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GONZO WEEKLY #193: Jon meets Martin Birke

Martin Birke is an electronic percussionist and composer of electronic/experimental and ambient music who started out as a gifted drummer at age 7 playing in talent shows, church bands and eventually his own bands. In his mid-twenties, Martin's instrumentals began appearing on several CD samplers from labels Ladd-Frith, The Music Independent, Priority, and AP. In the mid-90's Martin (with recording partner Aaron Kinney) was hired by The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre to score several pieces for the company and at the same time both his original and experimental bands Sandbox Trio and Casualty Park were signed to the Frank Mark Arts label in Germany. With that label he toured and recorded with both bands yielding several well received albums including many one-off and side projects with various artists. Sandbox Trio did many unique live shows and independent film scores and industrial TV commercials. The band utilized artfully handcrafted instruments combined with the latest in electronic and acoustic drums and has been Martin's favourite project through out his career. Sandbox Trio continued until the sudden tragic death of Chuck Ehlis in 2000 who was vital to the trio's sound creation and performance capabilities. Casualty Park was the duo of Aaron and Martin who created three albums, performed many live shows and together scored director Joe Carnahan's first feature film, "Blood Guts Bullets and Octane" in 1998. Casualty Park's electro-pop/rock music was also featured on the Oxygen Network with their video West Texas directed by Emmy Award winner Michael Maas. Martin and Aaron also scored original pieces for Complexions Ballet Company directed by former Alvin Ailey choreographers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. The bands both received very good press reviews and even the praise of Martin's idol, former Depeche Mode music director, Alan Wilder.

In 2005, Genre Peak was born as a trio with recording engineer Christopher Scott Cooper co-producing the band.

The trio embarked on many live performances around northern California and San Francisco featuring Martin on lead vocals and electronic percussion, Daniel Panasenko on Chapman Stick and Stephen Sullivan on guitar-synths and backing vocals. Ends of the Earth was Genre Peak's first album in 2006, but fell short of Martin's expectations receiving mixed reviews. While GP was a tight professional trio doing excellent recordings and gigs and having been invited to perform at SXSW, they disbanded in late 2006.

In 2007-2008 Martin, not wanting to sing lead vocals anymore and being the songwriter and director of the project, realized that Genre Peak would work better as a total collaborative project using guest musicians and singers including former Japan bassist Mick Karn, Canadian singer Tara C. Taylor, violinist Benito Cortez and bassist Gustaf Fjelstrom. Along with Stephen Sullivan and producer/guitarist Christopher Scott Cooper, with wonderful remixes from UK band Stereoskop and French band Kiss & Fly, Genre Peak's second album Preternatural was a much more well received album garnishing good press reviews. A video for the album track Hell on the Surface was showcased at the Sacramento Film & Music Festival.

In 2010, established prog-rock singer Percy Howard (Meridiem, NUS) joined Martin to form the project Hardboiled Wonderland. The duo's debut trip-hop album, As Small As A World And Large As Alone was released on Rob Ayling's Gonzo MultiMedia UK label with several live performances in their hometown of Sacramento. The record received mixed reviews for its electronica and beautifully soulful vocals, winning praise from most and confusion by others in the music press. This album remains a triumph in its brilliant structure and realization. Howard went on to appear on Genre Peak's 2012 release Redux singing on tracks Words Surround Us and a remix of Blue Filter. Redux was released by Gonzo MultiMedia UK and featured Martin's favourite tracks off Ends of the Earth and Preternatural. 2013 saw the release Genre Peaks's 9 Microspheres, a completely ambient album composed by Stephen Sullivan and Martin. The album received very good reviews and despite the absence of vocalists and percussion was GP's most successful record to date. A limited edition CD was made available at the official GP website and the digital version released through Gonzo.

In 2013 Martin approached former Japan multi-instrumentalist and drummer Steve Jansen to remix Preternatural's Mick Karn track Wear it Well. Steve did an entire re-working of the track and with Fast Arrow vocalist Lesley Braden, the track kicked-off the making of Genre Peak's current record Your Sleekest Engine. Over the 2 year writing and tracking of GP's fourth studio album.

Martin collaborated with vocalist Charlie Woodward on several songs. Charlie incorporated German and English, writing all the lyrics for the tracks he collaborated on. Legendary trumpet player Jon Hassell agreed to co-writing the track Metanoia, and Counting Crows bassist Matt Malley added bass on two new tracks. Ryuichi Sakamoto had agreed to a remix but health issues got in the way. Christopher Scott Cooper has recorded, mixed and added guitar on several tracks.Richard Barbieri did a wonderful remix of Fix Me Deeper a track Martin wrote with Palestinian-American artist Manal Deeb both versions where released as CD/digital single in October 2015, featuring Manal's artwork and spoken words Your Sleekest Engine proves to be the most involved and difficult album so far and is a completely collaborative project released worldwide on CD and Digital March 18th 2016.

Martin currently resides in northern California performing with Genre Peak, solo, and with improv quartet 4th World and other projects. He scored naturalist Dell Cullum's short film Cleaning The Sands Of Time in 2014. . Martin is involved with film score and industrial commercials. Genre Peak will continue. Martin was recently hired to score Dell Cullum's forthcoming film on world teacher Billy Strong: The Green Explorer, this film will premier in New York in August of 2016.

It has been ages since I spoke to Martin, so I gave him a ring..


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