Tao Højgaard

Through looping guitar and speech samples with a wide array of guitar pedals and loop machines, Danish electronic artist, composer, and jazz guitarist Tao Højgaard creates the music of Mute State in the here and now. By focusing on curiosity and playfulness, the lush and textured soundscapes are created in real time, morphing the improvisational expression into a nonlinear storyline.

Q: Your music has a certain enigma to it, sometimes futuristic, sometimes dusty and crackling, always with a sense of otherworldly soul – how would you describe Mute State, the project?

A: My aim is to create nonlinear music, or movement without movement if you will. Imagine you are looking at the surface of a pond, firstly you might look at your own reflection after a while you notice the reflections of the clouds you dwell at their shapes and movement behind you – now you shift your focus to the surface itself with all its rippling activity a leaf might come sailing by, eventually your gaze will penetrate the surface, now you might be looking at the bottom, noticing the sandy texture, the movement of plants etc, none of these elements ever ceases but they are constantly in effect and in constant relation to each other – were you there experiencing this microcosmos with someone, his or her experience will be different from yours, not in terms of taste and preference because those will be irrelevant, but in the order and nature of what caught your attention and what you brought into this environment yourself. I have wet dreams about achieving this in my music, and that is what the Mute State project is about.

Q: When listening to your music the element of improvisation is clearly there, but it is not as clear what was written before and what was improvised; could you unveil some of the work processes in both live and studio work?

A: Initially everything is improvised–you see I only use computers as a recording tool: that means that everything is build up in the here and now with the guitar and samples of speech being processed and looped to oblivion with a bunch of guitar pedals. The big difference between live and studio work is that when I’m playing live every decision counts in the overall expression of “I did that, I made that sound right there, and whatever comes next has to relate to that” that takes an enormous amount of mental presence in what you are doing. In the studio I have the possibility to go look for a certain tension or expression without worrying about what the search for it might sound like. That means that studio work holds great significance in finding new techniques and stuff to play live, in reverse my live sessions helps to preserve the element of immediacy in my studio work.

Q: You have a background in the European punk scene in the nineties as well as a long ongoing career as a jazz instrumentalist. It seems rather a big leap from the rawness of punk to the sophisticated complexity that jazz represents– how did that leap come about, and do you draw from these backgrounds in your electronic music?

A: Well yes, I was a part of the punk community, and that was my base when I rediscovered jazz. Musically punk is about energy, an immediate burst of energy with a strong element of nihilistic aggression, however this high-octane aggression-loaded burst of energy was only a part and certainly not the whole of my musical ambition, so I began to feel restrained. I had always been intrigued by jazz and felt a kind of homecoming when I started to look into it– you see in jazz you are allowed to express any emotion right when you’re feeling it. You are making up a story in which you can make all sorts of twists and turns along the way without any regards to musical genre or basic values of a particular style. Today I no longer see jazz as a specific sound or genre but as a fundamental set of values, an approach to creation if you will–jazz is not how it sounds, jazz is how it is made. Punk merits are still very valuable too and one important lesson to be drawn from punk is to allow yourself to explode –or implode as the minimalist´s equivalent, well let´s just say that punk represents courage in creativity. On a more technical level the bass lines of metal often holds a tension not unlike the tension in the augmented chords you’d find in jazz, and that is interesting to an electronic artist. Electronic artists tend to see themselves as making huge paintings with sound, and in that regard I am no exception–taking that big fat color of a metal bass line, making it coexist and relate to a certain vibrance or subtlety of a processed chord or field recording, that demands presence, and going with it demands courage, and there you have it – jazz and punk really do go hand in hand….. (laughs)

Q: You don´t use computers when you are playing live. Since computers are so commonly utilized in every aspect of present day music making, not using them makes you stand out in a way but don´t you sort of give up possibilities on that account as well?

A: I feel that however useful computers might be, they tend to become a veil between the audience and the artist, which makes it a lot harder for audience and artist to connect. To me it is very important that the audience knows that everything is created now and that they feel invited in on the process. Hardware machines become instruments in their own right, you see, either one machine at a time or in conjunction they correspond to each other and you learn to play them just as you would learn to play a conventional instrument like the piano, a hands-on experience hardly achieved with software and controllers. In retrospect I guess you could describe the technical aspect of my project as modular synthesis adapted for guitar.

Q: What are you really? A composer, a musician, a sound-artist? How do you identify yourself?

A: What I really am is curious. Curious about everything to the point where spontaneous combustion becomes a real threat. You see we are really here, you are sitting in front of me very physically, one bio-object asking another bio-object questions which is not objects at all but materializes just the same, and the whole situation is in fact a concept. A composer makes structures or structuralizes ideas into compositions that exist even if they are not played; the compositions were composed and thus in existence, a musician makes those compositions come to life and the sound-artist takes a metaphysical approach to it all asking platonic questions of ideas and concepts. I identify with all three of them as to me they are absolutely inseparable. Sometimes people will come up to me and ask me where my focus lies while creating the music, I tell them that it feels like having three separate minds working in parallels – the mastermind, the technician, and the artist.

Q: Did you have any particular influences that turned you on to electronic music, and does your electronic endeavors hold any significance to you as a jazz player?

A: What led me to electronic music was an assignment to compose music for a documentary. The director of the documentary asked for suspense but didn’t know for how long she would need that suspense to hold, as the movie was not yet in the editing phase. That led me on to some very inspiring experiments on minimalism and how to imply different moods just from modulating a single layer. These experiments taught me quite a lot and I was hooked–I think they turned me on to values in music which I never knew existed, and I think they have helped me grow as a composer and instrumentalist and maybe especially so as an artist. After being led on to these new musical values I started to check out all sorts of electronic musicians and found a wealth of inspiration, and equally important I began to hear those new values being in effect in all the old jazz recordings I knew so well–Miles Davis being the paramount example.

Q: What do you hold in store for us? What can we expect from you in the future?

A: I have several ideas I would love to see come to life–audiovisual journeys conveyed as abstract live short films in cinemas, collaborations with all sorts of talented people in and outside of Denmark, and the termination of borders between installation art and live music. I also have a couple of albums on the way and lots of live sessions.

To me, looper pedals are musical instruments more than just tools, and it seems Pigtronix had a philosophy similar to mine when they designed the Infinity. It´s intuitive yet deep with possibilities, and just like any conventional instrument, it will grow with you as your creative and technical abilities evolve. On the more technical side, the genius auxiliary output allows you to route your loop right back through your effects pedals to work your loop into something different and then re-loop it. The MIDI clock synchronization was my original reason to get the Infinity–and I got so much more!