Dominik Grenzler aka An Moku. Sound artist and explorer

Discovery! is one of our goals for the new year, so neoblog will regularly portray something particular, picked from the growing pool of profiles and starting with Dominik Grenzler aka An Moku. I talked to Grenzler every now and then over the years.

Gabrielle Weber
Grenzler aka An Moku has been enormously productive since before the first Shutdown, but the pause actually suited his music in an almost organic way, as it combines urban with nature sounds. Grenzler, the nature-loving electronic sounds explorer, took advantage of the first to start new collaborations, making use of field recordings as well as material from his environment, nature, everyday life and previous travels.

In a very short time, three new CDs were produced one after the other.

Dominik Grenzler aka An Moku ©zVg Dominik Grenzler

“For my Shutdown collaborations, I used field recordings from my large collection gathered during my travels. They are like some kind of travel diary. Since I couldn’t be on the road physically, I travelled with them online and in addition, I digitally explored unexpected territories”.

Grenzler is originally from Gdynia, Poland, he moved to Germany when he was young, where he started making a name for himself as electric bass player in the club and pop scene first. A few years ago he relocated to Zurich and started various collaborations with local musicians as An Moku, his pseudonym for experimental music. He is also planning on new collaborations, for example with bassist Martina Berther.


An Moku & Frederik Vanderlynden, Mirror / Of Mirrors, 2020

The CD Of Mirrors dates from 2012 already and was created together with Belgian sound artist Frederic Vanderlynden aka Virlyn, using field recordings from Iceland. The album languished on a shelf for a long time and only found its final shape through collaborations with Swiss musicians Cornelia Stromeyer, piano, Oriana Zänerle, violin and Jacki Knöpfel, cello. “The CD actually reflects a journey into the past,” says Grenzler.


An Moku & Frederik Vanderlynden, Frost / Of Mirrors, 2020

Of Mirrors offers an incredibly wide and extremely subtle variety of colours. The first track begins with a shimmering, crackling sound. Minimal tonal changing sound carpets, repetitive patterns gradually break the electronic flickering, while instrumental sounds evoke concrete, indeterminate places over and over again. In Of Mirrors, Grenzler conveys moods with an almost cinematic approach: images are created in the mind, vague landscapes, vastness and distance.

Music evoking images is also the subject of An Moku’s CD with Joel Gilardini. The opportunity to collaborate came about through Grenzler’s invitation to Zurich’s tenth edition of “Marathon des Zelluloids” in December 2019. A silent film festival where the soundtracks are performed live.


An Moku & Joel Gilardini, 2020

The CD features improvisation sessions by Grenzler and Gilardini dating from autumn 2019 onwards and during which the two found a common voice regardless of the specific movie, Grenzler explains. This was only announced shortly before the festival: three short films by US avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren from the 1940s. Grenzler states that Maya Deren did well serve as a soundtrack, but what actually took shape was some kind of “Kopfkino” (cinema inside the viewer’s mind).

The tracks on the CD are also vague, almost mysterious, and leave room for the listener’s own imagination. For instance, they have no titles, only enigmatic numberings: 5 – 11.2 – 2 – 13 – 8 – 11.1 – 10, giving no clue regarding their content.

“The album has just been nominated in the Top 100 Ambient Albums of 2020 by music blog “Post Ambient Lux”, says Grenzler happily. On the latest album ‘Where We Meet’ meets Belgian guitarist Stijn Hüwels. It was created during the spring lockdown, between Zurich and Leuven and is their first collaboration.


An Moku & Stijn Hüwels, Where we meet, 2020

“The album is filled with tiny field recordings. A few seconds are usually enough for me to give the musical context an interesting colour, or a twist. With today’s technology, even a woodpecker in the forest can sound strange…”, says Grenzler about the album.

Atonal madness and imagined worlds

“In the old days, I used to play rock and pop. Nowadays I’m less interested in harmonic melodies and more in moods,” says Grenzler, describing An Moku’s music as “atonal weirdness”, and his musical genres as “experimental music, dark ambient, drone, soundtrack”.

An Moku, his alter ego, comes from the Japanese and means: “tacit, unsaid, implicit”, thus embracing what cannot or should not be put into words and resonates or is self-evident. That sums up An Moku’s secret.

An Moku evokes distant worlds, both geographical and temporal, leaving room for one’s own imagination. Accordingly, the CD covers are characterised by a Japanese minimalist aesthetic: black and white to deep blue, mostly Grenzler’s own photographs, with landscapes and few unrecognisable people. “Minimalism runs through everything with me – whether sound or image. I would prefer to make music consisting of only one element.” he confirms.

For the time being, another shutdown born album in collaboration with Stefan Schmidt from Germany is planned for early 2021 on Karlrecords, as well as a minimalist bass-guitar solo album to be released in spring by the New York based label Puremagnetik.
Gabrielle Weber

Dominik Grenzler aka An Moku ©zVg Dominik Grenzler

Of Mirrors: Collaboration between Grenzlers Zurich based Label EndTitels and british Label Audiobulb.

An Moku und Joel Gilardini: on japanese Label  Bullflat3.8.

Where We Meet: on british Label Slowcraft Record

An Moku, Martina Berther, Maya Deren, Stijn Hüwels, Joel Gilardini, Frederic Vanderlynden aka Virlyn, Marathon des Zelluloids, Stefan Schmidt, Karlrecords, Puremagnetik, «Post Ambient Lux»

Neo-Profiles
An Moku, Martina Berther, Joel Gilardini

A both typical and unusual bass player

Episode 2 of the neoblog portrait series on the Swiss Music Prize 2020:

Martina Berther from Chur – a very typical and at the same time unusual bass player.

