. That would kill the music for me. I don’t want to do that. It’s really interesting that the less compromise I make for project, the more successful the project… it’s totally counterintuitive, but it’s true and it’s kind of interesting because I love collaborating with people.

So for example, and here’s an interesting story. My friend Ian Boddy  that I started working with in 1999, so a long time ago. Whenever we put out an album, we switched the names around so it could be Ian Boddy + Markus Reuter or the other way around. You’d assume that if you have two groups of fans intersecting, you would, I mean, or being added to each other, you would get a bigger audience. But the opposite is true. When Ian releases a solo album, he sells more, you know? And the other way around. It’s really interesting how the psychology also plays into the image that people have over certain artists.

Also the protectiveness and preciousness about a certain artist. It’s interesting how these things go that like at some point, a name becomes the music in a way. It’s not about the music anymore. You have to like it. Because people say so, because the media says so, and I don’t have a problem with that because it’s cool and it helps and I mean I can tour with Tony Levin , because the So  album with Peter Gabriel  was so successful in the 80s and without all the money they spent on it, I wouldn’t be where I am!

But still, it’s just really something that you need to be aware of these days that a lot of things that you read, or most of the things that you read, are just paid-for content and paid-for opinion and it doesn’t mean anything. That’s just the way it is. Some of us–maybe we have a sense of that and understand that you would always have to read between the lines and stuff. So anyway, there’s no need for me to get into that world.

A: You must be a great music producer. I know you produce a lot of artists.

M: Why?

A: Why? I would say as somebody who manages people as my full-time work, what pays me in the market, I see a man with a very strong vision, a way to articulate that, a way to use that vision and motivate other people. Even just hearing you myself here and now, I feel like, “Yeah! I need to get up and make music and quit worrying about the things I worry about! I need to put those fears behind me.” How do you bring that out in the artists you work with, especially if they see things pretty differently, or that they have an agent that doesn’t agree with your philosophies here?

M: It’s really a struggle, always, for me. It’s really difficult to say how it works, but one way of describing it is that I do need to make people deconstruct what they’re doing and then reconstruct it, and even if what they reconstruct is exactly the same thing that they had before they deconstructed it, they have more awareness of what it is. So for example, there was a band that I produced 6-7 years ago, where they didn’t have any transitions between the sections of the songs and we worked on all the transitions in the rehearsal room. Then for the recording, we dropped half of the transitions and went back to just to the A-B thing. But the way that those transitions felt at that point was completely different because not having a transition IS a transition, but it’s only a transition if you are aware that you haven’t considered that there could be a transition. Know what I’m saying?

It’s about awareness, with deconstruction you’re looking at all the elements–you’re kind of assigning meaning to things, and then you put the puzzle back together. For example, if you have a puzzle of New York City, like 3000 pieces, and you just look at it–that’s New York City. But then you take all the pieces apart and you look at each one and say, “OK that’s the top of the Chrysler Building. That’s blah-blah-blah,” and then you put it back together. That’s a real piece of art then–and that’s how I produce. So the result could be exactly same thing that goes in, but it’s not the same thing. It’s completely charged up with meaning and emotion and… intention–that’s the word.

A: I would imagine that there’s a good sense of fulfillment for you as a producer, especially when you can bring that out in the art or the artist.

M: Yes, but I have to say, it’s really the most frustrating job, you know? Because with some artists, it’s just so difficult to get them to really look at what they’re doing and to reevaluate what they’re doing. Even something like there’s a performance that isn’t good but it has to be that performance because “I have to play the guitar part.” It can’t be the studio musician, it can’t be the guy who can actually play guitar. “It has to be me,” and the… again here’s a big difference. Usually I encourage them to play the stuff themselves, but if your vision as an artist goes beyond what you’re capable of, I would rather collaborate with somebody to find the best realization of that vision rather than trying to do everything myself, you know? There are people capable of doing that. but there are others who are not really capable.

So the struggle with the artist is usually to get them to let go. When I say “let go,” it’s not to let go of an idea at all, but just to let go of an emotional attachment to a specific detail in the music.

