The Stanley Maneuver on shared sonic experiences, the democratization of instrument design and the counter-cultural power of long songs.
András Molnár, aka The Stanley Maneuver is known to be engaged in many different music scenes of Budapest, some of them rarely in contact with each other. As solo musician he has been making experimental electronic music as well as in various collaborations. His dj sets are just as likely to appear at a contemporary art venue as at a dark dungeon. Organizing events has also been a big part of his work in many styles from cutting edge electronic dance music to world music to DIY house parties. He explains what connects all these roles, why he has so few releases and how he achieves to be surprised by his own music. The interview was conducted in the framework of the UH Fest and Shape+ residency program where he worked with Emcsi and Rehab Hazgui over several days, the result of which was presented on 1 April at the Budapest Jazz Club.
You relate to music in many different ways, approaching it from many different roles. How do these relate to each other, do they interact?
I pretty much started writing about music, DJing, organizing, and making my own music around the same time in the mid-2000s. In fact, the habit of listening to and collecting records in a planned and adventurous way didn’t develop much earlier than that either. I guess this is part of the reason why I treat them as one. For me they are not at all separate, they all are rooted in and come from the same core values and it depends on the given situation and role how they take shape. The enormous power of shared sonic experiences, valuing diversity, an appetite to experience more, the importance of playfulness and honesty, reflection on the human condition and my personal reality – these are all strong links that bind them all together for me. Working simultaneously in several roles can be challenging sometimes for various reasons, I have the impression that to the outside eye they sometimes cancel each other out or don’t make sense and this approach doesn’t exactly resonate with how the world likes to function either. But I couldn’t do it differently.
Can you summarize everything you do and have done?
As a DJ I was part of a few crews over the years and got to play in various different situations. The first was Bounce, where we organized dance music events in the early 2010s with names like Madteo, El-B, Samiyam and Huerco S; then Mödanszié happened which was a series of open house parties that was strongly influenced by David Mancuso’s Loft, the concept at Kimitrak [roughly translates as “whoputsonwhat”] was that any music could fit into any context. I first started to write about music on my blog, Urban Sounds, then I published on Quart.hu – a legendary and pretty well-read magazine back then – as a freelance writer, and then I ran an online magazine called Teslawav as an associate editor and writer – unfortunately, almost all of it has since disappeared from the internet. I also worked as an organizer at Kolorádó Festival curating and booking foreign acts where Ebo Taylor, Chino Amobi, Kurt Vile and Les Filles de Illighadad were among the most important guests for me both professionally and personally. For six years I did Electrify at Trafó with Bálint Szabó, an experimental music series at a theater with names like James Ferraro, Sun Araw or William Basinski and I’ve been working as night manager at the techno club Lärm. Currently, I’m curating and organizing music artists for the independent Under500 all-arts festival. I also recently started a new series, Folyékony Máshol [translates as Liquid Elsewhere] which aims to build more bridges between music communities of Budapest through the juxtaposition of punk, leftfield dance music and experimental music.
As a musician, I feel like I’ve always been roaming the same familiar landscape, adventuring into the soulful, naive realms of dub-infused experimental music chasing some sort of magic. As a member of Rites Network http://rites.network/ we used game engines to create experimental VR environments. I worked for several years with the Hollow group https://www.hollow.systems/ on multimedia performances, I’ve been collaborating often with contemporary dance choreographer Szeri Viktor and more recently with Imre Vass. I had acts with other musicians, like with Máté Janky (Alley Catss) in the duo S+.
Even though you say that your approach is difficult to present, many DJs have been saying for a while now that they play all kinds of music, they don’t limit themselves to a certain style.
Yes, that trend kind of coincided with my initiation to DJing. It’s also interesting that you can no longer tell what kind of music a young person likes from the way they dress, the same person can listen to Machine Gun Kelly or Grouper or both… So wide-ranging musical interest in itself is fortunately much more common these days, but tribalism hasn’t died out either.
Your live gigs and live recordings on Soundcloud are quite different from the few studio recordings you’ve released. The former are usually built up of themes that morph into each other, while the latter are much more static and change more slowly.
Over the last four years, my music and my performances have become increasingly based on improvisational devices, a network of little bits that can be transformed and recombined in any which way. I’m thinking in these terms now, and it’s in a bit of a contrast with the world of composed music I guess. I find it hard to go back to, say, figuring out the frequency settings of the last little chime, I’m much more interested in what can come out of improvisation. I’m not a technically skilled person for composed music anyway; I’ve always been much more interested in expressiveness or the thought process, how to bring a certain degree of reflection and honesty into the music. I also like when a technical imperfection becomes an integral part of the musical language, I think it has strong expressive capabilities so I try to use my shortcomings as an advantage. So improvisation, or at least not setting things in stone with a producer’s mind has become more comfortable for me now. I try to make music that is built up of sounds and sound events that have histories, desires, flaws and limitations – as if they were living beings. They react, interact, communicate with each other and can be recontextualized. I’m interested in what kind of music can come out of this approach.
