For Astoria-based pianist and songwriter Kristopher Wettstein, composition is construction. He is an architect of sound, carefully creating his songs from a vast warehouse of melodic material.
Wettstein, who records under the name “A Microscope,” came to the City about three years ago. Drawing on his background as a classically trained pianist, Church and gospel musician and world traveler, he pieces together songs in what he described as an almost tactile process.
“I’ve found it helpful to take just a short bit of material, it could be a melody, or chord progression, or just a phrase of text, and build the whole piece from that one bit,” Wettstein explained.
The resulting songs create a three-dimensional audio space for the listener, with rich, churning melodies below and spare, precise details above, alongside lyrics with heavily visual imagery.
Wettstein’s writing influences explain some of this quality in his music. The composer said that “the most direct influence” on his music since he moved to Queens has been the work of sculptor and architect Isamu Noguchi, on view at Long Island City’s Noguchi Museum.
“I love the values of Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture, how he lets the personality of the stone he was working on shine through,” Wettstein said. “I wrote a set of songs based on specific Noguchi sculptures that attempted to translate his dialogue with stone into music.”
Wettstein said he has also been heavily influenced by years of world travel. A trip to Senegal in particular introduced him to artists who blend genres and traditions in their music, which informed how he melds pop, classical, Christian hymnody, gospel and West African music in his own compositions.
He added that he continues to have similar experiences simply by riding his bike through the Borough.
“Queens is a great place to listen to,” Wettstein said. “I get around on bicycle and I love hearing all of the different languages, so many different noises.”
The result is a diverse output, including everything from simmering ballads to trotting folk tunes to layered pop songs.
What is common throughout, however, is Wettstein’s ability to grab the listener’s attention with details.
Describing the inspiration behind the name “A Microscope,” Wettstein said, “I am interested in writing a kind of music that can zoom listeners in on small changes, so that they can experience my music and whatever else in a more spacious way.”
New Yorkers can catch Wettstein at Art House Astoria, located at 23-35 Broadway, on March 21 for a 7 p.m. performance. Accompanied by drummer Alex Lambert and violinist Adrianna Matteo, Wettstein will play songs from his recently released EP “For Nothing Holds You In.” He will also premier new songs.
Music fans can also learn more about Wettstein and “A Microscope” at amicroscope.bandcamp.com.