by Peter Muller
Lately, we’ve looked at research concerning recent breakthroughs in the study of music’s effect on mood and film’s effect on our memories. Michael Knall is a music producer, record label owner, and deejay specializing in a genre of electronica known as “House” music. Strongly influenced by elements of soul and funk-infused percussive disco, Knall mixes bass lines, electronic drums, beats, funk and pop samples, reverb, vocals and synthesizers to ensure everyone on the dance floor is truly emotionally affected.
We sat down with Michael to talk about his current and future projects and his thoughts on the effect of music and emotions.
Occam’s Taser: How did you get your start in music?
Michael Knall: Funny thing, I was never really into music growing up, I had my few favorite songs here and there, but I just never realized how great it really is until my late teens. I think I sort of hit a “musical puberty” in my high school years; some would call me a late bloomer in that aspect. During high school, I started frequenting the infamous Mission Night Club in Chicago’s suburb of Elgin, IL. At the time it was really what set me into the electronic music culture. It wasn’t long before I wanted more of it, and moreover, I wanted to learn what made this scene work, the part that you most don’t see, just feel. The part that draws the people together: House music.
OT: What is it about House that drew you in?
MK: House music, just like any other genre, has many different styles ranging from progressive house to electro-house and so on. I love them all, but I tend to stick to a combination of progressive, electro, and dutch house sounds with my music. It has a harder electronic edge and more defined beat. Accelerating highs and lows throughout a track, layering different sounds on top of each other and slowly bringing them in and out of the mix are the key ideas behind the progressive movement.
OT: What are some of your current projects?
MK: Aside from running a very new record label and the responsibilities that go along with that, I’m constantly producing new music. Whenever I have an idea for a new track or sound, it’s important for me to get to work on it right away while it’s still fresh in my mind. That usually accumulates to around 10 or so works-in-progress at a time, and I manage to finish only around two per month. I’ve also been working with some vocalists around the city, really trying to showcase a lot of unseen talent in the Chicagoland area. Who knows, maybe I’ll find the Freddie Mercury of our generation.
OT: Last week we looked at research that studied how music affects people’s emotions. Do you have any thoughts on the emotional effect of music on people?
MK: Every track I write embodies my current mood at the time. I think that transmitting emotions to my listeners through my music is key to connecting with them. We all listen to music that suits the mood we’re in, and sometimes music can help change our mood. Any song you hear can take you back to a certain memory or mindset linked with it resulting in happiness, sadness, excitement and so on. I often see this first hand when I’m playing to a packed night club; depending on what I work into the mix, I can see differences in how people react almost immediately. It’s almost like I can control peoples moods or energy levels through my choice of beats, intensity, effects, etc.
OT: Is there any music that has, or has had, an emotional effect on you?
MK: I think everyone has different memories linked to different songs, be those good or bad, they’re emotional connections. That’s one of the reasons we consciously like or dislike certain songs, whether or not we truly think they’re good songs. One that immediately comes to mind from my childhood is Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out”. I remember singing along to it with my brother, blasting in my Dad’s conversion van with the new high-tech CD player. That’s a memory that will always remain warm every time I hear that song.
OT: What about music in film? Do you think it has a similar effect on the audience?
MK: If you ever have a chance to watch a movie with the music removed, do it. It’ll blow your mind as to the difference it makes in your emotional perception of the film. For example, The Dark Night was a movie that used a lot of music and intense sounds to give the audience those goosebumps and butterflies. Movie soundtracks are one of the most important elements of film that I’m sure most people don’t even notice. Music is, at its core, an emotion in a the form of sound. It creates a certain feeling and mood that can’t be replicated by anything else.
Michael Knall is the president of White Smoke Records. He produces House music in his home recording studio and deejays at various night clubs in and around Chicago. You can catch up with him on his FaceBook page, check out and download his tracks from his SoundCloud page, or see him spinning his beats live in and around Chicago’s club scene. Just try to control yourself at his shows and keep your memories good ones.