Why do you have so few releases?
Partly because I had a record that was almost finished and got lost when my laptop was stolen at a show. That was quite a painful experience and I didn’t make any music for a year or two after that, almost out of spite. The other thing is that all my music feeds off of what came before, and so there’s a continuity or feedback loop-like state where it’s hard to set boundaries, to say this is what I’m releasing, this is what I’m appointing as a state worth preserving. Feels a bit arbitrary. Moreover, for me, events that happen in physical space, in the here and now have often been more meaningful, so I tend to prioritize them. In contrast, there is a lot of music coming out on the web, it feels like it’s hard to find an audience and I don’t necessarily want to contribute to increasing the noise even more just for the sake of it. And then there are certainly self-esteem issues involved, never seeing what I’ve done as good enough, or at least thinking that the next one will be even better. By the way, this is usually true, but it does leave the milestones unpreserved. In any case, I’ve been longing for years to resolve this dilemma in one way or another and publish some of my music so I’m sure that will change soon but I’m in no rush.
On the now defunct music site Teslalawav you had a column about songs longer than 15 minutes. What is it that you can only do in a 15-minute song?
I think one of the most special things about music is its temporality, that you have to take your time to listen to it and that music also takes its time to have an effect. A fifteen-minute song demands more time, more attention, and therefore more commitment from the listener which in the current environment is an ambition that I can strongly identify with both as a musician and as a listener. There are also complex effects that can only be achieved by using that much time; you can scale things up or you can have three or four zigzags, or you can have, say, seemingly nothing happening for minutes, and then something happens but it takes on a whole new meaning due to the preceding part. I really like how for example the disco music of the seventies, with the birth of the 12” single format in 1976 suddenly produced a format where it was the norm to put an eight to twelve-minute-long song on each side. It lent itself to exploring the expressive qualities of basic tools like dynamics, allowed for much more complex concepts in the spatial movement of instruments and it also resulted in drastically different song structures which later lead to dance music. Not to mention that it was a time when soul, funk, Latin music, rock, new wave, boogie, the foreshadowing of techno and house could intersect in any which way. Anyway, the appearance of the “extended version” resulted in a few years of playful experimentation with pop music’s boundaries that I think was a hugely important turning point in modern music. That is not to say that length is a prerequisite to doing interesting stuff, not at all, but behind a long song there are usually similar ambitions. Time is treated generously, and instant maximum impact is never the main goal of a long song, which for me is a very appealing and important countercultural position to take.
What does it mean that you make your own devices, instruments in technical terms?
I mostly work in Ableton Live, using a lot of Max4Live tools. A relatively new and very exciting development in making music is that virtually anyone can program instruments to use in Ableton through Max/MSP. These are often born out of sheer dedication, but even if you’re a smaller company, you can expect a much lower cost of entry than the big instrument manufacturers, which has also allowed for the birth of much wilder, weirder, obscure features and tools and synths. So the partnership between Ableton and Max/MSP has kind of democratized instrument design, imagination is running wild. I just combine these tools like everyone else or try to make them myself, and then build a set of rules with them, program tons of variations, and map that to my controllers so that I can make the most complex changes to that whole system with the least amount of interaction. At least that’s what I’m aiming for. That’s how they become instruments.
How much control do you have over what happens?
I like to be surprised by my instruments, so it’s coded into these instruments that I don’t always know exactly what’s going to happen. For example, when I use a synthesizer, I often make the timbre or its behavior to be completely different depending on the octaves and then randomly rediscover these different aspects while playing them. But if I want to react to situations during a concert or collaborate with others, it’s equally important that I have control over the music, rather than just having a machine blip-blop by itself uncontrollably.
You have also started writing music for dance performances, and you have, or have had, other collaborations. Why are these important to you?
On the one hand, it is an important source of inspiration to collaborate with people from different disciplines but with similar values or interests. On the other hand, human connections are something everyone needs, and sharing the creative process with others is as much a pleasure as sharing anything else. Being a solo musician can sometimes be a very lonely thing and I’m not fond of this idea of the artist as someone who is lost in the greatness of his ideas and thoughts all the time. For the same reasons, it’s important for me to be involved in several music scenes at the same time, to learn from the people within, to connect these worlds or to be able to perform in many different contexts. For example, when I had to think of sound within the logic of a game engine it was a new approach that I could use later. The same goes for curating a big festival or performing in a gallery setting. The SHAPE+ residence was different again. We had five days to create something with Emcsi and Rehab Hazgui, with whom we didn’t know each other prior to that. It was a very intense time together which can act as an adrenaline shock leading to heightened creativity. Another great thing about collaborations is something that Lolina, a musician I admire, once put into words really well: they prevent you from experiencing creation as a personal achievement. I like to think of creation as a process in which people are self-aware and empowered mediators.
Interview by Andras Ronai, originally appeared on mmn-mag.hu