Mystified has an extensive history exploring the creative muses, which are not confined to audio arts, he creates visual arts as well. This interview is going to focus on the music.
I looked through the Discogs online catalog (see link below) and came to realize that his various pages of projects documented there reveal but a shadow of his spectrum of awesome productivity. The artist known as Mystified has produced music under other names, including Mystifield, Autocad, Grid Resistor, Mister Vapor, Model 201, and he has been active in something called A Cryo Chamber Collaboration with a roster of thirty or so members from all over the planet.
Mystified is a minimal/dark ambient/drone project. AutoCad has been focused on mathematical and fractal electronic music. Grid Resistor uses only sounds created by machines and is generally of the industrial drone genre. Mister Vapor is a side project started in 2009 and described as misty, hazy ambient work. Model 201 was started in 2017 and for this project all sounds were ripped from old Mystified cassettes.
The list goes on, his is an active catalog that grows daily. He collaborates and creates constantly and he has found many purposes for his music, including scores for films, online and terrestrial radio shows, festivals of aesthetic, political, and other varieties, informational cd-roms, spots on many scores of compilations, and "quite a few" independent releases (hundreds).
He reveals on his Spotted Peccary artist page, that his is “not the utopian ambient of the typical soundscape artist. It is serious music for serious people.” The sound is experimental, based on creative science and applying stimulus to new sources, then collecting the results and curating what he chooses to keep and display. He has invented an online program, The Generative/Iterative Jukebox, that generates new sounds for each listener who clicks on the button. There are links to several of these inventions posted at the end of this interview.
Who is this guy? His "real" name is Thomas J. Park. Why does he act as a fountain of experimental electronic music? I had the chance to ask him if there was something he heard or saw early in his life that made him want to focus so passionately on his art. "I always thought of artists, and especially musicians, as complete badasses, completely untouchable. That I can perform live now would really have been thrilling to me as a kid."
Thomas Park's interests in music began when he was in grade school, struggling and often failing to learn to play the piano and trombone, yet very much still wanting to be a part of music. He started noticing electronic music with groups like A Flock Of Seagulls, Human League and even New Order hitting the charts back in the eighties. This was during his high school years, and the new sounds interested him. His own early efforts were very simple fractal midi constructions done using shareware. He says that they sounded a bit like bad 1970's horror movie soundtracks. His incorporation of using coding, pretty much started with Python, with the LauchCode's 8-month LC101 program.
This interview took place in May of 2020 using email correspondence, I started with a question about the name of the new album, Yenisei Crossing. The album releases July 24, 2020 on Spotted Peccary Music in CD and streaming formats:
Robin James: There is a river in Russia, the Yenisei (which is sometimes spelled
Yenisey) does this have anything to do with your album title Yenisei Crossing?
Mystified: The river “Yenisei” is part of “Yenisei Crossing”, which alludes to a crossing of that river. Why a remote part of Russia? I have had a series of dreams of varying clarity in which I live in primitive Siberia, eking out a living on the chilly plains. Siberians would know about the Yenisei-- where it is located and its resources.
R: What is the story of the creation of your album Yenisei Crossing?
M: At the time, a lot was going on with me creatively. I had been working on a series of Python applications that enabled my processor to, mainly, choose a body of samples, treat them in any of certain ways, and then map them out on a live looping console. I could get some unexpected and really interesting loop-based compositions this way.
The first immediate advantage was that I did not have to spend hours preparing loops for mixing. The Python code took that task out of my hands. Nor did I have to rely on my own rather specific and perhaps predictable choices. The random functions available to me put sounds together in ways I would not have predicted. Sometimes the result was unlistenable, but more often than not it was intriguing, to say the least.
Pursuing coded music has become a sort of dream-escape for me, or pastime. Like my nocturnal visions of Siberia, they took me places I never thought I would experience.
R: Human beings have many unique characteristics compared with other creatures here on Earth, including the use of speech, story telling, and the preservation of history. What is music?
M: I would add music as a virtue that tends to be human. And I want to add that I love music, even traditional music, and would suggest to no one that they throw out their recordings. What generative enables us to see is that humans can also systematically PLAN music, in some ways. In other words, we can enable the computer certain possibilities, which it then enacts-- and often, then, we can and do curate the results.
