Ahead of his gig with The Magnetic Eagle at CJC on April 1st, we have a sit down with Danish left-field improv musician Michael Rexen...
It isn't everyday in Cairo, that you hear about an experimental improvised Danish band crossing the Mediterranean to blow the minds of Egyptians. However that is exactly what is set to go down on April 1st, at the home of musical magic, Cairo Jazz Club. Prepare to be lifted away by Denmark's The Magnetic Eagle, who will be providing a nest of strangely obscure but beautifully harmonious improvisations. Opening up the night will be the band Puzzle, ensuring a solid set filled with sonically diverse music. We assure our readers this is not an April Fool's joke, this is absolutely happening. To prove it we here at CairoScene decided to sit down with Michael Rexen of The Magnetic Eagle to find out how they found themselves landing in Egypt, and were fortunate enough to hear a sample of the waves to come.
Tell us a bit about The Magnetic Eagle and how you got together?
I was the The Magnetic Eagle, just myself for some years, as a hobbyist project on the side, and every now and then if somebody wanted a weird show, I would go out and play. I started bringing people in, asking friends, suddenly three guys started staying for every show, and before we knew it we were a band.
How would you describe what you do as The Magnetic Eagle?
We play 100% improvised music. We spend a lot of time talking in our band, we speak about the spirit of the music, the way it affects us and our consciousness within an improvised piece. When we make an album, 40% of time we play and the other 60% of time is us discussing things, getting into arguments, and giving each other hugs.
What are the benefits of being completely improvised and what are the downfalls?
There are no downfalls. The benefits are endless. It is incredibly spontaneous, giving rise to extremely complex music, that you would never be able to write down, or reconstruct again. We don't hide behind a certain persona or genre, we move freely, so it easy to understand even though the music is complex.
Can you give us an example of a time when you went into a show feeling an emotion that came out through your improvisation?
Yes. Before the show we gather our energy in a little ritual that includes me talking about a light that envelopes our body and spirit, bringing us into a certain unity. In that unity there is a certain way of life. The way we create music is the way we live our lives, and if we collectively feel the spiritual calmness of being, it becomes easy to create music that is complicated. Four kings in our element creating something together so perfectly, feeling each other being in time is very much about that emotion of unity and clarity.
Tell us about the times when it isn't clear, when you fail to convey what you were feeling.
It's like a knife to the heart. It can feel like you betrayed your friends, because of egotistical reasons. You're on stage and someone is looking at you, you suddenly find yourself being swooned by that instead of the music.
Do you ever clash on stage because someone in the band is taking over too much of the improvised sound?
It can happen, but it hasn't happened with The Magnetic Eagle. I have worked with improvised music for a long time, playing with other bands with the same people in the bands. When that happens it is usually when you throw something out into the room that doesn't get caught, then you have to leave that idea and kill that darling, and you have to do it very fast before it gets really weird.
Do you ever offer opportunities for the audience to partake in the improvisation? is it an interactive show?
It is, and one of the main reasons for that is because we have a drummer in our band named Matias Wolf. He is a 19 year old insanity bomb of energy, who has this idea that if he is feeling something, and feels like he wants to say it, he'll say it. He'll grab a microphone and start talking to people and interacting with the audience. With The Magnetic Eagle it hasn't happened as much that we would have people on stage banging and clanging on stuff, but we have this ideal that every and anything is allowed, and everything is part of a composition. Even if you feel tired and you just want lie down and enjoy the others guys playing, or if you want to grab a beer with someone, everything is allowed. We tend to have an experience that gets people on our side. By the end of the concert they begin realizing that everything is being pulled out of nothing, and begin rooting for us like we were a football team, they are like, 'yes, save it. Save this moment,' and before you know it, the greatest break of mankind comes, and we all hit it together on the one, and the magic comes back, and that is where we really get the interaction going.
Do you ever worry you will be playing a show, where all the magic is there, but then it all just disappears?
No, but I will probably start obsessing about now that you have asked that question. If that was to happen, then it wasn't meant to be, and I wouldn't classify that as a fear.
Where does all the inspiration come from?
We use parameters between chance and skill. It could be as simple as dropping a drumstick that makes a weird fill that you end up using. You learn to get into a mode of music were you are constantly adapting between these two parameters.
Who does what in The Magnetic Eagle?
I sing, play the drum machine, flute, and have a bunch of effects and looping equipment. Matias Wolf plays drums. Adi Zokanovic plays keyboards, Commodore 64, and home made electronic instruments. Martin Dahl is a guitarist, and sometimes plays some African instruments.
How did you come up with the name The Magnetic Eagle?
I kind of just made it up when I was out, and someone asked me, 'what should we call you?' I came up with it on the spot, and thought that it was a cool image.
What is the Danish music scene like?
I really don't have my finger on the pulse of that. I live in the forest in a special part of Copenhagen where I have a floating studio that I barely leave.
So you wouldn't say your sound is Danish or influenced by its music scene?
I think it's influenced by the improvised music scene of Scandinavia, which is stems from a jazz perspective. I like what Norwegians are doing with reductionism, which stretches everything out, creating very elongated compositions while being wary of spaces.
So what do you listen to?
I had a long period of loving Radiohead, but nowadays I would probably put on some Moon Dog. He is known as The Viking of 6th Street, because he lived on the streets his whole life. He kind of gave birth to minimalism, composing pieces for orchestras and even making his own instruments. Aside from that I listen to a lot of my friends' music. I think they are the best.
What is your drug of choice?
I smoke a lot of weed, but the band doesn't.
What's it like living in the forest?
I actually live on a boat, on a lake, in a forest, and the studio is floating seperately about 50 metres away. I have a wood burning oven, and in the winter there is really nothing to do but sit and stare at the fire. It is sort of like a forced meditation that I have come to need.
Do you have any electricity?
I have a windmill and solar panels to provide power for my iPad, and when I need to check my Facebook.
How does it feel leaving the peaceful force to find yourself in the hectic city that is Cairo?
I am totally digging it, I am sure after four months I will probably want to go back. You can't appreciate where you come from without leaving it.
What is the biggest misconception about improvised music?
The biggest misconception is that all improvised music is Jazz. Even though improvisation was born from Jazz, it doesn't have to be [Jazz]. We pride ourselves on creating songs that end up being on the radio playing with shapes and waves.
Have you travelled a lot in your life?
Actually, I was born in the Emirates, and moved back in forth from Denmark. For a couple of years I worked on oil rigs in both Egypt and Iran. I also have this motorbike obsession, and although most places need licenses, I found out that in India you don't have to have one so, I travelled around that area for a bit.
What countries would you call hot spots for improvised music?
Germany is good, as is Norway. Danes seem to have a good reputation in Germany, which makes it easy to tour around there.
Are there any Egyptian bands that have caught your ear?
I really enjoy the stuff coming out of 100 copies, especially Mahmoud Refaat's work. I like this duo that mixes visual arts and an oud player. I also like this band I heard called Telepoetic, who I thought were creating music for all the right reasons.
Have you thought of collaborating with any Egyptian artists?
The Magnetic Eagle will be doing a different type collaboration with a zar music band named Mazahir, which plays often in the Makan venue. I've actually curated events for them in Scandinavia. Everyday for the next 5 days we will be playing together for four hours a day, and at the end we will play a live show together where we will record the concert live, and make a video.
What was one of the most memorable shows you have played?
Actually, it's funny you mention it. I think my greatest show took place here in Egypt at Al-Ahzar Park three years ago. It was filled with families, and I was nervous, but it was great and they were so happy to see it.
What is the weirdest instrument you have learnt to play?
Probably the no input mixer, which is taking a mixer and plugging its input into its output, short circuiting the mixer and making crazy high pitch sounds. You can use it as a rhythmical thing, and can even be used to create industrial sounds. A lot of it still comes down to chance and is very hard to use.
If you can't wait for The Magnetic Eagle's April 1st CJC show, then check out this amazing exclusive improvised piece that Michael Rexen dropped in our office.
Michael Rexen will also be playing a solo show at Vent on Saturday the 29 of March. Accompanying him will be SolHorn aka Michael Mørkholt.