A: There is a phrase in writing called, “Murder your darlings.”

M: Mm hmm. Never heard that before, but makes sense, yes.

A: Yeah, that’s so interesting. OK can I get to these burning questions?

M: Sure. The burning questions?

A: Yes. Let’s see… [These are questions from Bernie Quiroga, a Markus Reuter insider] “I understand some material that you brought to the same Stick Men  sessions have been written first for (The) Crimson ProjeKCt , but that was not released as Crimson ProjeKCt, so can you tell us a little about what happened there?”

M: Well, that’s really inside information there. Actually that particular piece didn’t make it to the Stick Men record, so it’s still out there. It’s still in my computer waiting to be played by 6 people, and it has to involve Adrian Belew  because I did something very cheeky. You know, being in the inner circle of King Crimson, I got to listen to material that has never been released. So there was something that they played during a 2004 rehearsal, which was the year after the last incarnation of the band disbanded.

So there was one little riff that they played, this little piece, which is just really one riff, but they didn’t take it anywhere and it didn’t come out, and they didn’t like it at all. I just felt inspired to write a piece around the riff and I did it, and that was when The Crimson ProjeKCt was active and it was just the idea to have something that Adrian would like, because it was based on his riff, but I never sent it to him. He’s never heard it. Pat and Tony have heard it and loved it, but when we tried to massage it for this Stick Men album, it turned out that Adrian’s riff is defining the piece so much that we couldn’t replace it. It just didn’t work and I just didn’t want to waste a good piece, you know?

A: According to the vision, right?

M: Yes, yes, exactly. So that’s that.

A: OK, I’ll do one more here. “Why do you feel that Face by Tuner  and Falling for Ascension are two albums you won’t release, even though you’re very proud of them?”

M: You know, I’m in a position where I’ve dedicated my whole life into making music. That means I’m also dedicating, well not necessarily 24x7, but maybe 19x7 hours to making music. You know, people call me Markus, the guy that never sleeps or something, which isn’t true. I do sleep. But when you go to work, yeah, I make music.So I have like maybe somebody that writes 32 emails per day. Ok, I can write 2 pieces per day, or I can record 5 hours of music each day. I don’t do that at all because that doesn’t make sense, which I’m going to explain now, but really, I just make music all the time.

So there’s just too much material and I don’t have enough support outside of my own self to really put out music, and even the Stick Men record–even though we had an offer for the upcoming Stick Men record Prog Noir, we had an offer from a label, which just–Tony didn’t like the deal at all, so we didn’t do it, which means it ends up in my hands. In “our” hands, which means my hands. I have to be the product manager. I have to be the label, and put it out out. It’s just so frustrating.

I mean, I have kind of given in and I do these things, but it means that Face, for example, which is probably, I mean… it’s kind of funny to say, but I think that the best work I’ve done is not yet out there, yeah? I mean some of it is already completed and obviously a lot more is there, but I’ve just come to the point where, what I was saying before. Like other people say he wants people to hear his music and I just say, “No, I’m not going to pay the price to put these things out just for like 5 people to hear it.”

Because even though I said that I’m more about the quality, yes, which means that before I put something out I have to ask myself, “Do I want to invest the time, do I invest myself with putting it out?” I have to look at the quality of life I’d be giving myself. So that even before I consider the quality of the music or the quality of the interaction with a friend or fan, I have to say, “How well am I with that? Am I doing something good for myself?”

At this point it’s just difficult to put out Face. There’s not enough behind it to really put it out there, and Falling for Ascension–I’m talking with Nik Bärtsch , who’s a friend of mine, and his label Ronin Rhythm Records , to put it out, but it seems like he’s also not 100% convinced of the album. I don’t know… so it’s always.. there’s always something that kind of derails these projects.

A: That’s great. Thank you for these very thoughtful and detailed answers. I really appreciate you going through all of this. I feel like there’s a least another hour’s conversation in here, but I have to get to a sales meeting in 20 minutes, so… laughs. But thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it, Markus.

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