Nov 2013 07

Embarking on an audio/visual journey into a post-dystopian world, Andre Mistier – a.k.a. The Adversary – guides us through the exciting first chapter.

 

An InterView with Andre Mistier of The Adversary

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Having released his first EP, Chapter 1: The Ruins, Andre Mistier introduces audience to The Adversary. Building on his foundations in theatre, Mistier’s is a form of electronic music that encompasses elements from across the board, topped off with a fair helping of sound design and narrative songwriting to help bring the listener into a dynamic other world. While this might sound like a grandiose return to the unabashed pomp of ’70s progressive concept albums, Mistier’s plan is far more involved, incorporating various facets of the modern world – the technology that surrounds and even dominates us, advances in music-making techniques, and given life via new avenues of visual performance and presentation. Mistier shares with ReGen the very nature of his world and the depths he plans to explore and allow audiences to participate and actually take part in the journey.

 

Your first release is titled Chapter 1: The Ruins, so it stands to reason that future EP releases will be additional chapters. What can you tell us about the whole of this story you’re telling in your music?

Mistier: Well, I’m really interested in music creating a world. It is a narrative and there is a story, but more than anything else, I’m trying to evoke a world that the characters that these songs are about kind of exist in. I kind of want to explore this world as much as I can; I like worlds in which a story is something that exists in that that world, not just the story is the entire world. Someone once said to me that what makes a great series story – like a trilogy like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or that kind of stuff – is that all of the questions and stories that come up in that world are not ever fully answered in the story that you see. So it allows you to put in all these other questions, and I kind of liked that as something that people could really engage with, making it not a one directional experience. It’s like saying, ‘I made this world. Here’s the story that I’ve got in this world. You can make other stories in this world. That’s cool too.’ With that being said, the story takes place in the fall of this future society. So, this future dystopian Big Brother-esque world has just fallen into ruins and these two characters – Cutty and Maybelline – are trying to piece together what to make of their lives in the absence of structure. So, ‘Maybelline,’ the first single from Chapter 1 is basically this guy telling Maybelline, ‘Hey, now that everything is gone, we actually have more freedom and there’s more room for us to do what we want to. Let’s dance the ruins away and have fun with this.’

That description seems to correspond to the accompanying video for ‘Maybelline,’ which you described as a post-apocalyptic tale of two people discovering freedom in the ruins of the city. Is the video also to be part of the grander concept at work?

Mistier: It’s a little bit more of a standalone, but the idea behind it I think is totally part of this whole thing. I mean, that idea of that disorientation is kind of one of the things I think is being explored in this, kind of now that like all off the structure and all of the ground has fallen away, what’s left? And there are both people trying to find answers and people kind of confused and disoriented with their lack of answers. So, even though that video clearly takes place in modern day New York, but the video is capturing something that is as true in this story as anywhere else.

It’s reminiscent of how in 1982, a film like Blade Runner seemed very futuristic, while even then, if one were to walk down the streets of a city like New York or Hong Kong or Tokyo, it wouldn’t be that much different. Dystopian futures and cautionary tales are a staple of science fiction, and now we’re living in the times of those stories. What do you feel is the relevance of such stories in current times?

Mistier: To me, writing a story in a fictional future is really just an excuse to say stuff about the present in a way that makes it kind of more fun and maybe more believable. I’m not claiming I do, but if I said to you that I know how to save the world, you probably wouldn’t believe me. You’d probably think I’m crazy or delusional or whatever. If I said I wrote a fictional story in this fictional world where this character figures out how to save the world, you’d believe me in the context of the story. There’d be no reason not to. I’m not even saying it’s about that. I’m just saying that, as an example, creating a fictional world, it lets you make comments that people don’t have to question how much is true or not. They can simply engage with the question as a question. But, for me, I read this article in, I don’t know, maybe The Economist or something like that, about the ethics of robotics, and the whole issue was modern drones… the basic MO is drone sees target, drone identifies it as possible thing to shoot, drone sends message and image back to person, person presses green-blow it up or red-don’t blow it up. And the drone blows it up or not. That whole thing has a lag; it takes 15-20 seconds, and the military is finding that to be too long. So they’re trying to program in ways for the drones themselves to determine the ethics of whether or not this person is actually a target or not. How do you program ethics into a robot? I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ I’ve seen all the movies in which they all start like this. There’s never a story in which the robots get to determine who they kill and it goes well. Like, there’s never been a story in the history of man in which that happens and it goes fine. This is the beginning of fucking The Terminator. I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! This is just ridiculous.’