That being said, music remains a mystery in many ways. Especially interesting to me are the ways that certain tones sound good together, and the existence of harmonics-- a documented phenomenon that shows what happens as key frequencies unite.
It has been said that all music is rhythm, or percussion. If this is true, then I hope to help musicians and listeners alike realize that they can be free of militant or precise rhythms, as I feel that the West has a sort of craze with rhythmic precision that is far from ideal.
R: What is listening?
M: The act of listening-- we open our ears, and invite music into our minds. We allow it to create its effects. And I feel that we can open our ears and minds more or less according to our inclination(s). For example, Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” makes me weep with emotion every time I listen closely, so I tend to avoid listening to it except for at certain times.
R: What listening events changed your life?
M: First there had, I am afraid, to be this kind of death of standard sounds. Due to lifestyle choices, growing up, and other forces, I felt and heard a lot of the music of my youth turn flat or sour to my ears. Some pieces, very few, survived-- and these were always by certain artists, demonstrating textures, noise elements, harmonics and particular abstract qualities. There was a period when I was quite religious about only listening to certain types of sounds. And indeed that they were sounds was often enough-- more important than their location or use in a composition. More recently I have stepped back from this extreme point and regained an appreciation, happily, for a lot of the music I thought I had lost.
R: How do you select the sounds that you capture?
M: Well, there are 2 levels, really. In a larger sense, I try to amass a substantially-sized batch of sounds that I think will work together. These have to be iterable-- they have to work with themselves and one another, in pretty much any combination. It is helpful, for example, if they are already in tune with one another, and don’t contain sonic elements that are silly or offensive or might stick out from the rest. The second level happens with each track, and that is where I use my Python to index the larger set and randomly make extractions from it, then treating the extractions in ways that make them more musical in a loop-based mixing context.
R: Where do you come up with your best ideas?
M: Music, for me, has become a way of life. I write most days, and in fact, it is a chief pastime. That being said, I can’t be sure how the lightning of ideas strikes the inorganic molecule and brings it life. Inspiration remains a mystery. I can suggest that it has helped a great deal to follow my instincts and intuitions, given that they tend to take my music into more fruitful and less-predictable places.
R: Are there significant secret meanings hidden in the Yenisei Crossing
M: The song titles were generated using coded random string generation. You might think of them as remnants of some forgotten language-- or, perhaps, transmissions from space of one we have yet to encounter.
R: What are the most beautiful places you have ever experienced music in?
M: There was this infamous trip to the Smokey Mountains I took with some college friends. I had this old Sony Walkman, and I remember ascending one of the trails deeply immersed in the 4AD Catalog. The music played off of the gorgeous green trees in awesome ways. It was almost religious, certainly very memorable.
R: What is your task as an artist?
M: I think I have to really go there, you know-- into that territory deemed dangerous, unlawful, mysterious. I admit to parts of the mind that are poorly-lit. You might say it’s my job to venture into Siberia, and come back with something that provides sustenance.
R: What was your most positive surprise in life?
M: I think the first time I heard my code generating its own loop-combinations in real time, that was pretty big. Though, I did not scream, “IT’S ALIVE!” Perhaps I should have.
R: What art-related phenomena that you have experienced most changed your path?
M: For sure discovering electronic music and especially ambient. A friend of mine for most of my adulthood had great music taste, and he would always let me borrow some such tape or record he had found. Incidentally, he had a great talent for judging music based on album cover. (Really). Listening to his picks. I would scratch my head and wonder how the Beatles and Beach Boys of my youth had evolved into THIS. It was certainly transformative.
R: Speaking of the Beatles, I have been wondering about the effect of Revolution #9 on the ears of various creative people. What do you remember of when you first heard it?
M: When I first heard Revolution #9 on "The White Album," I was quite young. And I absolutely loved it. It was like a work of science fiction, but fit in so well with the rest of the album. I was interested in music that broke rules like that, and continue to be.
R: What does your work as a composer bring to your life?
