Name: Markus Rom aka Oh No Noh

Nationality: German
Occupation: Guitarist, robot programmer, magnetic tape shredderer, composer
Current Release: Oh No Noh's Kanzi, featuring Lisa Zwinzscher, Max Kraft and Damian Dalla Torre, is out via TELESKOP.
Recommendations: Both are no insider tips but I’ll recommend them anyway:
Adventure Time, one of my favorite animated series which combine massive creativity, dystopian fantasies, absurd humor and nice weird and glitchty music.
GRM, a book by Sibylle Berg, it’s a contemporary dystopia, extremely creative, funny and frightening.

[Read our Damian Dalla Torre interview]

If you enjoyed this interview with Markus Rom aka Oh No Noh and would like to stay up to date with his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, and Facebook. For an even deeper dive into his approach, read our interview with him about improvisation.

For an interview with one of his collaborators, read our Midori Hirano interview.

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

Some friends in school gave me burned CDs of rock, indie and metal bands which I listened to a lot. I loved to dive deep into lesser known and more experimental side projects of those musicians, which influenced me a lot I guess.

Later I discovered jazz through local concerts and workshops, which was another great influence on me, but more in a way of approaching and thinking about music.

In retrospect I can say that I am generally drawn to music that takes the extra mile in creativity and sound.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

When I hear musical moments that touch me, I get goosebumps. Many times this happens when something is built over several minutes and gets resolved in an interesting way. I try to reach something like this in my music as well.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

I guess you could call it a breakthrough that at some point I didn’t define myself solely as a guitar player who tries to play complicated music (which is a common problem when you study an instrument) and allowed myself to do all the things that interested me in music in the first place.  

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

I generally try to look for things beyond the obvious, in both listening and creating.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

I love to find things that are very simple and at the same time new and unpredictable for me and for the audience. The key idea might be to try and shift the listener’s perspective.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

If I had to choose it would tend towards “music of the future“, but I don’t think of music that way. I think music should be developed for the “now“ - if it’s genuine it’s still relevant in the future.

Something that I recorded doesn’t have to be timeless though, it doesn’t have to be anything but a timestamp. Of course my pieces change colors all the time when I perform live, since everything that influences me is passed on to my music. But it’s more of a desire for development than a strive for perfection.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

Coming from the guitar, a big step for me was to start using loop stations. I still look for ways to integrate them in my compositions and to push the limits of these machines.

Another important step was to use tape decks and tape loops, as well as MIDI programmable robots. At one point I bundled all those techniques together and came up with the setup for Oh No Noh.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

On a usual day I go to my project studio to work on new music, on my setup, repair / build some instrument / controller or work on music for other projects that I’m involved in. Most days also have some administrative aspects to them, something that a job as a freelance musician entails.

On many weekends or consecutive days I play concerts, mostly with Oh No Noh, but also as a musician for other projects like Die Andacht, Damian Dalla Torre or Philipp Rumsch Ensemble.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

Collecting the tracks for Kanzi, I realized that my creative process is different on each track, depending on where it’s coming from. Either it’s an intellectual idea, like a rhythmic displacement that I find interesting, which I then try to put in playful contexts. Or it starts with a sample or a melodic idea with more of an emotional approach.

I like to work on several tracks at once to come back with a different perspective again and again.

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

Both working in a collective and working alone have their advantages.

When I started Oh No Noh, I felt liberated to finally be able to make quick decisions that I’m happy with and that don’t have to adjusted with the ideas of others with the risk of getting a result that’s diluted. At the same time I enjoy being part of collectives where the combination of skills is a huge strength.

The outcome and the workflow is very different between the two. I wouldn’t say one is better and I’m happy to be able to have both in my life.

How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

Both my direct environment and the bigger picture have an influence on me and my music, but not in an intentional way. You could say that I create for the sake of creation, not to send a direct message.

Nevertheless, I think the role of music and art in society is very important. Without being inspired by new impulses, being nudged towards new thoughts, we would become dulled.

Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?

I think every big topic in life changes one’s perspective and sharpens the attention for musical experiences (both in creating and listening).

How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?  

I find it interesting how much we are able to measure and explain scientifically. Through music theory and acoustics it’s possible to explain why something sounds good in the ears of most people - what we can’t explain is the stuff that differs from listener to listener.

For example, something might have a moving effect on me, and I would like to listen it over and over again. And at the same time it could sound faulty or imperfect or repetitive for the next person.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

I think we should start seeing creativity for playing a bigger part in our lives than just in art and music. Political decisions can be creative, ways to spend your day / life can be.

Although, for me personally expressing myself through music is the most easy and direct way since it’s the one thing that I spend most of my time on.

Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?

Apparently the human brain is a very powerful thing. :)