It is, so is it a concern to you that the message of these stories has been ignored or devalued? If so, why do you feel that artists, musicians, and filmmakers continue to explore them?

Mistier: It took me a while to figure out the context I wanted to set this in because, to me, the whole dystopian thing has been done. I doubt I’m going to do it better than The Terminator or 1984 or whatever. We can all list our favorite dystopian stories. But, as a statement, I think as a cultural statement, it’s already been used and its role as a prophetic warning is kind of like clearly been defanged by this point. Either at some point it did have a stronger statement of warning and by this point it’s kind of been devalued and nobody cares, or maybe we too easily forget anyway. I’m not sure. But it’s part of why I had a moment of epiphany for this and said that I’m not setting it in this dystopian society; I’m setting it in the fall of the dystopian society. At which point, the intent from here forwards is a positive building of something new in the ruins of what was bad, which for me is a slightly different take on this, where this is not, ‘Hey look, I’m trying to warn you of this!’ I’m actually just trying to say that cycles happen and things are going to fall apart. If you look at the things that are actually positive ways to build forwards, we don’t have to deal with the warning part anymore. Let’s deal with what happens after the warning.

In what ways do you feel your background in theatre and live performance has influenced the way in which you approach your storytelling and your music? How do you plan for the two to merge beyond the music video?

Mistier: In theatre, I did acting as well, but I was really mostly directing and producing and a lot of that stuff, which is basically like world creating, right? So it’s kind of the same thing and it’s a little like the chicken or the egg. Was I a director because I liked that whole like big comprehensive world or did I like that world and that’s why I gravitated toward directing? But I’ve always been someone who… I don’t want to just write a song; I want to write a song that is part of this big world. I like the idea of making this all-encompassing thing and, you know, I’ve been in bands before and I’ve made music before and I don’t mean to devalue it at all, but just making music was not enough for me. I wanted to make music in the context of making that be the centerpiece of something bigger, and I think that’s really where the theatre thing came in was A) making a story, but B) let’s explore the various ways that we can tell that story. There will be multiple chapters of albums, there will be multiple videos, and I’m looking at the idea of making a graphic novel at the end of this, along with the live experience. I’m trying to make not just a concert, but a kind of spectacle in which you enter into this world. So, I’m trying to make shows in which the entire environment of the space is dressed up, the stage is dressed up, people in the audience are also kind of dressed up, and I’m kind of creating this whole world that people coming in aren’t just going to a concert; they’re going to an event, or they’re going to a moment in time in this world that you get to join for a second. I can’t say the performance is theatrical; the experience is comprehensive.

This sounds very similar to what many rock bands would do in the ’70s with the live performances, with bands and actors coming together in a form of theatre. Given that your music is electronic in nature, how would the performance of the music translate into the live environment, especially with regards to its connections to the story?

Mistier: The live thing was kind of the last piece that I fully got, frankly, in this because I’ve had a question for a while of how to translate this live. There’s an extent to which I kind of didn’t want to do rock band as rock band, and it’s not quite electronic enough, nor did I really want to do like a DJ and I stand there and sing in front of a DJ. What should be live? What should be electronic? Actually, I went to Burning Man last year and (everyone says this) I had this moment of epiphany, understanding that electronic music is as improvisational live as live music can be. It’s just improvisational in a different way, where a DJ is kind of mapping… like, basically audience reading is the improvisational element, and it’s kind of done through rhythm. Most live music has it so that the improvisational guiding is mostly melodic; at least, in like the canon of western instruments, right? Like all rock songs have a guitar solo; they don’t all have a drum solo. By and large, it’s often that the melody instruments take their turn and when they’re done, back to the song. Electronic music functions very differently. That’s a key piece of this for me, so there’s a full live band and I’m really doing the five-piece: bass, drums, guitar, keyboard, me. Either I’m just sitting or I play keyboard or guitar. And then there’s a bunch of loops that the drummer is triggering live that is real time exploring so we can kind of both play but the song can kind of stretch in whatever length and dimensions we want it to, but the structure of the song, the way in which it’s improvisational is the way in which electronic music is, not the way in which live music is. The overall experience is just a little bit different. The live version of ‘Maybelline’ is like eight or 10 minutes long. I can’t even say it’s a guitar solo. It’s like a dance experience for a lot of the time. Understanding that idea and trying to explore it like that was the piece that made me get it; where it goes with the improvisation. Also, there are all these light spectacles. We built – I’m really excited about these – these wings that I designed and a programmer friend of mine named Adam Harvey did the programming for, and a clothing fashion designer named Michaela Holmes kind of helped fabricate, that are about eight feet long and they take a spectral analysis of the music coming out and they in real time glow and light and interact with tempo, volume, and frequency. There’s more of that stuff coming; that’s the first piece. There is going to be a smaller set of wings that I wear eventually. There are going to be dancers wearing outfits that also interact with the music in a kind of light glowing way. I’m trying to build this kind of future/electro spectacle with music and dance being the centerpiece, but not being everything.

