A Brief History of Peter Moller & Egg Press Co.
In 1958, at the age of 3, my family moved from Denmark to Calgary. Not long after we settled, my father opened a sign and silk-screen shop named City Signs. Thus began my fascination with all things printed.
In 1974, after almost graduating from the Alberta College of Art, I got sidetracked when my brother and I decided to try and learn how to run an old offset press sitting idle at the back of City Signs. At the end of that summer my brother returned to his studies but I stayed to start a print shop; Egg Press Co. More than 40 years later – and having made the jump from analog to digital in 1998 – I’m still at it.
In the early years Egg Press supplied el-cheapo posters and other printed materials for various art, dance, theatre and music groups in the burgeoning Calgary arts scene of the late 70s and early 80s (see graphic design). Since going digital, Egg Press has incorporated sound design (see sound design).
Throughout the history of my company I have also been a working musician; from early days of improvisational experimentation at Calgary’s Parachute Centre for Cultural Affairs, through the punk heyday of the 1980s continuing on to today. (see music)
Swerve article on Peter Moller and Egg Press Co. by Jacquie Moore • January 15, 2010
It’s 1983 and your virtually unknown garage-punk band has, at long last, booked a gig at 10 Foot Henry’s, the live indie music venue in Calgary. Trouble is, you have neither ideas nor budget to brand your band or advertise the gig.
No worries, you’re told. Some guy has offered to make you a poster, the high-end, cutting-edge calibre of which is normally reserved for the likes of The Dead Kennedys. And he’ll do it for free. Why? Because one of the myriad things that turns Calgary artist Peter Moller on—has done since he was a teenaged art college dropout—is creating “cultural propaganda.” That, and he’s a really nice guy.
Moller (who thanks his Danish good looks, daily yoga regime or, perhaps, an inordinate amount of time spent in front of a computer, looks a decade younger than his 54 years) is an artist in the broadest sense. His work is visual, auditory, big, small, quiet, loud, private and ubiquitous. If you’ve lived in Calgary for any length of time you’ve no doubt seen and/or heard his stuff whether you realize it or not.
Under the Egg Press, Moller has produced dozens, possibly hundreds, of original posters for Calgary’s alternative arts scene since the 1970s. Even if you’ve never been to a One Yellow Rabbit performance in your life, thanks to Moller’s 2-D interpretations you’ve gotten a sense of the irreverent, provocative tenor of productions such as Mata Hari, Ilsa Queen of The Nazi Love Camp and Exit The King, as well as numerous High Performance Rodeos. Moller is also the man behind more than half of the 30 Calgary Folk Music Festival posters and programs, and for the past decade has been responsible for branding WordFest.
On top of that Moller has been drumming for Kris Demeanor and His Crack Band for for nearly a decade and, on occasion, for The Whip It Out Ensemble. In the ‘70s and ‘80s he played with Calgary punk-slash band the Rip Chords and he’s frequently performed as a solo percussionist. What Moller is best known for musically, however, are his inimitable soundscapes, which have accompanied countless shows for OYR, Alberta Theatre Projects, Theatre Calgary, Ghost River Theatre and Theatre Junction, who hired him as a member of the Resident Company of Artists in 2007.
Anytime between now and the end of the 2010 High Performance Rodeo, you can get a sense for the sort of peculiar noise that plays in Moller’s head by standing in the Epocor Centre hallway between the offices of ATP and OYR and listening—for nearly two hours if you’re so inclined—to a retrospective audio installation comprised of samples from live performances designed by Moller for some of the aforementioned theatre groups. (Aletrnatively, download an abbreviated version free from his website, eggpress.ca). In the same way that Moller’s posters stand alone as works of art, the loop, when heard out of the context of the stage performances its sounds were intended to accompany, makes for a completely original, oddly compelling symphony. Ominous percussive crescendos, upbeat dance rhythms and ambient noise are interspersed with spoken lines such as “Listen, I’m gonna have to call you right back, I’ve got Glenn Gould on the other line–yeah, that’s right, Glenn Gould!!” and an eerie monologue Meg Roe delivered in ATP’s Syringa Tree. It’s an eclectic auditor journey that tells the listener as much about the Calgary arts scene as it does about Moller who, despite his involvement in shaping the look and sound of so many seminal performances, has remained somehow on the fringe.
Sitting at the kitchen table in his predictably groovy old Ramsay house under one of his paintings featuring the words “Fuck Art,” Moller explains his preference for working, as he puts it, “on the outside of a project.” While it would be reductive to pin this inclination solely on Moller’s experience as an immigrant (his family arrived from Denmark in 1958), the later perhaps helps explain the miracle of Moller’s fresh perspective on Calgary’s arts scene even after three decades of working with many of the same people over and over again.
