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AN INTERVIEW WITH MATT HECKERT, ROBOTICIST AND COMPOSER by Darin De Stefano

I had spoken with Matt only a couple of times before going out to his East San Francisco workshop. Both times I found him to be very direct in his responses.

Entering his workshop was a strange cross between being someplace where machines go to die and an art studio. The were a few recognizable pieces from photos I'd seen of Survival Research Labs shows, and a lot of other stuff -- bits of things, small and large, in various stages of construction. A lot of metal and wire. Huge equipment, rusting gears...you get the picture.

Matt insisted that I go to see his show, which was playing at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley at the time. He said that in order to understand his work, I had to see it, because talking about it was a waste of time. He was right -- talking about his work, compared to experiencing it, is mostly a waste of time. Talking to the person, on the other hand, was quite extraordinary. ... CY: Right. So I understand that you're working on getting some shows in Europe?

MH: Yes. My Gallery in New York, is trying to get me over to Holland in June or September. ... CY: So you're hoping to take your equipment to Holland some time in the near future?

MH: Well, we're talking about June or September, but, yes. It's not going to be able to be just one place, though, because no one place is going to be able to afford to allow me to send as much of the equipment over as I would like to. To spend the air fares plus 2 or 3 thousand dollars for round trip shipping costs-no one place is going to be able to come up with ten thousand dollars like that. So I'll get shows in a few different places, maybe something in France, something in Holland, maybe something in Germany.

... CY: Tell me how, or when, really, it was that you became interested in building things.

MH: Oh a long time time ago. I was a little kid. I built model planes and all that stuff. I've always been a mechanically oriented person-it's come very easy to me...to understand mechanical systems. I understood automobiles and boat motors from the time I was very young. I used to work on outboard motors when we lived on a lake in Rhode Island.

CY: What was the first thing that you built that was mechanical and worked on its own?

MH: When I was working with Mark Pauline in 1980 or 81. I'd helped him on a few shows before that, doing sound work-but then I made a little, simple machine. And after that I started building more and more.

CY: What was that first thing you built?

MH: It was a very simple thing. It was a dog's mouth, not a whole dead dog, just the head, and it had a dead rabbit in it which it shook back and forth.

That machine became gone. I don't possess it any more. I think it got melted years and years ago, somewhere. But I have always found it very easy to think about mechanical systems

CY: And when you say `think about' what do you mean, exactly...do you draw things on paper, or envision them in your head...

MH: I mean, well-relating it to my entire life-before I was out of junior high school I would watch cars going down the street and I could see how the suspensions worked and envision the motor inside as it idled, I could imagine the different parts moving; that the crankshaft had a gear on the front of it that was running another gear that was connected to the camshaft that was opening and closing the valves, and the distributor was generally geared off the camshaft as well and was distributing spark.

CY: How did you end up hooking up with Mark Pauline and Survival Research Labs?

MH: Our girlfriends lived in the same apartment, and Mark was around in the scene, starting to do his machine thing, and I thought it was really cool. I had dropped out of art school and was in some bands-I'd become a musician, a fairly rotten one-and I got very tired of the rock and roll scene, I didn't like it at all, it just seemed to be a dead end unless I was going to adhere to a very predetermined formula, which I didn't want to do. I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I moved into this junkyard where Mark was living and working and making his machines, doing his shows. I thought that his idea, observing it, didn't seem that strange to me. I thought `what a perfect idea, what a perfect thing to do-it's going to be a lot of fun, this is the perfect place for me to reside with the way that I always thought about machines.' So that's how we started working. Mark was already doing it, and in the beginning, I was just sort of a roadie-moving stuff around. There're a lot of people doing that now, because Mark is still doing SRL. I was one of the only ones (laughing) in those days-there was like maybe five other people you could count on. The shows were a lot smaller, then I started to do the soundtrack work.

Eventually Eric Warner and myself started producing machines, which helped the whole thing grow.

CY: What kinds of things did you build for SRL?

MH: Well, one of the first machines that I made is that one you see over there on the wall, the Jumping Machine, that was a radio controlled device that stands about six feet tall and it has a sculpted metal jaw that chomps all the time, a continuously masticating jaw (laughs). It's gas powered. We had a human skull around that I used as a model for the partial head and jaw assembly. It would still work, I guess, if I took it down and cleaned out its little carburetor.

CY: Does it have a name?

