“Don't Know, Just Walk” by Mike Weis
A shimmering death meditation from Zelienople percussionist Mike Weis.
“I used to think that music was my escape from reality, now I think it’s an escape into reality.” – Mike Weis, 2014.
Mike Weis is probably best known for sitting behind a plethora of drums and gongs in long-running Chicago three-piece Zelienople, but his music is just as potent unaccompanied. Weis might be an obsessive collaborator (his work with Scott Tuma, Mind Over Mirrors and Kwaidan is also essential), but on his own, he is able to allow his unique percussive skills to bubble to the surface, without the intervention of conflicting egos.
He began working on Don’t Know, Just Walk under particularly difficult circumstances. It was 2013, he had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and was gearing up for a punishing year of “man-diapers and boner pills,” that could very well have been his last. Thankfully though, the time wasn’t entirely spent holed up in a hospital bed under the watch of urologists – Weis managed to spend choice moments in the woods or on prairies with a microphone, and in the Zelienople studio (which has long been in his basement) while the family slept upstairs.
These late night sessions weren’t only musical – Weis used the time to meditate, and to clear his head of the mental baggage that was clouding his view of the world. In spending time using Zen Buddhist techniques (which the title references), this allowed him to not only meditate on life (and its brevity), but also to inform his compositional and recording techniques. At this point, the music came naturally, and Weis began experimenting and recording without hindrance.
Using loops of field-recordings, gongs, radios, home-made instruments, drums and traditional Korean percussion, Weis pieced together an album that is as reflective as it is mesmerizing. Solo percussion albums are rare, certainly, but Weis uses his drumming simply as the record’s backbone, allowing his ideas to flourish overhead.
Don’t Know, Just Walk is a complicated record – an album about death that doesn’t dwell on the negative, and one created by a drummer that doesn’t contain a whole lot of rhythms. It’s right to expect the unexpected, and as Weis found solace in the recording process, and we too can find solace in the listening.