“In this particular building the Stasi created all the surveillance equipment like cameras and wire taps,” says Markus Manowski upon entering his atelier in Lichtenberg, Berlin, “this whole area around Hohenschönhausen wasn’t on a map—it was just a blank area, kind of like an Area 51 of the GDR.”
Amidst the towering Soviet apartment complexes and only a block away from the notorious Hohenschönhausen prison, the industrial face of Markus’ atelier belies the creative output of the artists inside. And though a homebuilt synthesizer studded with cables and pulsing LEDs laying on the floor seems somehow fitting of the building’s past, the unfinished paintings propped against the walls and Markus’ disarmingly calm attitude diffuse any lingering feelings of being spied on.
Born in Zabrze, Poland, but raised in Düsseldorf, Markus is something of a Renaissance man—a self trained electronic musician, saxophonist, DJ and painter. A lack of formal education in either medium gives him a certain edge, making his art more intuitive and personal. Under the moniker Daze Maxim, Markus has been steadily releasing his minimally produced and heady electronic tracks since 1995 and has been experimenting with music for much of his life. “I started producing when I was 15 using a Commodore Amiga. It had no soundcard—there was a kind of breakout box. It was a black box that you could record samples with. It had a 4kHz resolution, extremely lo-fi. It was super limited but this was the beginning.”
And Markus hasn’t stopped experimenting since—a network of pipes spanning the length of his studio space branch out enigmatically into the walls and a small wire attached to an amplifier leads up to them, “I wondered what the purpose of all these pipes was. So I stuck this small microphone to the pipes and observed the building, recording it.” Another experimental curiosity lies on the floor next to the amplifier: a milk crate-sized box containing two speakers, a cooking pot, a plastic bag and a mic’d up spring emitting low frequencies. “It looks a bit like a bomb,” he says, peering into the box.
Unlike the prototype of the solitary electronic music producer clicking away behind the screen, Markus relishes collaboration with other musicians. This is owed to his background and interest in jazz—a genre one doesn’t necessarily associate with the rigid forms and structure of techno. “I came in touch with electronic music when I was thirteen and it was very easy to get into it. Then a bit into soul and disco—then to jazz. I knew it was very important for me but I couldn’t understand it at the beginning so I had to learn how to listen to it. It was a challenge for me and I became kind of obsessed with it because it’s not easy—or accessible. I had to learn music theory and this was the beginning, when I really learned about music. Miles Davis was my absolute hero and the big guys like Charlie Parker, Coltrane, and Charles Mingus.”
“You have this certain idea of what you want to create but at the same time you want to make music—and to make music means to let go.”
The influences are not immediately apparent but the spaced out, cosmic atmosphere of his music has hints of later Davis—and his arrangements tend toward the more experimental range of techno music. On the track Anomaly of a Poetry on his album “Rising/Falling,” Markus’ friend and collaborator Yonatan Levi’s standup bassline creates an organic pulse that Markus’ synthesized noises react to. The result is a track that exists somewhere between techno, ambient electronic, and jazz. “The good thing about working with other people, especially if you play real instruments, is that you have to learn to listen. When you’re working on your electronic devices, you want to have control—everything is about control. You have this certain idea of what you want to create but at the same time you want to make music—and to make music means to let go.”
Though willing to give up complete control, Markus is still exacting with his creations—the release of “Rising/Falling” broke a 16 year hiatus since his last full-length record, delayed only by Markus’ personal standards. Though he released plenty of singles during that time, nothing struck him as worthy of a full-fledged release. It was after relocating from his hometown of Düsseldorf to Berlin, that Markus was able to buckle down and create a cohesive record. Markus says he owes his newfound focus to meditation, which allowed him to bring his disparate influences together. The album title comes from the meditative practice of breath control and the rising and falling of the belly as the body and mind moves into deeper states of consciousness.
Painting into the unknown
Selected works from 2014
“With painting, there is this feeling that something will happen but you don’t know what.”
Markus’ modular synthesizer lays on the floor within striking distance of an unfinished painting depicting a tree in an abstract plane of color and motion. “I used to only come here for painting but my inspiration comes from sound, because that’s my background. So I thought, why not bring them together in the same space? With painting, there is this feeling that something will happen but you don’t know what. And this is how I work with music because it’s very improvised. So this is something I’ve transferred from my music to my painting.”
It’s difficult to pin down where Markus’ visual aesthetic lies, often depicting contorted figures posing in abstract landscapes and other times purely abstract, colors and motion swirling in a gray void. But, the dialogue between his modes of expression work both ways—he shows us a series of paintings that seem to be hazy, obscured humanlike figures behind a veil of fog or seen through greased lenses. “After making this blurred painting I was thinking, ‘Now how do I blur a song?’ then I got the idea to take some tracks and timestretch them 1000 percent. This was the translation of my blurred paintings into blurred songs.”
Knelt on the ground in front of his synthesizer, Markus fills the room with atmospheric tones that echo through the studio ominously. Seeing him stooped over the electronics and surrounded by his paintings, the building’s history seems to fall away in an act of creative deconstruction—moving forward with no idea what to expect.