Tea with TOLE: An interview with Martin Kohout

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TOLE aims to create compositions rather than tracks, force rather than melody, and shifting details rather than clear patterns. The music project of Berlin and Prague-based visual artist Martin Kohout, TOLE combines ideas from his artistic practice and research with his own recordings and production. He will play at MeetFactory‘s Museum Night event alongside SHAPE’s KABLAM and M.E.S.H. on 11 June 2016. 

You claim to make compositions rather than tracks. Can you explain?

TOLE is focused on experience rather than on a song as a unit. I like longer durations and wider space for music where some of its segments can be considered tracks, but are released as a part of the narrative of the whole piece. I want it to be a sonic environment you immerse yourself into.

You work with a number of media, can you briefly describe your artistic activities and where does music tie into it?

My artistic work as Martin Kohout and TOLE don’t necessarily intersect from the outside, and I enjoy the difference between the creative approaches that come from shared starting points. For example, in the piece called Thirst, I included a lot of audio from videos recorded with action cameras, which I had been collecting for about a year for a lecture with the same name. These videos are specific because they mostly contain some sort of adrenaline action, while the waterproof housing of many of the cameras gives the sound a unique characteristic.

I’d say there are two main interests for TOLE: on the one hand I handle TOLE with a similar way of thinking I have as an artist, where genres or mediums are available as a structure and reference with respect to their context and history. There the focus is on narration, editing, and collage, where I relate to the music both bodily and intellectually through its context. On the other hand I’m super interested in sound design and in what I understand as force and volume of sound as something physical, almost like a sculpture, which is a direction that can lead to a very abstract output.

Your compositions are very synaesthetic, depicting a certain situation or a moment. Are they created from a concrete impulse, or rather something abstract or conceptual?

What originally brought me to making music is its ability to be more free from a linear idea, when compared to visual work. Nowadays I really enjoy the mixture of combining concepts with a lot of experimentation and intuition when working on a piece. This way it’s both composing and exploring at the same time.

Does that mean that the work is also improvisational?

It is in the time of its making, but live it’s way more controlled.

You have collaborated with musician and artist Lars Holdhus aka TCF. Can you describe the project?

We are making pottery for our own take on the tea ceremony, which ideally materializes as an installation with our own stage for the serving and with an original soundtrack. During the ceremony, we wear costumes that artist Sandra Mujinga made for us, hang around, talk with people and enjoy the teas. The whole thing is called DungeonTT and it’s definitely going to evolve with time.

You come from Prague, but live a very international existence. Do you think the local contexts are irrelevant these days, replaced by this global-nomadic ephemeral modus operandi.

Wherever I go I accumulate experiences and they are all relevant in some local context. I think that the question is more about what this “local” stands for since sometimes it can be a concrete event in a physical space, or at a cross-section of physical and virtual, and other times an almost completely virtual event. However, most of the time it’s a mixture and this localisation quality is a temporal process. So, the point where you would place it on the scale from physical to virtual can change with time. This way it sometimes feels like not leaving a place even when you travel, or always being at more places simultaneously.