MH: Yes. The Jumping Machine. It's a very straightforward name, I've always named my things very matter-of-factly, as a matter of fact, that is a jumping machine-therefore I call it the Jumping Machine... ... There was the Legs walking machine, the Inspector, which was this machine with rotating blades in the back and spiked hands which it could manipulate a bit, the Calliope was a robo-engine radio powered car that was about 16ft long and weighed about 900 or 1000 pounds and was intended to be a sound-producing machine, but I was never completely happy with it-I cut it up with a torch, it's gone forever now. There was a radio-controlled tank, the Spiked Roller Machine, another huge man, the Big Man, I called him-he stood about 26 or 27 feet tall and blew flames out of his mouth. He had a sawblade for one hand and a torch in his other hand, there was the Walk and Peck Machine-I guess that I built around 15 or 20 complete machines...

CY: Over what period of time did you build them?

MH: From `80 to `88, about eight years.

CY: There's a story that I've heard about a flame throwing tank that was controlled by a hamster...is that an actual thing that was done?

MH: Well, there was The Spider, this thing that Mark built that had four legs, and it did have a flamethrower on the front of it. It was remote controlled, but he had also set it up to be controlled by this hamster named Stu that could sit, or be strapped in with a piece of velcro, and on his little legs were strings that were attached to switches, each of which controlled a corresponding leg, the idea being that hopefully he would be able to make The Spider walk. He never was really able to make it walk, a couple of reasons why are that, being a hamster, Stu was not an extremely intelligent creature, as a matter of fact it was very stupid, not to mention freaked out about being strapped into this thing-and it was difficult to make it walk anyway.

CY: So you decided to leave SRL in `88 because you wanted to do something different, which was a sort of return to music, in a way?

MH: Well, I had always been doing the soundtracks for the SRL performances, and I had been working on some machines toward the last year there that were sound-producing as well as just being motion and object-manipulation devices. I was beginning to grow tired with having to compete, doing the soundtrack, with all of the constant barrage of unchanging sound in the performances-for instance, gasoline motors that ran without mufflers on them, explosions, huge flame devices-Mark had a cannon machine that just produced these incredibly loud explosions-and an explosion, well, if you've heard one...if you know what I mean. It was very interesting and a good experience, I feel, to work for many years having to deal with these sounds as constants, and to work in and around them, and in counterpoint to them-when I developed soundtracks for these performances. I did feel, though, that there were other investigations that I wanted to make that were not possible within that forum, the way things were set up, so that the only thing that I could do was to go completely alone, and have total control over the sound. Which is where I've gone now.

Making that sort of move is the only thing one can do throughout one's career, as far as I'm concerned. A lot of people questioned it. `Are you crazy?' `Why would you want to quit?' this and that-these are the questions that people can only ask if they aren't really involved in something-if they don't really understand the necessity for change. I had not only become bored with the situation as it existed, but complacent.

CY: It sounds like you weren't getting fed by what was going on then...

MH: No, not at that point-but that's not to cast any aspersions on the situation, on SRL, or on anybody at all-it's just to say that it keys in to my attitude that one must continue to change throughout your career, or your life-whatever it is. It was me that had changed. SRL had really grown into a much larger organization, and was never really an organization before-it was really just a few people that worked together-Mark, Eric and myself, and a few others who helped us build props and such. Eventually that core group fell apart, but in the meantime a whole bunch of other people had come along and helped out on a regular basis-some of them moved in down there. Some started working on building machines, etc. So it turned into...much more of a circus type of thing, although the basic premise hadn't changed.

So really what was going on was that I changed, the situation didn't, and I left. Also, it wasn't a matter of me running away-I saw some other place that I wanted to be going to, and though I wasn't completely sure of that-which was one of the most exciting things about the experience, being scared again-to be on my own. It was always so easy for me-wherever we'd go it would be `Aren't you one of those SRL guys?' `Yeah, we build some really scary fuckin' shit, man'-not that I said those things, but it was a constant-it was my ID card that I'd carry around with myself, and after I moved in here, all alone, and I didn't have any shows lined up-no machines-just ideas for them-going out places became a lot more fun. `Who are you, what do you do?' `Oh, I'm a machinist. Nothing. I'm a mechanic, I have a shop' or `I'm an artist.'

CY: I don't think that too many people would link the terms machinist and artist.

