Longtime Twin Cities music community staple Mark Mallman isn’t the type of performer to do something halfway.
He has the track record to prove it: Between all those New Year’s Eve countdowns spent dangling from the ceiling in a straightjacket or careening a motor-scooter across his keyboard, or all those hours spent shuffling dozens of musicians on and off the stage at the Turf Club so he could perform one 78-hour-long song, Mallman has shown that if he can think it up, he can do it.
So when he called me up and described his next big endeavor, Marathon 4, as “totally upside-down, backwards different,” and told me he’d found a way to once again re-invent what it meant to put on a show, all I could think was that’s so Mallman.
Much in the spirit of his previous three Marathon events, Mallman intends to perform one unthinkably long, continuous song. But instead of holing up in a venue, he’s taking the show on the road for an unparalleled week-long, cross-continental journey that begins in New York City on September 15 and ends in Los Angeles.
“3,000 miles. Seven days. Nonstop music. We stop in seven cities, and I’ll be in the back of a van,” Mallman says. “Different people will get on, and we’ll play music together for a period of time, and then we drive to the next musician’s house, they get in the van, we play some music, and then we keep going.”
Each night, Mallman’s support crew will pile out of the van and into different musicians’ houses to sleep, but he’ll stay put and continue to perform, using an elaborate rig of neurological equipment to keep the song going as he dozes off. “When I sleep my body will be controlling the computer and the keyboards. My mind and my heart,” he explains.
Naturally, I had a few follow-up questions.
Local Current: Where did you get that equipment?
Mark Mallman: This is EEG and EKG kind of stuff, it’s a hacked heart rate monitor, it’s a hacked toy, and then it’s this thing by this company called Emotiv, I guess you would call it a bio-feedback controller? You know, it’s just a way to continue to make music while I’m asleep. Stuart DeVaan, my partner on this, had an Emotiv and I tried it out, and I liked it. It’s the Wireless Neuroheadset, it’s called. It sounds all fancy and computer-y, but it’s really not. On my end, I’m trying to learn as little about the technology as I can, because for me the most important part is that we travel from the East Coast to the West Coast making music nonstop.
Will you be planning out the lyrics and song-form beforehand?
Yeah, but it’s a little different [from Marathon 3] because there’s not a lot of singing going on in this one. So it’s basically going to be down to 144 sentences, a paragraph each hour. This is more about the subconscious interpretation; it’s not about the conscious mind. For me, it’s about exploring the back of the mind in music. I’m just kind of submerging myself in this pool. So there will be a lot more improvisation, there’ll be themes, lyrical themes that might come out, but there’s vocoders and it’s not totally rock ‘n’ roll wild times.
And the whole thing will be live-streamed for us to watch?
Yes. You’ll go to my website from September 15 to September 23. Here’s the schedule:
September 15: New York
September 16: Pittsburgh
September 17: Detroit
September 18: Chicago
September 19: Omaha
September 20: Denver
September 21: Las Vegas
September 23: Los Angeles
We’re going to start at sunrise, and we’re going to end at sunset. So the schedule is pretty loose and the content is pretty loose.
Are you getting out of the van and going into venues?
No. The only time that I’m going to be getting out of the van is to go to the bathroom. The idea is it stays in the van. It’s about travel. It’s not really about these cities, it’s about the highway, it’s about sleeping, it’s about the ambient sound around us. It’s not like a direct, destructive thing. Marathon needed to grow, and the structure that it currently existed on needed to be re-shaped. One Marathon informs the previous, so this one is really going to open it up so that we can do number five somewhere really insane, in a really insane way.
You conspicuously left Minneapolis out of the travel plans.
Yeah, it’s not on the way. [laughs] It’s simply not on the way. And this is about traveling, you know. It’s about moving, and musical movement. Like the fact that we can abandon the concept of what a venue is. Marathon 3 was about embracing and pushing traditional rock ‘n’ roll methods to their limits, and this is more about abandoning traditional methods. The venue — in a certain way, it’s completely online. And in another way, there’s no audience within the van, except for the three guys that are coming along to drive and operate the cameras and stuff, so that is gone. And the idea of what a concert is, is gone. I’m re-writing what a concert is. I re-wrote it with Marathon 3, and I’m going to re-write it again now. And I’m also re-writing how music is made, for myself. This is now a new option for me.
Do you envision a new release coming out of this process?
I want to. I want to, but it’s going to sound like a Brian Eno ambient record. I’m going to be pulling samples from my new album, from Double Silhouette. That comes out October 9. We’re going to pull from that. My idea wasn’t to have these two things happen at the same time — it’s like having twins. But it’s happening, because that’s the way everything lined up. So I’m going to pull some samples from the record, and maybe some lyrics from the record. I mean, there’ll be some nonchalant nods to it, just because they’re neighbors.
What else can you tell me about the new album?
It’s a rock record. A depressing rock record. It’s really good, it’s 35 minutes long. I’m really happy with it, and it’s the opposite of seven days long. [laughs]
What was the recovery period like after Marathon 3?
I was in such good shape that I didn’t have to recover. I woke up at 10 a.m. the next day and met with my parents. There was no recovery time.
Really? Didn’t you injure your foot?
That hurt a while. [laughs] That hurt for a while, I was limping for a while. I don’t think I hurt myself in any real way. And this one won’t — unless I lose my mind from having headphones on for that long, which won’t happen.
Where did you find the collaborators?
Stuart DeVaan, he’s a member of Savage Aural Hotbed, he’s our main technologist, he built the van. Hamil Griffin-Cassidy used to run Freeky Deeky TV. And then Gus Watkins, he’s a drummer and a singer, and he’s also a web designer. He plays in the band Ghost Army, and Hot Ashes. I’m definitely not a computer guy, but this requires a lot of computer stuff, so I’m learning every day, all I can. I’m sure down the road there’s going to be people that know how to use this equipment better. I’m just using what I need to, to get this equipment going.
Stuart was involved in Marathon 3, right?
Yeah, he was in charge of webcasting.
Are you going to be interacting with people over the web?
No. Not that we know of. We have the technology, but the idea is to make one singular statement.
What else should we know about Marathon 4?
I guess I don’t even know what it’s going to be. We’re going to do some test runs over the next couple weeks. It’s over 150 hours of music that I have to keep on. You know, I had to abandon my body at a certain point, because it was just holding me back. My body is holding me back from long-form music pieces, so I really had to find a way. This is my first way of kind of figuring it out, and it’s epic. It’s historic. It’s art.