FLYER Q&A: Percussionist Jon Mueller to bring Afterlife Cartoons tour to Fayetteville

Jon Mueller, courtesy photo

Percussionist Jon Mueller will bring his “Afterlife Cartoons” tour to Fayeteville for a performance at the Mount Sequoyah Center on Monday, March 14.

The all-ages concert is part of the latest Trillium Salon Series, and is set for 7 p.m. inside the center’s Millar Lodge building on the west side of the Mount Sequoyah campus.

Mueller’s solo acoustic percussion performances use repetitive tom patterns and subtle shifts in grid-like pulsing to instigate overtones, phasing, and choir-like acoustic phenomena that transform the work from mere drum solo to the sonic illusion of a small orchestra.

Rhythmic minimalism, contemporary phrasing, and energetic sustain drive Mueller’s improvisations into a space somewhere between modern electronic music and primal drumming, inspiring audiences toward movement and contemplation.

A $15 donation is the suggested admission.

Below is a Q&A with Mueller in anticipation of the event:

You describe your set for the Afterlife Cartoons tour as transforming it from drum solo to the illusion of a small orchestra. I’d love for you to elaborate on that thought and how it all works – as well as what prompted you to make this transformation.

Well, it is solo drums, but the overtones that accumulate in the room over time add sounds to the acoustic mix that are beyond the strikes usually associated with drums. People have mostly commented about hearing singing or voices, so maybe it’s more of a choir than an ensemble effect.

Since the very first time I played the drums, I was struck by their sound, particularly from the perspective of being the player. It was inviting, instead of the instrument implying “you don’t know enough to play me.” While I understand and have used the instrument to keep time over the years, I know it’s not limited to that function. The tonal and textural quality of drums is a deep world to explore.

Let’s linger on this description of you finding a space somewhere between modern electronic music and primal drumming, inspiring audiences toward movement and contemplation. I’d love to know more about the electronic music and primal drumming (and what about each) that inspired you toward this space, as well as what brought you towards prompting movement and contemplation.

Essentially, I’m beating on them in often very simple patterns. But where you strike the head and what tonal combination of toms you use can create interesting acoustic results, and that’s what I’m interested in – using energy and playing not to be visually or technically impressive, but to create something to listen to that might cause everyone in the room to wonder what is actually happening. The space informs this greatly as well, and so on tour, it’s always a mystery what will happen and I do my best to figure that out and find the results that I know are possible.

In terms of the similarity to electronic music, while there are clear rhythmic elements to my playing, I’m referring less to techno and more to 20th century composers like Alvin Lucier or Roland Kayn who use acoustic phenomena and chance to reveal something else beyond their actions.

The set you describe aligns so well with Trillium’s mission to redefine the live music experience to invite connection. Wondering if you have stories of performances that really spoke to those goals – where you really felt like these moments happened?

The sense of awe when people describe hearing singing or voices definitely inspires a connecting conversation. It’s less of a compliment on the performance and more of an examination of what was experienced in it, which to me is much less one sided, as I often have a similar experience to share. Together, we can marvel at what just happened.

In some cases, I’ve had people brought to tears by what they’ve heard. In these cases, something deeply personal happens — sound stirs something in them that they didn’t expect, and it reminds me how powerful sound can be. These situations inspire me to continue to work in this way because there’s clearly something valuable on a human level to it.

Have you ever performed in Northwest Arkansas before? What are you looking forward to?

I had one of the greatest performance experiences of my life at Backspace in Fayetteville a few years ago. I’ve had family in NW AR since the 80s and have visited there frequently. Yet, after so many years, I had never played there until that Fayetteville show. So, it was really personally rewarding in that way, but the audience was extremely attentive despite my having never played there, and them potentially having little reference for my music. I told them how much the show meant to me afterward as we all sat in total silence and it really felt like the whole room was together. We really experienced something together. It’s hard to explain, as it sounds like just another show when I say it, but it was really something and I’ll never forget it. I’m not expecting this to happen again, but any chance I have to visit the area is important to me. I’ve even taken the following day off to have more time to be there.

Let’s go way back. I’d love to hear about your earliest musical memories – those moments when you realized that you wanted music to be integral to your life?

Well, that’s a really long story. I became obsessed with music and records since I was maybe 3 or 4 years old based on my parent’s records and the radio stations they played. I think almost instantly, I imagined what it would be like to perform the songs I heard. So, from a young age, I thought I would be a guitar player. For years, that is what I imagined doing with my life. But then, as I got older, realized I couldn’t really play the guitar well and that realization was somewhat devastating. As I’ve mentioned earlier, when I was around 14 and I first sat at a drum kit and played it, having no idea what I was doing, the sound was inviting, and a whole new world I never expected opened up to me. Drums showed me the way.

What music is in heavy rotation for you right now?

I’ve been listening a lot to R. Keenan Lawler and John Krausbauer’s ‘Spinnan’ CD, Raja Kirik’s ‘Rampokan’, various records from the Folklore Tapes catalog, as well as a variety of records on the Ocora label, which are two of my absolute favorite record labels. And, while it’s a 4 LP set, I’ve been focused on particular sides within the La Monte Young ‘Trio for Strings’ box set, featuring cellist Charles Curtis, who’s been a great inspiration to me.