MH: Well, I don't think that was true ten or twenty years ago, it certainly is true now-I think that link exists-I mean all of the microprocessors, the whole silicon industry, all of the high-tech leaps and bounds that have been made in the past ten years are phenomenal when compared to the ten years before that as far as what we have in the way of equipment in home use by consumers, and this is naturally going to be used by artists as some sort of medium with which to express themselves-there's certainly a lot of bad things that are happening with it-video cameras, for instance have created a lot of bad video art as far as I'm concerned-I hate most video art-it's boring. It's much more common now to see people using mechanical devices-certainly computers and microprocessors-in the creation of art. `Interactive media' is a buzzword describing something which is mostly pretty boring stuff. It has its place in boardroom presentations or airport lobbies or shopping malls, and maybe very occasionally some artist will use it effectively. How many painters were there that just did a bunch of garbage `starry night' black velvet paintings? A lot of that kind of thing is happening with technology-it's given people a way to create something `high-tech', `vir-tu-al re-al-it-y'. I get letters from people who are students or whatever talking about their idea of cyber-crap and this whole cyber-thing just makes me hysterical-it makes me madly insane when people start talking about it. I don't want to to hear about this crap. It's just a fad that is too silly to even give any airspace to. Cyber-blahh. It had its use for science fiction for a couple of years and now even that is dead in the water. It's passe.

CY: Well, in one sense I find the idea of `virtual reality' somewhat threatening because of the addictability factor...I mean if one were to provide a colorful, well wrought environment that made T.V. seem one-dimensional...

MH: I hardly see it as dangerous-I mean, the implications of how it might be misused might cause one a little worry, but let's face it-nobody's going to be able to sit around in a body suit all the time, and the people that do are simply going to become harmless to anyone around them, so, I don't find it that scary at all because I'm not going to be one of those people. And the ones that are will simply be out of my way.

CY: They will no longer be competing with you (laughing)...

MH: (Laughing)...for the same scraps.

CY: So you left SRL, and you were thinking about making some machines that would produce sound...what was the first thing that you came up with?

MH: Well, I don't really want to talk about a specific machine, but I'd rather say that, initially, I was interested in creating some things that I would be able to define as instruments-that they were playable, that there were variable ways to make sound with them, there were different sounds that I could get out of them, but from a remote control situation-I was not interested in being part of this performance. I had never been part of the performance in the SRL days-no humans were-I drove a stunt car one time, as did Eric, but that was just because people had to do that job, there was no other way to do it. And I was very interested in the visual aspects of these instruments while they were producing these sounds.

CY: So there was a definite aesthetic element to the creation of the devices?

MH: Absolutely. Yes. You see I'm only interested in sound that is produced live. I'm not interested in any of this digital sampling that is produced to use in a performance situation. I mean, I am aware of what's going on in the high-tech studios, and it's fascinating, it's great, it's incredible, it's good in some ways, it's really bad in other ways...the thing that I don't like about people jerking off in studios and jerking off with samplers is that-well, let me rephrase that-people screw around with this type of thing a bit too much. One of the things that is no longer apparent in a live performance is where the sound is coming from-whether it's a rock and roll band or it's whatever type of music show that's going on-I mean, you can go see a band, and there's a guitar player, and maybe a drummer-then there's some other guys standing in front of these racks of digital equipment that you have no idea about. You're hearing this enormous quantity of sounds, but how much of that sound is being created right there, and how much is either triggered samples or digitally stored music? So the only sound that you'll hear at one of my performances is a sound that you'll be able to look around and see the instrument producing it.

CY: Do you process the sound with effects at all?

MH: No. Some of the machines have audio reinforcement in that they have piezo-microphones attached to them. That signal is fed to a mixer, where I might tweak it with a parametric equalizer-but not too radically. No echo. And the pEQ I use the way most people use it-mainly to get the minimum amount of feedback with the maximum volume. Occasionally I'll mess a little bit with the EQ during a performance, but not usually.

CY: I want to get back for a moment to what you were saying about the `black-box plague'...

MH: Well, the thing is, that you can go to a dance performance, or almost any kind of performance, really, and you don't know where the sound is coming from-if any person is playing the music that they're dancing to...

CY: What bothers you about that?

MH: Nothing bothers me about that, really, it's just that I'm interested in going the absolute opposite direction-I want to make everything starkly visible. I mean, the philharmonic orchestra is starkly visible in its own way, but I'm building different instruments. I'm also controlling them from a remote location-there is no human sitting at the instrument to play it-I in fact am controlling it with very long electronic fingers.

CY: But what you do is definitely not virtual...