M: For one thing, as I see the approach of generative environments, AI, and other phenomena, I know that I have made my statement. I urge the use of technology to bring us new combinations of things we already have and know, rather than to use its own mechanical logic to force progression. The AI of my creation would be a sort of mix-master-- it would, for example, introduce you to combinations of choices that he knew you liked anyway. It would never replace your favorite clothes. It would suggest items that reminded him of clothes you already told it you liked, or new combinations of what you have.
R: What do you listen to for recreation?
M: I still listen to a lot of the music of my college years-- shoegaze, ‘90s alternative and electronic music. When I feel myself slipping into too much of a pattern, I break free and use my processor to make something new.
R: What is your most cherished accomplishment that you would care to share here?
M: First, I feel that I should share that I have paranoid schizophrenia. This is known by my community, so it is and should be no secret. Despite schizophrenia being labelled as a “degenerative” condition, I have managed to accomplish a number of things in recent years, in my forties-- such as marrying my wife, learning to code and securing my first real white-collar career. That makes me a bit of an anomaly in the psychiatric circuit, and I like that.
R: How did your parents introduce music to you growing up?
M: They were great lovers of music. They played their records all of the time, including especially The Beatles and The Beach Boys. My father was, secretly, very talented, and could play banjo, ukulele and piano and sing in key. I always imagined he could have become a musician, if he had wanted.
R: If a youngster was interested in making music, how would you advise her?
M: I am afraid the good old, it’s going to take a number of years and please stick with it, remain the best advice. It might be some time before the music even feels personal or relevant. Stick with it, and sooner or later, I believe it will. And as a young person makes the music more and more their own, so do they progress, until their relationship with music becomes an impassioned commitment.
R: How would you explain your creative process to a youngster who is
curious about life's possibilities?
M: There will be times, I would suggest, when life seems to restrict a person, to limit their range of choices. I would reassure the young person that music, and art, in general, have a way of re-opening these closed pathways, and restoring creativity and free expression to one’s life.
R: What is it about the sound that attracts you to your unique work?
M: All I can say is that I like what certain music(s) do to my mind. And I am amazed at the chance to help others feel the same way.
R: I close my eyes when listening to your music and find myself traveling to strange worlds I have never seen before, does your visual side influence your music?
M: It is absolutely great to hear. I often think of my music as a means, in part, for a clean, drug-free trip. I want people to let it take them places, to imagine those places, Using music in this way a creative catalyst has been really important to me. It is more than an escape-- it helps to actually cultivate certain types of innovative thinking and behaviour.
R: What would you like to try that you have not tried yet?
M: It certainly would be a thrill to have a church’s pipe organ to play.
R: Where do you dream of going? (vacation, tour, exploration, by time
M: Portland is already a favorite destination, though my wife and I have only been once. We actually plan to move there when we retire. I like the idea of settling down that close to the Pacific Ocean.
R: Thomas Park, “Mystified,” thank you for your time, I am looking forward to continuing to monitor the explosive force of your creative trajectory. Thank you for your sonic gifts.
In conclusion, I have some questions to pose the reader, making this into a vaguely interactive event, but it is open ended, there will be no quiz. Possible answers to those questions are the reader’s internal contribution to this collaborative experience.
What does the work say? Did we unravel the mystery? Is it music? Where does it take us? This strange so-called music has thrilled and alarmed researchers forever, long into the future. Laymen often find it unintelligible, a monstrous reunification of music, with dissonance, chaotic melodies, disturbing symphonies of noise. What does Mystified intend? When a situation leaves you baffled or puzzled, you're mystified. I am mystified. There is wonderment. The verb mystify is at the root of the adjective mystified, from the French word mystifier, perhaps from either mystique, "a mystic," or mystère, "a mystery."
What you might hear is subtle “sound art” using the generative-iterative method, created for those with a taste for the dark and minimal. It has also been said that the tracks have an inner consistency, that these tracks make a good set, that they work well together and with one another. They are also a bit dark and edgy-- they push the boundaries of ambient. With this new release, we must admit, there is a chance, a possibility, that it will be summarily rejected, and that excites me. Taking chances is something we constantly learn to perfect, in order to build upon, or to plunder our own new treasures from, all in order to find an unexpected new way into our futures. We, the listeners, are at the center of things, sound identities can often be intentionally obscured or appear unconnected to their source, in order to unlock our own completely new possibilities for organising the music of our own future “Great River.”