As we’ve mentioned the video for ‘Maybelline,’ let’s discuss it and its placement in the story and if it is meant to lead into future segments.

Mistier: Yes, there’s a video for ‘Maybelline.’ It is the first real direct narrative piece of the story. It is the story of Cutty and Maybelline running through the ruins of the future society and it is a little bit of a teaser for now and the dawning of a computerized sentience that starts to pay attention to them as it becomes conscious. That’s a whole separate part of the story that’s going to come in later. Guy meets girl and computer is interested in the whole process. What does that mean? Ideally, Chapters will be released every three or four months with a video going along each time.

It sounds very similar to what Celldweller had done, eventually compiling chapters of two songs each to form what was eventually a full-length album. Is that perhaps a direction that The Adversary is going with this story?

Mistier: There are a number of future options. One of the things I like about this project is that I’m trying to force myself to not make those answers yet. The initial plan was to release four chapters, and then release all the four chapters as the next album. I’m also exploring the idea of why does it have to be an album-length thing if I’m just releasing chapters? So, I might just keep releasing chapters for as long as I feel like it until this becomes… whatever, 10 chapters and then I move onto the next story. In which case, at that point, it would be probably three albums worth. I don’t know; it comes with an encyclopedia, who knows? For me, one of the things that’s exciting about this is I’m trying to keep this story one step ahead of me or maybe me only being one step ahead of the story. I’m not even sure which I mean. But it would be easy now to finish it off and tie it with a bow and give it out as a package and I’m really trying to stop myself from doing that and pushing myself as far as I can. I’m going to be running to catch up with it and I’ll see where that takes me. But, at least for now, it’s really fun and it’s totally pushing me and making me struggle with myself the whole way through.

From a production standpoint, electronic music and advances in technology make the audio and visual creation of fictional worlds so much more possible, and yet the fiction is usually a reflection of the creator’s view of reality. What are your thoughts on the way in which you as an electronic musician and electronic music in general relate all of these components together? As well, since you talked about the improvisation of an electronic act versus a rock act, what is the balance in your mind between the synthetic and the organic components that make up modern music?

Mistier: I firmly believe that music should acknowledge the spectrum of modern sounds that we live in, by which I mean we live in a world in which we mostly communicate with human voices and we still hear birds chirp and hear violins and pianos and we also exist in a world of cell phone bleeps and construction noises and elevators and cars honking and all of these noises that are very industrial and electronic. To use it all, you have to acknowledge that that’s the full spectrum of sound that we have to deal with. And in making sound, you’re engaging with people relating to that spectrum. So, I’ve really been interested in not only using both sides of that spectrum, but in making what I consider to be hybrid sounds. I do a lot of stuff with, you know, taking an organic sound like a voice, running it through 10 filters, chopping it up, running that through a bunch of filters, and using that as a synthesizer or a percussive noise or whatever. If I isolated just that sound, you would hear a voice and you’d say, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s a voice. I can hear that you went oooh.’ But in this context, you don’t hear that at all. You hear bubbles and blurbs and whatever. But it still has this, even if you can’t quite consciously hear it, organic element to it. When I isolate it, you’ll notice that it’s not completely perfectly in rhythm or perfectly in pitch, or it fluctuates because I’m not a robot. It gives this organic texture that makes things feel really alive and human even if the overall sound experience is electronic. Personally, I’m most interested in music that not only bridges those two sounds but makes the two different sounds feel like the opposite. I’ve always felt that Radiohead takes organic instruments and makes them feel somehow artificial and electronic in this amazing way while Nine Inch Nails takes all these electronic bleeps and whirrs and makes them sound like a guitar solo. Those two things represent the extremes to me of some of the most exciting places that people are taking music right now. To me, it’s not just acknowledging either side; it’s acknowledging this kind of bridge and this whole way the two sides interact with each other.

