Name: Anne Müller
Occupation: Composer, Cellist
Current Release: Heliopause on Erased Tapes.
Recommendations: I should recommend great pieces of art now, but instead I’m going to use this opportunity to mention two albums that changed me personally and as a musician deeply.
Firstly, please listen to “7fingers” (Erased Tapes)! I’m still proud of Nils Frahm and my compositions, our arrangements, sounds and my cello playing. Thanks to Nils I found my own voice as an individual cellist-composer. And I still enjoy listening to it very much.
Secondly - releasing my first solo album “Heliopause” (Erased Tapes) very soon, it’s really to open up to everyone. Frightening but full of joy. For you, dear reader and listener, just joy, I hope.
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When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
2011, I bought a small sound card and got a beautiful sounding microphone from my dear friend Nils Frahm. This made me keen to experiment with sounds and recording techniques to learn how that works.
Nils and then Robert Raths, founder of the London based label Erased Tapes, encouraged me to write music on my own. Nils Frahm, with his excellent taste in music, sounds and skills in composing and recording instruments, was a huge supporter and influencer. Also working with Agnes Obel, playing shows with her and improving my knowledge of effects and loopstation, helped to develop the way I perform and compose music.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I began taking cello lessons at age six, so I’ve been playing this instrument for a long time. My childhood and teenage years were full of practicing; lots of nerdy music fun and youth orchestra projects. I knew early on that I wanted to be a professional cellist, playing with an orchestra. Everything I did was with a mind to follow this path and it’s been a lot of hard work to get in to university, study, finally graduate, getting auditions and so on.
But in the final years of university, I already got a place with a symphony orchestra and I started to doubt this path. I took some time out from university and met interesting musicians that I started to work with, for example recording cello for Tobias Sieberts (Klez.e, The Golden Choir) at the beautiful indie record studio. That’s when I turned into an ‘one woman’ string orchestra, substituting additional violins, violas or double basses. I figured out I’m able to imitate all of these sounds just using my cello.
In fact, when I was supposed to be preparing for my final exam show, I started to play bass guitar in a band for fun, singing and playing cello in the East German 60s music group ‘Beatplanet’, improvising with the post rock band ‘SDNMT’ (Sinnbus) and going on tour, began getting into did rock climbing … I was experiencing so much fun and freedom.
In the end I did my final exams and graduated from university. But my cello professor Michael Sanderling’s advice turned out to be right - he didn’t see me in an orchestra and recommended finding my own way besides a classical orchestral job.
I still enjoy playing in orchestras and perform a lot of classical music, but the main focus is on the cello technique and interpretation of the music, which has already been done by so many amazing musicians.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think the hardest challenge for me is to write solo pieces for cello, without help of any additional layers or accompaniment. There is so much impressive literature from composers like Gaspar Cassadó, Benjamin Britten or for example Johann Sebastian Bach, just to mention a few. Let’s see if I have succeeded …!
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I already mentioned earlier my sound card (Apogee Duet) and beloved microphone (Schoeps MK4). I like to work quite reduced and that’s almost everything I need to produce my music for now.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
The violoncello is an old instrument, it still looks like it did 300 years ago and hasn’t changed its shape. I like the idea of adding modern technology to this old traditional hand made piece of art and create a kind of hybrid. Technology like pickups and effect pedals helps me to develop my own sound.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
Recording with DAW software helps me to create my music. It’s like paint a painting but with sounds.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I‘m happy to work with amazing musicians like Nils Frahm, Ben Lukas Boysen, Markus Sieber (Aukai), Jonas Bonnetta (Evening Hymns) and my 'Solo Collective' mates Alex Stolze and Sebastian Reynolds. Their ideas and creativity inspires me and definitely influences my music too.
I prefer to work with them in person, rather than file sharing, but sometimes that’s the only way we can work together while living on different continents.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
All days are different, so it’s hard to describe one 'normal' day. I play a lot of cello and this makes me happy.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
The first track of my upcoming first solo album “Heliopause” is titled “Being Anne”. This time I wanted to do all the music alone, just by myself. No collaborations, no accompaniment — just me, the cello and all the other instruments I try to play.
So the first track is my most experimental contemporary sounding piece. I used sounds from my tiny piano I got from my mother that she bought when she was a student and didn't have any money. It was kept in our little summer garden house for years, where I practiced on it constantly for my piano lessons. Even though it's old and not in the best shape, I love its sound and call it my Little Circus Piano. On “Being Anne”, I played the piano with a guitar plectrum. I scratched parts of the key action mechanism and produced a clicking sound I used to give the piece a rhythm.
At the same time, I started to play live with a loop station and effects, so I experimented with some looped cello drones and various drum noises. For example, I recorded tapping on my music stand, sending it through my effects and in the end it sounded like a weird huge big drum.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I guess the answer to me is either to have a lot of time; enough time to feel a kind of boredom - which is a luxury. Or, to have no time at all and a deadline, or maybe getting inspired through experiences or other artists work. Out of this can result creativity and a desire for productivity. The killer of all inspiration is the sort of life admin we all have to do to, like doing tax returns …
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
A lot of musicians have the same experience as me; their songs or pieces constantly change after playing them live so they’re always developing. Writing and recording a piece of music first and playing it live later on is challenging too, because often it wasn’t recorded with live instruments, so it has to be re-arranged for a concerts.
The other way is improvising and developing an idea live, then recording the final version These all are interesting processes and the music is always evolving.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Sounds are combined with a piece of music. We can say this is the definition of a composition, can’t we? So I guess, it’s all only about sound and structure in the end. One can not live without the other.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Actually I’m not a synaesthetic person - I don’t see colours or have pictures in my mind while listening to music. Or tastes or smells. For me it’s a very pure thing - it sets my body and my mind in a state of awareness for emotions to be transported by the music, but also of the structure and sounds. So music influences my body and my soul as well as tickling my brain and intellect.
But to answer the last question - at the outermost border all sounds are dying, there is no sound any more - just silence. Hey, think about it.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
In general my music does not transport messages of this kind. I try to take the listener on a journey through time and space. But maybe that could change at some point if I have something important to say.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Music has changed over time through the various possibilities of performance and the listening experience. From historical instruments to large symphony orchestras in concert halls to the invention of sound recording, the first electronic instruments and the development of computer as well as the internet, streaming and the ability to produce and publish music yourself - everything has developed so much and it shapes the music. It is closely linked to our self-image, ambitions and technological progress. I'm curious to see where the journey will take us next.