Cruising Through Your Comfort Zone: An Interview With Ian Max Mauch

Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world

Ian Max Mauch may be a new name to most, yet his stirring live performances, together with his haunting remix of Mono No Aware by Mario Hammer And The Lonely Robot have marked him as something of a rising star. By JOHN BITTLES

After his contribution to Riley Reinhold’s revered Tour De Traum mix series, this summer the Berlin based artist returned to the Cologne label with the melodic thump of his debut EP.

Composed of three original songs, two beatless reworks and six remixes by friends and members of the Traum family, Ode To Cold is a bumper package which epitomises all that is good about electronic music today.

Traum V212 - Ode to ColdThe EP opens with the deep techno groove of Distance Within, its rising synth throb a rare treat for the ears. Sounding like a lost James Holden classic, the track constantly evolves over its ten minute running time, and is so good you never want it to end. Next, Do You Even Know How’s darkened tones and toughened rhythm structure help make it a track which is both punishing and forgiving, (in a good way of course). Cruising Through My Comfort Zone meanwhile is a melody drenched house track full of emotion, tailor made for sending shivers racing up and down the spine.

Further in, the two Ambient Reworks of Distance Within and Do You Even Know How fully expose the cinematic elements of both songs, the absence of beats, allowing the synths to soar. Of the remixes, sine sleeper create a tranquil slice of calm full of wonder and beauty with their version of Do You Even Know How, Rauschhaus‘ Detox Version of Distance Within is gorgeously melodic, while Vlokken’s take on Do You Even Know How is a mind tickling piece of aural joy. The standard never really slips though. And, with a total of eleven songs and remixes to chose from Ode To Cold is pretty much guaranteed to have something for any home stereo, headphone set, or dance floor.

With Ian Max Mauch’s debut EP setting up home on my stereo these last couple of months I set out on a mission to find out more about the creator of its lush beats. In the following interview we discuss Ode To Cold, the joy of synthesizers, working with the team at Traum, the joys of silence, and lots more.

So, de-wax those ears, head to the Traum soundcloud page for a sneaky listen, and let us begin…

For anyone new to your music, can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?
Hi, my name is Ian. I’m 22 years old and I am a composer/sound designer. Sometimes I like to cook or go dancing, but lately I usually just play synthesizers all day.

Your new EP, Ode To The Cold came out on the 7th of July. What was the idea behind the record, and, how did it come about?
There are lots of ideas behind the record, and the ideas and my relationship to the EP changed a lot throughout the process. Distance Within was the first song I finished on the EP and probably the song I have spent the most time on so far, although all of the tracks are very detail driven and took a lot longer than most of the other music I have been composing lately.

I don’t want to force any specific interpretations of the pieces onto anyone, since for me all of the songs have a very personal meaning that other people couldn’t relate to the same way I do anyway. But at the same time I do think that the whole EP and all of the individual songs have a broader meaning too.

If someone only had time to listen to one song from the EP, which should it be and why?
Hmm, hard to say. I don’t think people should listen to just one song off of the EP since they are all very different, but if you are in a hurry you should listen to the sine sleeper remix because it is short and beautiful.

Opener Distance Within is a gloriously dense and trippy techno hybrid. Can you talk us through the creative process of this particular song?
It was a cloudy Wednesday afternoon in the spring of 2015, and I was jamming at home, but had some pressing thoughts on my mind that I couldn’t really define or put into words. So, I played around for a while creating a bed of synths with overdubs and delays and came up with a rough arrangement. Then I recorded a couple of takes of all of the parts and edited them intensely the same day, but continued to tweak over the course of the past two years. I was learning a lot about mixing at the time and really wanted things to sound nice, so things took very long. With all of the songs on the EP, a multilayered spatial and compositional arrangement was very important to me – so lot’s of channels playing variations of the same thing in different rooms, speeds, volumes etc.. The idea of sticking to the original arrangement and preserving the mood of the initial session is something that plays a very big role for me in general in the creative process. So, over time my relationship to the song changed and the timbres of the sounds morphed a little bit over the years, but I always stuck with the original arrangement.

Another fave is the slow burn throb of Cruising Through My Comfort Zone. The press notes claim it is „a pop tune without a pop song structure“. How fitting a description do you think this is?
Hmm, didn’t really ever understand what that meant exactly. I would say Cruising Through My Comfort Zone has a pretty descriptive title already. For those interested in a more complex interpretation I made a video for it too, which is a combination of the footage from my compilation track Resign and Distance Within.