“Calgary was an awesome place to grow up—my past, my musical pals and certain cultural anchors are partly what keep me rooted here,” says Moller, who came of age at precisely the same time the city hit some high notes, culturally speaking, with the formation of Theatre Calgary and ATP and, in 1973, the opening of the Alberta College of Art. Moller was among the first students to attend the college, although, a year and a half into his diploma, he dropped out to learn the art of printmaking from his dad, who ran a silkscreening business.
Ironically, Moller’s first client was Hire-A-Student, for whom he designed business cards. He went on to create letterheads and “anything you could print” for a steel manufacturer and various small businesses in town. When 10 Foot Henry’s opened a few years later, Moller found an outlet for more creative work, and joined a tribe of artists he collaborates with to this day.
“God bless 10 Foot Henry’s,” says Moller, recalling the trip to Denmark that sparked the genesis of the club. My buddy Richard McDowell got the idea for Henry’s after we took him to the Student Club in Copenhagen. When we got back to Calgary, Richard gave himself something like half a year to start his own version of the Student Club or he was going to leave Cowtown.” Just in the nick of time, the Funk Plaza Disco came up for rent at 509 9 St. S.W. and McDowell, who would later become a member of the One Yellow Rabbit ensemble, jumped in with both feet.
For Moller, Henry’s was far more than just a place to hang out and perform with his band. “It became like this great crucible for people like (puppeteer) Ronnie Burkett and Michael Green and some of the other Rabbits as well as a lot of other musicians.” Green recalls the first time he saw Moller perform—an experience that moved OYR’s co-artistic director (who was, at the time, a restaurant dishwasher with big dreams) to vow to do whatever he could to help him with his career. “It was at Off Centre Centre. Peter had a standard drum set on one side of the stage and, on the other, an assortment of kids’ percussion instruments and colourful junk. In between was a huge metal Coca Cola sign. Peter sat at the drum set and laid down some jazz riffs, then threw down his drum sticks and jumped on the sign as if it was a launch pad to get him over the kids’ toys–it made this huge bong sound and for the rest of his performance, the sign served as metallic heartbeat of the show as he went back and forth between the instruments.” True to his word, Green has collaborated with Moller for nearly three decades, tapping into his talent as a sound artist and as “one of the city’s leading graphic designers and visual artists.”
Many more of Moller’s 10 Foots Henry’s friends benefited from their connection to a guy with a penchant for “making interesting and provocative stuff for other people” and who came complete with his own printing press. Moller created posters fro many of Ronnie Burkett’s early shows as well as for bands including The Golden Calgarians, The Slip, The Mules and Same Difference (featuring Diane Kooch and Chantal Vitalis who, along with Peter, now make up Kris Demeanor’s Crack Band). Thirty-four years later, Moller smilingly refers to Egg Press—now a full fledged digital design firm—as “the company that wouldn’t die.”
If Moller owes his father a debt of gratitude for steering him toward printmaking, he’s doubly indebted to both his parents, Paul and Elin, for a lifetime of cliché-shattering support for an artist’s life. “They’re artists in their own right–they paint and sketch–and they’re incredibly supportive of everything I do,” he says. Indeed, Moller’s 80-something-year-old parents proudly sat through a Theatre Junction performance for which their son not only composed a score, but stripped off all his clothing onstage (clearly, when Moller makes a rare foray out from behind the wings, he goes all out). They were totally comfortable with that–come on! They’re Danish!” He adds that his parents—whom he describes as “bottomless pits of positive energy” —used to attend all the OYR shows they could and, afterwards, would write reviews of the performance in a book that they would hand over to the Rabbit’s to read. “They particularly liked the stuff that leaned far left,” Moller says.
Content as Moller is to work as a designer-for-hire, branding, illustrating and inventing atmospheric sound for “places that didn’t exist before” for shows such as ATP’s upcoming Tyland(part of the Playrites Festival of New Canadian Plays), he admits that his happiest place has always been behind a set of drums. “Nothing can ever go wrong when I’m there.”
You can visit Moller’s happy place at this year’s High Performance Rodeo as he acts and drums in a performance with Kris Demeanor called Buzz Job, about real-life Calgarian Cal Cavendish, an embittered musician who once shoveled horse manure and a pile of his own records out of a plane over Calgary. The story is close to Moller’s heart as he once—you guessed it—made a poster for the guy.