Martina Berther @ Ester Poly © J. Dubois

Jodok Hess
Martina Berther is a typical electric bass player because she can basically play anything, like many bassists. She’s been grooving hard with hip-hop bands, played feminist punk rock with drummer Beatrice Graf, accompanied great quality pop music with Sophie Hunger or played electro-pop for Daniela Sarda. As Frida Stroom she experiments solo on the bass and moves completely free in the realm of noise.

I met Martina Berther in her rehearsal room in Zurich Affoltern – a nice, big bright space with lots of guitars, basses, effects and drum sets everywhere.

The fact that she shares the room with several other musicians sometimes stresses her out, because it can get crowded. On the other hand, she likes it because it automatically requires a certain discipline and people help each other out.

In general, Martina seems to be someone who if life gives you nothing but lemons, makes some lemonade. The story of how she came to the electric bass in the first place is a beautiful one for example, as the former conductor of the “Jugendmusik Chur” Music School left her take over only reluctantly:
“I used to play trumpet, but it was not really my instrument, fortunately – because that’s how I stayed open-minded and kept looking for what could turn out to become my instrument. In the “Jugendmusik” there was this quite revolutionary electric bass player and bear in mind, the “Jugendmusik” was rather conservative at that time. This electric bassist was over 20 years old, so he had to quit, so they were looking for someone else, but obviously male. When I proposed to take over, the director said: ‘Oh well, we’ll have to have a meeting and discuss if that’s possible, a woman on the bass’.”

Others might have been offended and hence abandoned, but not Martina Berther. She waited patiently for the outcome of that meeting.

“Thanks to an open-minded member of the board, who was female and strongly defended my cause, I was admitted and luckily got to play bass.”

Luckily indeed! After all, this is how the Swiss music scene came to choose an electric bassist among the prizewinners. The Swiss Music Prize is what this interview will focus on.

25000 francs in Corona times, you don’t say no to that, do you?

“No! (laughs) – you don’t say no to that. You don’t say no to that in non-corona times neither.”

Were you surprised?

“Yes, indeed I was! Last year I attended the award ceremony, as my musical partner Beatrice Graf (drummer of Ester Polly) got it and I thought: If I continue to work well, maybe I’ll get it one day. It simply came much earlier… (laughs) But I would have gone on for another 50 years even without prices.


Martina Berther / Beatrice Graf @ Ester Poly – FieldsessionB-Sides Festival 2018

Your broad profile is therefore not a business plan?

“No, definitely not! It all came about out of curiosity.”

Tell us about your role models?

I inspire myself more to sounds than to musicians. Whenever I heard an intriguing sound, be it a cello or a drum set, I would reflect on what I like about it and what I could translate about it on the bass?

So it’s all about sound?

“Sound, or energy – sometimes it is difficult for me to point out, what exactly I like about a musician. It is often a presence or an attitude, which is what I have tried to adopt as a role model. On the other hand, I quite often hear: I started playing bass because of you. Which is beautiful of course.”

When I listen to the Frida Stroom project, Hermeto Pascoal comes to mind – because of the concept that everything is music. Even his beard is music to him, or a banknote he plucks. So I asked myself: Is it this curiosity that makes them go beyond sound, energy and all that to look for something new?”

“Yes, it is mainly about sound. It can also be things that happen while you play. Sometimes I notice that the whirring of the amp was actually the most beautiful moment of a 30 minutes improvisation, so I focus mainly on that and feel the urge to develop further.”

“the whirring of the amp.. the most beautiful moment of a 30 minutes improvisation”

How do you prevent the listener from feeling excluded?

“Actually, theoretically, it is quite simple. If I myself get involved in the moment, in space, in the audience, by making myself vulnerable and start to play only from that point, the public gets involved very quickly. It becomes more difficult when there’s insecurity and I try not to allow improvisation and decide to start with a particular sound”.

Is that already too much?

“Sometimes it is. Or when I start improvising and then find myself thinking: I could do that next. I then have the feeling of being too busy to really notice what’s actually happening, in the room or with my instrument. Because everything is already there. You can do so much with very little, all you need is the courage to get involved. If I fight against it, out of insecurity, then it is more me fighting against something.
“You just have to find the courage and go for it.”

“all you need is the courage to get involved”


Martina Berther with Frida Stroom, live at Gamut Festival 2017

Is improvisation in this case something like surrendering? Letting go?

“For me it is, yes. Sometimes it works very well, sometimes less. I haven’t found a recipe yet.”

Do you never have the urge to just go groovy and conventional in such moments?

“(laughs) I have been extremely groove-oriented for many years. My first bands were hip hop bands, Breitbild for example, and I was very much into soul music as well. At the moment I’m not so much interested in this more conventional way of playing bass anymore.

Frida Stroom © Stefan Berther

Your “heart of hearts” is currently more experimentally oriented, than let’s say a project like Sophie Hunger?

“On bass it definitely is. Although wouldn’t say that I’m not interested in groovy music anymore.

I have simply already done it a lot. With Sophie Hunger one is definitely encouraged to bring in her own ideas. I really have to get out of my comfort zone. Sophie brings the necessary energy and support. I felt that I was being asked to show myself in a very good way.”

This sounds a bit like jazz?

“Yes, totally! (laughs) It was actually the biggest jazz band I’ve played with in the last few years.
Interview: Jodok Hess

Martina Berther, Beatrice GrafSophie Hunger, Hermeto Pascoal, Frida Stroom, Ester Poly

Broadcasts SRF 2 KulturJazz&World Aktuell, 15.9.20, Beitrag von Jodok Hess

Neo-Profiles: Martina Berther, Swiss Music Prize