It might also be referencing the sound aesthetic, since it is a lot cleaner than most of my music, but still has a relatively organic flow. This „organic flow“ has a kind of interesting back story. I started with a loose arrangement built around the drums, bass and the main polyphonic synth, but knew that I wanted something expressive to flow across all parts, so I recorded a couple of layers of synth accents. Some of them I kept, but most of them I tried to substitute with „vocals“ where I tried to sound like the synth. That’s how those accents came to be and the whole process is inverted (so vocals I tried to substitute with synths) for Resign, which for me is the darker counterpart to Cruising Through My Comfort Zone.

When talking about mixing, people use the metaphor of a ‚virtual stage‘ a lot to describe the spatial arrangement of elements in a song. One of the wonders of electronic music is that it invites you to break up the traditional architecture, so have the band playing in vertical instead of horizontal order, or putting the lead sound all the way in the back of the stage, but the kickdrum in the spotlight and so on. Part of my concept for Ode To Cold was that I didn’t want my sound to be a regular band or orchestra on the virtual stage, instead weird undefinable combinations that are different on every song, but create a loose narrative on the technical level too.

Further in, both Distance Within and Do You Even Know How are given ambient reworks. What is the secret to creating great ambient music?
I guess lots of things can be important. I called the reworks ‚ambient‘ reworks because it felt descriptive, but I would say it is the same secrets as when creating any other kind of music. I wouldn’t start composing with the definite goal of making ambient (or any other genre for that matter) for my private music. But, if you are looking for soft pad sound there are so many ways, the best one is probably the one nobody has tried yet.

What do you like to listen to when you simply want to relax?
Hard to say, I have been listening to a lot of Patricia, Terekke, Legowelt.. lately. But, when I am alone I don’t listen to that much music. I prefer to keep the sequencer running and create my own music to relax to, or I enjoy one of the most underrated soundtracks to relaxation, silence.

The EP is completed by remixes by producers from the Traum and Trapez family. How does it feel to have your music reinterpreted by other artists?
Very weird! Especially hearing my voice in other people’s songs.

Do you have a favourite remix from the EP?
sine sleeper for Mondays, Max Dahlhaus for Fridays.

The record came out on Traum. How did you hook up with the lovely people there?
I started getting into electronic music listening to the old Traum and Border Community stuff, Max Cooper, Rob Clouth, Nathan Fake etc. At the time I had been playing in little bands and had sparse experience in computer music, mainly setting up backing tracks or simple loop/delay/guitar pedal experiments. After a couple years of producing I sent Traum a demo (in about 2014) and they liked the idea but they had some suggestions that went to far for me, so I said I could send them another track for their next compilation. A year later I got an email from them asking for some tunes and I sent them a bunch of suggestions that I had on my server. Riley liked a couple of them and Distance Within was one of those, but he preferred the production on one of my ambient tracks Embers, so we put that out on the compilation first. That was Tour De Traum XI in December 2015 I think. Then I did a remix for Mario Hammer, and released another compilation track in 2016 while I was working on the EP.

You are building up a bit of a reputation for your improvised live sets. What can an audience expect from one of your live sets?
Depends on where I am playing, there isn’t much to expect since I don’t even usually know what I am going to play. Lately I have been bringing a couple of synths, a drum machine, lots of guitar pedals and my laptop and do a lot of looping, overdubbing, stretching and some heavy digital processing and sometimes mix in elements from pre-existing songs.

I don’t think an audience should expect anything from my live sets, for my improvised live performances spontaneity and personal expression are key.

I also have different live projects for different types of shows/venues like my theatre performances, collaborative projects, club gigs or projects conceived for different sound systems. In those cases there are different degrees of improvisation involved, but I try not to forget this basic idea. Because, as I go deeper into the world of film/production music I am starting to realize that for most people music is a product, and if everything is perfect and fits into a scheme I can also use presets and generators (which is fine for music that really is meant to be a product I guess…). So, especially for electronic music, character and personality are turning into the most important parameters for me.

Do you have any shows planned over the next few months?
In September I will be playing a two hour live jam in Berlin for a „soli-party“, and later in the fall I will be in Cologne again for an AV project in an old church.

You currently live in Berlin. What five things should any visitor to the city see or do?
I am not an expert on the city really. I spend a lot of time at home with my synthesizers. Sometimes I go to concerts or dance parties, Berlin is great for that.

Do you have any final words for our readers?
I am not so good with words, here are some sounds:


While there are no physical copies as yet, Ode To Cold is available now at all good download stores with buy links and more information to be found on the Traum website.


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