Where do you feel this hybridization has yet to go? Because the ease of production has allowed it to come so far so quickly, what do you feel is the next exciting step, both in general and in your own music?

Mistier: I think that this trend towards hybridizing sounds is going to happen more and more. I think it’s just the natural evolution. I think also there is becoming a bit of a backlash that, in the context of this hybridization of sound, it still would be nice to play instruments. A lot of the electronic producers that I know will say, ‘I wish I were a good enough keyboardist to actually play live along to my music, or play real parts of my music.’ I’m good enough to write parts that I can put together, but I don’t have the chops to do it live. I feel like that’s a logical next trend of this whole thing. I think that kind of generally in the world of music production and intake, the ideas of how to really do it on your own terms is now more and more valid on both sides. I think the questions that are starting to be asked that are really interesting are, ‘How do I want music to fit into my life?’ Not, ‘What can I do with music,’ but ostensibly, ‘What can music do in my life now that I could in theory do whatever I feel like doing?’ I could sit at home and just produce stuff and throw it up online and never see any money. That’s totally possible. I could be a band and play music and never record anything and just have live versions of my stuff on SoundCloud and that would be how I play live shows. The big question for me, and this is where a lot of this whole chapter stuff and this narrative stuff came from was earlier in this music experience of my life, was the question of what can I do in music? I want to be making music. I want to make money making music. What does this mean? And I think the parameter changes are how much time do I want to be touring? Where would I like to be touring? What kind of touring do I want to do? What kind of sound do I want to make? Now that I can do whatever I want, I don’t just have to use the instruments that are available to me; I can make whatever sounds I feel like making. What do I hear in my head? And it’s why I had a band that I was always having expectations that someday I would make this into a bigger spectacle. The whole thing now is that I’m not waiting. I’m making exactly what I want right now. I only have this time and this life to make music. I have no excuse to make anything other than exactly what I want to make and it’s easier and easier to do it. I wanted to make a story. I wanted to make a story and make it in a form that hasn’t been done with music in this way. For me, this is all really new. It’s more like the way that novels used to be published in magazine serially.

That relates to what we were saying earlier about how Celldweller also released an album in chapters first, and now you are taking that further with a larger story encompassing different media and storytelling devices.

Mistier: I think people don’t really care about albums anymore; not in the same way, but they do care about music having a connection, to the pieces having connections. So I feel like three or four songs and saying that’s a connection, it’s also connected to other chapters. One? Fine. You want four? Fine. You want 40? Also fine. You’re determining your own level of interaction with this and part of what I’m trying to do is ideally eventually online create, like I said, this world in which there is a forum for other people to engage in it. You want to make sounds from bands that don’t exist in this world? Great. I’m going to make a web forum for you to make music in my fictional world. You want to write the diary of a character in that world? Great, go for it! I want to make a world that people can play in and that I can play in. And you know what? It’s kind of easier to do that in a world other than this one.

You mentioned having previously worked in other bands? In what ways is your current work an extension or perhaps a deviation from what you were previously exploring before The Adversary?

Mistier: Earlier music that I’ve done, I think as with a lot of people, was darker. The statement I was making was that these things in our society are bad. ‘Hey, everyone, look at your life and see what’s wrong with it.’ I kind of had this moment where if you actually really listen to me, you’re just going to be unhappy. I’m really not sure that’s actually helping anything. So I kind of got really interested in keeping with that kind of sound, but I wanted to add something to the conversation that offered something, frankly, positive that kept in the same conversation. I still see the same issues with how the world works, but frankly, I’m tired of complaining. I want to be part of a dialog that makes things better.
The more I think about it, the more I think that tapping into darker stuff to express in music is way easier. Frankly, it’s like me giving you my angst, and I’ve plumbed my depths only so far. I just got to the easiest place to get to. It’s a lot harder to come up with something interesting to say that is not about how shitty I feel and have it have meaning, have it have depth. It’s easy to have happy things pop. Dark, angsty stuff is also kind of easy. But really saying something not in a negative way is way harder and I like a challenge!

 

The Adversary Website http://www.theadversarymusic.com
The Adversary Facebook http://www.facebook.com/TheAdversaryMusic
The Adversary Twitter https://twitter.com/AdversaryMusic
The Adversary SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/theadversary

 

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