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5 Questions for Mouse on Mars

Jan St. Werner & Andi Toma, aka electronic duo Mouse on Mars, told us what connects their new album with aliens and the Elbphilharmonie.

Elbphilharmonie Summer

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Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma have been making music together under the name Mouse on Mars for over 25 years. They appeared at the 2018 Elbphilharmonie Summer Festival with their new album »Dimensional People«.

Mouse on Mars

Mouse on Mars / 24 August 2018 at Elbphilharmonie Hamburg.

On 24 August 2018, as part of the Elbphilharmonie Summer Festival, you're playing the Grand Hall for the first time as Mouse on Mars. What do you expect from an appearance in a classical concert hall?

We already got to know the Elbphilharmonie and its two halls when we were part of the »Reflector« series with Bryce Dessner. Jan was on stage with The National and felt as if he was playing in a Luc Besson sci-fi film. The balconies, the amorphous arrangement of the different levels and the hybrid material used in the architecture make you think of a »parliament of aliens«, a place where the peoples of distant galaxies come together and communicate in strange languages that sound like a kind of music. Now we have a three-part piece on our new album with this name. So in a way the Elbphilharmonie was already part of the idea for »Dimensional People« before we were invited to give a concert here.

Mouse on Mars: Dimensional People (Album Trailer)

Mouse on Mars / Dimensional People

On stage, we realise different aspects of the album, relating them and contrasting them: the objects and instruments activated by the Sonic Robots; modified light machines that we rebuilt with help from Matthias Singer so that they can also produce sounds; abstract electronic sounds produced with software, contollers and synthesizers; acoustic sounds made with percussion, wind instruments and strings, and arrangements of these instruments using sound effects; singers' voices and amplified electronic instruments such as guitar, bass and electronic percussion. The whole thing is a mobile kaleidoscope that integrates the Elbphilharmonie into the composition.

The balconies, the amorphous arrangement of the different levels and the hybrid material used in the architecture make you think of a »parliament of aliens«, a place where the peoples of distant galaxies come together.

Mouse on Mars

How was it working on your new album »Dimensional People«, and how would you describe the result?

You can't put it into a few words. The recordings were made at different locations and under such different circumstances that it's hard to believe that a consistent album was the outcome. Some 50 musicians were involved, and each individual recording has its own history and relevance.

Documentary Following the Production of »Dimensional People«

Mouse on Mars

The video that Holger Wick and his team from Sense Media / electronic beats made documents the process pretty well, although of course it can only show a shortened version. You can hear to good effect how the musicians felt about it in a podcast we made ourselves with Zach Condon, which our record label Thrill Jockey has put on soundcloud.

We listen to the world's inner workings and observe it from the inside. There are other people who are better at making music.

Mouse on Mars

Our first priority is listening. Making music, working together with others, improvising and producing are all important activities. But actually listening to the results of these activities, enlarging them and deriving new structures from them, is what really motivates us. We're interested in listening to the world's inner workings and in observing it from the inside. There are other people who are better at making music.

You brought in a lot of guest musicians for this album, and some of them will be joining you at the Elbphilharmonie. How did you find musicians who understand what you're trying to achieve, and who complement your music perfectly?

Well, you don't really find musicians, they are around you all the time. In the past we tended to avoid getting involved with too many other people, but for »Dimensional People« we opened the studio door to everyone who was passing. A kind of citizens' radio for idiosyncratic sound producers.

We opened the studio door to everyone who was passing. A kind of citizens' radio for idiosyncratic sound producers.

Mouse on Mars über ihr neues Album

One person pushes, and the other pulls the wooden rollers out from under the back of the boat and lays them down in front again.

Jan St. Werner & Andi Toma über ihre Zusammenarbeit

You've been working together for 25 years now. Why do you think things have worked between you over such a long period of time?

Because each of us manages to let the other person have his space, and because we understand one another intuitively. We each know pretty much how the other person is going to act, so that we can communicate quickly and work without a lot of talk. Each of us is out and about quite a lot on his own, and he comes back with ideas, or involves the other person when he thinks he's come across something interesting. The task of producing moves faster when there are two of you; the journey is pleasanter, and you can develop ideas further and convey them better to outsiders. If your battery starts to run low, the other person can still push on for a few miles. It's like dragging a heavy boat through the desert: one person pushes, and the other pulls the wooden rollers out from under the back of the boat and lays them down in front again.

Last but not least: what does an ideal summer's day look like for you, and what's the best song to listen to?

The sun is scorching, you're snoozing in a hammock or jumping into the water from the boat. Time flows through your fingers like greasy sun blocker; filtered scraps of voices carry on the breeze, and bizarre images form on your closed eyelids. The band in the bar next door is losing the beat, the entertainer flings random bits of song texts and stereotypical stories at a bored audience. Sometimes he sounds quite close, sometimes far away, maybe because the wind is gently rocking the hammock. There's a gurgling in your ears as the water dries out. The ideal soundtrack for this scenario is Robert Ashley's »Perfect lives«.

Interview: Julia Mahns

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