Markus Mars’ music possesses visceral intensity and is probably best experienced in a concert setting like his show last Friday at the Honoka’a People’s Theatre. All of the musical pieces he played at the concert were improvised on the spot. He refers to them as “co-creations” – picking up on the vibe he feels from the audience and venue. Mars spontaneously experiments with beats created on his subwoofer cajón. When he achieves the desired groove, it’s looped, and then he adds multiple layers of sound such as a bass line from his 5-string electric violin, whistles, chirps, unintelligible voices, and varying lead solos either from his violin or telescopic didgeridoo. Nothing was pre-recorded.
If you sat dead center in the front row, you would’ve also experienced cross-panning or stereo movement of sound between the left and right speakers. An effect often heard on several of Jimi Hendrix’s studio recordings from the psychedelic era. The sometimes dizzying and trance-like effect from the hypnotic music lured many to the dance-floor – some did yoga, others writhed their bodies with ecstatic dance moves, while some stuck to simple swing or square dancing. Yes, an odd combination indeed, with a mix of ages.
Like Hendrix’s interest in matters of an extraterrestrial nature, Markus also believes he has a connection to the planet Mars. In a pre-concert interview, he explained his planetary relationship: “My name Markus means the Son of Mars, and I used that as my DJ name before performing concerts,” said the multi-instrumentalist. “When I decided to create music live on stage, I wanted to still be connected to what I call my home planet and started using my first name again. After living in Hawaii for four years, I figured out the “ku” in Markus is the Hawaiian equivalent* to Mars. If you remove the “ku,” it spells Mars. It always felt a little weird when people asked me where I was from. I’d respond, ‘I’m originally from Mars, came to visit Earth and experience Earthlings. I’ve received my human flesh suit in an area they call Austria.'”
Perched on a three-foot riser in the center of the People’s Theater stage, barefooted Mars wore all white and was surrounded by a variety of effect pedals, an incense bowl, and other gadgets that embellished his other-worldly sounds. He told the audience, “This is my spaceship.” Behind him, on the theatre’s large movie screen, images of Earth and space were projected. Parallel reflections from a stage light to his UV light screen coincidently resembled flying saucers.
Mars began experimenting with various musical instruments at the age of four. “My mother played the violin and I was always attracted to violin instruments, and even built my little toy violins with wood, screws and rubber bands,” recalled the musician. “At seven, I started playing drums, and the following year I took up piano to become a better composer. I found growing up in Austria a great place to develop an education in classical music. While I was fascinated with that type of music, I was also intrigued by what you can do with an instrument, by the way you could make it sound in a manner that you’d not expect it. The idea of playing patterns on instruments that are not originally designed or made for that purpose was fascinating. And then I heard a string quartet play a cover of Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star.’ I then became attracted to improvised music like what Jimi Hendrix did. I was not a hardcore fan of his, but I liked the way he made his guitar sound like no one else before. Jean-Luc Ponty played the electric violin and utilized MIDI and these other effects to play jazz fusion. I found that mind-blowing and wanted to do that.” Mars went on to study jazz at the university he was attending, and was the only violinist studying it at that time.
Mars has combined his musical inspirations into what he calls a multi-sensual concert experience for his audience. “It’s like when you go to a restaurant,” explained Mars, “it should not be about just filling your stomach, it’s about looking at it, smelling it, enjoying the atmosphere. These days we’re overloaded with technology, like social media, and as humans, we have a hard time reconnecting to that multi-sensual experience. For me, that sparked the idea of creating something like that on stage. Take for example a band that goes on tour and plays the same songs. Yes, they are in different countries with different audiences, but for the artist, it’s the same repeated experience. With this current project, I’ve tried to create something new to me, and my followers. The idea is when you walk into a venue, everybody is there with the same intention to create. Even if you just listen, you co-create as being the receiver, and you give more space to the giver, and if you’re there to dance, then you co-create because the dancing energy reflects to the stage and leaks back out to the listener. I spend a lot of time in my studio creating sound designs so that I have all my ‘toys’ ready on stage, but all the songs performed on stage are composed as a co-creation with the audience. There’s no sheet music, setlist, or songs with hook lines, harmony patterns, chord structures -it all happens in the now!”
To learn more about where Markus Mars will be playing next, or to pick up his new release, Alien Origins, go to: https://www.markusmars.com.
- Mars was the Roman god of war and the Hawaiian God of War is called “Kū” Kūnuiākea. (source: Unit 7, ULUKAU: The Hawaiian Electronic Library, http://www.ulukau.org).
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos/video: Steve Roby