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Breaking protocol: Jojo Mayer and the machine

He is one of the most influential drummers of recent decades, known both as a skilled technician and a visionary. Jojo Mayer talks to SWI about technology, tradition – and the future of music.

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“Why are we still doing this?” Throughout his career, Jojo Mayer has repeatedly explored the boundaries of what is physically possible to play and has established himself as one of the most innovative drummers of his generation. His latest project sees him interact with digital technology on stage – the result is a live symbiotic loop with man and machine which blurs the boundaries between cause and effect.

Born in Switzerland, Jojo Mayer was already an internationally active jazz drummer when he moved to New York in the 1990s. There, he became famous with his band, NerveExternal link, which played electronic music with mostly conventional instruments. Nerve was known for what the band called “reverse engineering”: a retransfer from digital to analogue and a deconstruction of rhythm-based styles like jungle, house and drum’n’bass, reinterpreted by instrumentalists. Innovation and a pioneering spirit earned Jojo Mayer a die-hard fan base around the world and recognition from beyond the music scene.

Since the pandemic, Jojo Mayer has been back in his hometown Zurich. Covid-19 hit the music scene hard, leading to cancelled concerts. However, the two-year hiatus also gave musicians time to immerse themselves in projects they would not have found the time for otherwise. This is how his latest initiative, “Me/Machine”, came about.

“The nucleus of Me/Machine was created by my encounter with producer Brian Eno,” Jojo Mayer says. “He invited me to collaborate on some experimental recordings. He hooked me up to his generative system, and I thought: That is really great! If I had a year, I could learn more about this. Then the pandemic came. At the end of it, I had something that was good enough to create a trajectory. I thought: Ok, maybe I found a door where I could step through and find new things.”

Edited by Virginie Mangin/dos

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR