Part 1

Name: Mareike Wiening
Nationality: German
Occupation: Drummer, Improviser, Composer
Current Release: Metropolis Paradise on Greenleaf Music
Recommendations: I’m currently very inspired by Brad Mehldau’s “After Bach”

If you enjoyed this interview with Mareike Wiening and would like to stay informed about future tour dates and releases, visit her website.

When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I taught myself to play the drums when I was 15 and started to take lessons when I was 16. I began playing the piano at the age of 5, flute at 10 and I was singing in a choir for 10 years. My first influence in jazz was my old teacher Thomas Fink and drummers he played with (especially Munich-based drummer Werner Schmitt). I was fascinated by the independence of a drummer and by the power of the instrument.

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 transcribed everything I could, when I started playing drums. I already knew how to read music pretty well because of my classical background. I think copying is extremely important to learn the vocabulary. Only if you can transform it into your own thing, it becomes your voice. The more you practice in a creative way, the better.

What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?

I think my main challenge was learning as much as possible during my school years. Since I started playing the drums relatively late and since I participated in auditions for music schools more than 2 years after I started, I had a lot to catch up on. I didn’t have much band experience and didn’t know so much about jazz harmony and ear training. Ear training in general was a big challenge. As a drummer you don’t have natural access to it since you don’t use it on your instrument. But I learned how to practice it and Stefon Harris’ concept of harmony and ear training helped me considerably.

Tell me about your instrument, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results – and possibly even your own performance? 

When the classical piano was my main instrument, I participated in many competitions. I was good at it, but I never enjoyed it. I had problems with stage fright and was always extremely nervous. With the drums, those issues never came up. Ever since I started playing the drums, I enjoyed being on stage. I love sitting behind the drum set performing. Because of my background I would say that I have a very deep relationship with the drums.
In my opinion the drums can really shape the sound of a band. If the drummer sounds good, the band sounds good.

Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material, which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?

I would agree with Derek Bailey’s statement. I think jazz music in general is extremely transformable. Working with a band I think it’s most satisfying when you try to play the same music in a completely different way. I don’t have specific materials. In my case I need the inspiration through the collective work of my band members to really be creative and to find a way to make the music be transformable every time you play it.

How is playing live in front of an audience and 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?

Playing in front of an audience is in some way much easier than playing in a studio. The audience gives you feedback, energy and inspiration. But on the other hand, you have to deal with difficulties in sound and the instrument itself (if it’s not yours). In a studio you have more time getting used to the sound and it’s easier to modify. I think being comfortable in the studio is a learning experience. The more you do it the more comfortable you get. You get to know yourself better and figure out what you need. I try to learn as much as possible, both when I’m on stage and when I’m in the studio. I think composition and improvisation are connected to each other. When I sit down and find a nice melody, I improvise slowly and try out different ways of approaching the harmony.

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?

I enjoy going for a run in the morning when I have time. Then I usually do some office work, respond to emails, take care of bookings and other stuff. Often times I have a rehearsal or a session afterwards. But if not, I enjoy practicing drums at my rehearsal space. If I don’t play a show at night, I use the late afternoon to compose or just relax, depending on how busy I am. In the evening I go out with friends, see a show or go to the movie theatre - again if I don’t have to play a show myself. I don’t have a daily fixed schedule. And I don’t try to separate things – I love what I do, my hobby is my job. It’s all connected.

Could you take me through the process of improvisation on the basis of one of your performances 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?

I think it’s all about the band. The band members give me ideas, energy and inspiration. I like to play with musicians, who really listen to each other - then everything can happen. If you have an open mind and ear there are no limits. The audience gives me energy as well. I wouldn’t do so well in a solo show - I definitely need to be surrounded by people to be creative on the bandstand.

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 find inspiration in listening to other musicians. I try to expose myself to their projects in order to be creative. This usually happens in bigger cities with a pulsating music scene like New York. On the other hand I need lots of time for myself in order to put my ideas on paper. I need both - input and space.

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?

I don’t really use so much technology when I compose. I use computer programs like Sibelius. Maybe I’ll use more technology in the future.

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?

There’s not much I use except a notation program. Otherwise I compose everything on the piano. 

How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?

It’s always a challenge to combine all of that in a perfect way. But as a touring musician you are dependent on the venue and its surroundings. I always try to get comfortable with the space during sound check.

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?

I think there are interesting overlaps. It’s a whole different world getting into that and I haven’t had much possibility getting involved with that yet. 

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?

For me it is extremely important that music or art is honest, connected to the emotions, a personal approach, has a personal value to the musician and good intentions.

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 will always be there. There are already so many different styles of music but the foundation is always the same. That’s why it doesn’t matter if the basic concept of music were to change at some point.