Tobin Mueller incorporates literature and music on “The Space Between Chaos and Shape”

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Tobin Mueller almost defies classification with his approach to music. His performance range reaches to nearly all existing genres. From progressive rock to jazz, to classical, Mueller has found ways to craft his artistic vision into the traditions offered by various types of music.

With a career that spans from 1985 to the present, Mueller’s work is deep and thoughtful. His latest album, “Afterwords,” is what the performer describes as “a collection of solo piano and spoken word meditations.”

The song “The Space Between Chaos and Shape” takes its title from a line from a Jeanette Winterson book, “The World and Other Places: Stories.” The complete line is spoken in the course of the song, which, in and of itself is an expressive piece that inspires thoughts about larger ideas regarding the human experience.

“The Space Between Chaos and Shape”: video

While some jazz songs can be appreciated solely by auditory means, the video for “The Space Between Chaos and Shape” actually helps audiences to think about the various ways the title can be applied. Still scenes of political unrest, fighting sports teams, surrealistic art and more are woven into a tapestry of troubling, but thought-provoking sights.

The disruptive visuals are accompanied by the first half of the song with its lighter, almost ragtime-style piano motif played with the underscoring of a darker, more melancholy line. When things take a better shape, as in demolished buildings are rebuilt, and (presumably) the composer and his bride are shown happy throughout the years, from the wedding day to the present. The video seems as though it is an integral part of understanding the point that Mueller is trying to make.

About Tobin Mueller

With as many roles as Mueller as fulfilled, it is difficult to know where to start in describing who he is and what he does. To state only that he plays piano and composes eliminates some of the triumphs and struggles he has overcome.

According to Mueller’s website, he is from a musical family. His grandfather was a violinist who used to accompany silent films, and Mueller’s mother was a jazz vocalist. Young Mueller accompanied his mother’s singing by playing piano, a task he undertook at age 14.

Mueller has Midwestern roots. He lived in Wisconsin and attended Marquette University in Michigan and the University of Wisconsin. Mueller moved to New York City and his “Off-Broadway career took shape.”

Mueller was living in the West Village when tragedy struck on Sept. 11, 2001. He subsequently volunteered at Ground Zero and suffered lung damage. This affliction took a toll on Mueller’s singing voice. But he continues to share his visions with audiences. Mueller’s discography includes almost 20 albums. They range from solo piano (including one version of “Afterwords”), prog rock, folk fusion and pop, not to mention jazz, big band, and funk.

Interestingly “Afterwords” is also listed as a jazz album. Mueller has created a version without the spoken word components. This might allow for more seamless listening, but it doubtful that any work of Mueller’s could be accurately labeled “simple.”

“The Space Between Chaos and Shape” is a brilliant and thoughtful song. For those just hearing of Mueller for the first time, the track serves as an insightful introduction to a body of work that is often as intellectually challenging as it is technically proficient.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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