Features

Bioelectric Machine: Moon Wheel interviewed

moon wheel live

Moon Wheel is the solo project of former Melbourne resident Olle Holmberg. A former member of Pissypaw, Holmberg has strong connections with some of Melbourne’s stranger pop groups including Superstar and Fabulous Diamonds. We’ve covered his music before here, here and here. He has a debut solo cassette due through Not Not Fun Records in March, so in anticipation Nic De Jong sent Holmberg some questions touching on the artistic effects of geography, the influence of Clara Mondshine, and the dozens of apt activities one may engage in while listening to Moon Wheel.

To begin, could you give us some insight into the origins of Moon Wheel – in particular the name, and an  account of the circumstances surrounding its coming-to-be?
I was sure I came up with the name, but a friend of mine swears he coined it. It must have been a pretty good suggestion to feel so natural to me that I stole it without knowing. I’ve since found many references to this combination of words that are quite interesting in their own contradictory terms. I’ve found it to be: a kind of hubcap for cars, a website that sells ‘historical items’ from Germany (1919-1945), a kind of hippie menstruation calendar, a Tibetan Buddhist term for the third eye, and a medieval astrological volvelle (among other things).

You have a tape slated for release on Not Not Fun. How did this come about, how long has this set of songs been in gestation, and will it be the first Moon Wheel release?
When I first heard a track called ‘Die Drachentrommler’ by Austrian meta-musician Clara Mondshine played at the wrong speed (33rpm instead of 45rpm) I freaked out. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It tied together the electronic and the acoustic sounds in a way that felt incredibly natural. It was electronic but sounded like wood. There was something about it that made me think of Moondog. The percussion timbres and playful rhythms were incredibly exciting. At that point in my life as a musician I was looking for a way to do just that. This track became the key to creating the music that I first put under the Moon Wheel banner.

‘ÁlæifR’ was the first piece. This and two others came about in a flurry of improvisation and experimentation. I sent a demo of these three tracks to Not Not Fun, who responded positively. I told them I’d send them the rest of the material “soon”, but didn’t tell them this was all I had. It took about two years to finish writing the rest of what became the album. There was about 100 minutes of material that I edited down to 36 minutes. I was surprised and relieved to learn that they were still interested after all that time.

This will be the first proper album release, but there was a single track released on a split cassette with Ill Winds in Berlin last year, on a new label called Noisekölln Tapes. I actually wrote that piece specifically for you, Nic. I think you’d just left Berlin and I imagined your mind would be in a weird and fragmented place. It’s a composition consisting of a high pitched dissonant chord fading out over the course of 20 minutes, as a low pitched consonant chord fades in over the top of that. It’s meant to induce a peaceful state of mind in an attentive listener.

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Assuming you record at home, what part does recording music play in your daily life? Do these songs evolve over long periods of recording and refinement or are they more impromptu and off-the-cuff?
I go through long periods of inactivity waiting for inspiration to strike. Sometimes it’s something I’ve seen or heard. Other times it’s a feeling that I can’t put my finger on. Writing the material is like fishing. I’m not a trained musician, so my approach is intuitive and technological. I will spend a day tinkering to find or construct a palette of sounds I find appealing. Then I’ll dive in and start improvising rhythmic and melodic material in short parts. Once there is a backbone I’ll often improvise a lead line over the top in a single take. I find a good composition comes out of a very specific time and place as a succession of connected events. Detailed revision or refinement never worked for me. I’ll listen back to the recordings over a long period of time and sometimes slow them down, speed them up, or cut out parts that are inessential. I think of the recording as the documentation of an imperfect attempt at unraveling essential mysteries.

Are you able to recreate specific songs live?
I used to try to take apart and re-perform the songs in a live setting, but found it too constricting. The only way to really connect with an audience is to show them how the process works and take them with me on one of my sonic fishing trips. If they seem too bored I can always just chug out some 4/4 and an atonal bass line. Doesn’t take a lot to make bodies move.

You have lived in Sweden, Australia and Germany, that I know of. How, if it all, have you noticed these relocations impacting the way you approach and create music?
Obviously Australian and German music cultures are radically different. It was a real eye-opener seeing how the overtly rational Germans attach such honest spiritual connotations to dancing to techno music. I couldn’t help but be intrigued, and the influence sunk in.

If you accept that geography, in the widest possible sense, has a tangible impact on your making music, where are some places that you would like to live and record in the future? Where would be fruitful places for Moon Wheel to visit on musical business?
Where you live determines who you become. As long as music reflects who you are, where you live will be inseparable from music. Personally I am becoming increasingly dissatisfied with life in big cities. Therefore I am planning to spend some time walking south. I’ll try to find a beautiful and quiet place somewhere along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean where I can live simply until I feel that is finished. Over the alps, Trieste, Croatia, Montenegro.

The track titles on the cassette seem split between names, natural or organic phenomena (‘Arecaceae’, ‘Brontide’, ‘The Weather’) and also some esoteric or mystical figures from Europe’s past (‘Walpurga’, ‘Valhöll’). How much can we take from the titles themselves? How do you see the relationship between electronic music and the natural world, and what is your relationship to history?
We are bioelectric machines. All the things we deem unnatural aren’t actually so. The illusory dimension of time is a side-effect of the limitations of human consciousness. If you imagine music-in-itself as an object consisting of all music that has happened and all music that will happen, then the act of creating or hearing music is  analogous to somebody lost in the woods at night, shining a torch that partially illuminates the darkness. Or perhaps time is the needle of the multi-dimensional record player of the universe. Our musical intuitions are but tracing the grooves of the texture of history.

Are there certain types of daily activities that you envisage Moon Wheel providing apt accompaniment for?
Checking aljazeera.com in the morning, jogging, masturbating, untangling cables, writing postcards, sorting spare change in to plastic jugs of different colours, deleting old SMSs, trying to find you keys, data backup, waiting for a phone call, peeping on your neighbour, feeding cats, washing your sheets, playing chess, soldering, watering plants, braiding, watching scones bake, throwing out old magazines, laying in your bed thinking about what you were doing exactly seven years ago, drinking fizzy multi-vitamins, chatting on IRC, looking at photos of ships, making an Excel spreadsheet, mashing potatoes, tearing out a page of a library book.

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There is a tension on the cassette between tribal, almost-danceable rhythms and a certain kind of meditative distance or restraint. As an inhabitant of Berlin, do you feel a corresponding tension existing between the omnipresent dance culture and the other more restrained rhythms of daily life? Or are they happy, necessary and well-suited co-habitants / co-dependents?
I’ve had some hypotheses on what contemporary German dance music culture is, but I think it’s safest to leave explanations alone. As an outsider I can only experience it as a spectacle and can only guess what it really means. It could be deeply related to history; could have something to do with guilt and release from it; with community and worship; with Ordnung and its dissolution; but all I can really say is that it has been very interesting to experience and that I ultimately do not feel in a position to extrapolate on it.

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Moon Wheel’s debut cassette will release next month through Not Not Fun.

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