MH: No, absolutely not, but I use high tech-I use digital equipment to control the instruments, I have a personal computer with some rather unique external hardware that interfaces between the computer and the machines that I control them with. But the computer makes no decisions-it only stores information that I've previously put in there as far as what the movements and motions of the machines will be at specific times-I can call sequences back by typing letters on the keyboard, and also control some factors in real time. That's what the purpose of the computer is, it's only there as a tool-the reason that I stress this is that people often have this idea that the computer is somehow in the loop as far the decision making process. And this is indicative of the gross misunderstanding that many people have, even nowadays, about what it is that computers actually do, and what they are, and how powerful there are, really, compared to a human brain. They're nothing. Just switch banks.

CY: And yet it is fairly easy to get computers to simulate decision making-or to produce seemingly random decisions. And there may be many people who cannot discern the design in the `music' that you create, for whom what you're doing might appear `random' because they don't have any reference point with which to compare it...though there are points in what I heard that seemed very `composed', there was also much that didn't, and I think it would be very easy to mistake some of your music as being randomly generated...

MH: As far as that goes, it's not really an issue with me-whether or not they perceive it as random-this thing about thinking that the computer is making decisions, though, is not what it's about. As for the randomness issue, I can do my best to color their perceptions one way or another but...

CY: Well, what I'm saying is that they lack something to compare your music with, it's very unique...when I went to see your show it was so different than anything I'd ever encountered that I had nothing to relate it to that would allow me to say `Oh, it's like this thing...' to understand that your music is composed, the audience, I think, has to be able to relate it to something else in order to tell what is going on. I felt it was a really valuable thing to encounter because it was so unusual. And it was surprising. And when something that unique happens, the audience really wakes up, they really focus on everything around them and they're very excited. I saw people at your show with these looks of awe on their faces as they watched your machines dancing around-and they looked like they didn't know what was coming next, like something might even break-a lot of them had the amazed looks of little kids. And one of the poles did break.

MH: Right...

CY: And the large `washers' that you were swinging around on the wires over everybody's heads-everybody there was thinking about what would happen if one of those wires broke and that thing went spinning out of control, you could see people each responding to it in their own way-some moving into its projected path to watch it, others trying to stand where they thought it wouldn't go if the wire did break...

MH: That is definitely one of the ideas that I have when I'm going after an installation like that one at the University Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, is to make it as immediate an experience as possible, it is what I will always try to do, to make an experience that cannot be reproduced on tape, video or audio...

CY: I think you've succeeded...

MH: I think that you can represent it with those mediums, but it will never be even close to the same thing-you really have to have been there. I would have let people go right underneath those wires, but the University was worried about people getting metal particles in their eyes, and some aluminum was being shaved off of the disks, so that was a very realistic thing to consider, and I'm concerned about people's eyes also, so that was o.k. I don't want anybody to be injured in any way at my performances. As far as the disks coming off of the cables-well, next to impossible-

CY: Sure. I think we all knew that, but that wasn't the point. I mean you're the engineer, you know that you can trust it, but the audience is experiencing the thrill of being without that knowledge, they didn't build it, they don't know how sturdy or unsturdy it is...I mean we don't trust bridges, we don't trust elevators for the same reasons...

MH: (Laughing) And you shouldn't trust them. And they shouldn't trust me (more laughing). I mean, I trust myself-I could stand right under the things, totally calm. But even though it's nearly impossible for them to break, something could fail-could have failed. The only thing I can think of would be a massive earthquake that could rip the cables to pieces, but everything was at least five times, minimum, the strength that it needed to be to contain the maximum stress that I could put on the equipment. Take that maximum strength, multiply it by five, and that would be the minimum strength that any of the components in that chain had.

CY: Can you describe the instruments that you're currently working with and their functions?

MH: Well, my setup at this point is probably much more percussive than it is melodic-the only melodic devices that I have would be the rotary violin and the automatic string rack-the string rack is a flat piano-like instrument with two sets of five strings. It has a sweeping mechanism that sweeps across the strings, and five hammers that strike the other five strings. I can change the tension on the strings as well as damp them. That instrument needs some improvement, I'm not completely happy with what I'm able to do with it at this point. The rotary violin is a spinning drum with twelve strings that are either stroked with a bow wire or plucked. Then I have two large tubes that people refer to as `the big drums', but they're actually resonators-resonant chambers-and they produce a sinusoidal wave, a low-frequency wave, as well as some very strong pulses. They're about two feet in diameter and about five feet long-thin-wall steel tubes.

The cable disks are four ft diameter aluminum disks, 3/16ths of an inch thick with a 24 1/2 inch hole in the center-so it looks like a large washer-it's 52h3 aluminum-whatever...in the University Art Museum show there were two of these devices there, with 55ft cables going through the holes of which one end was anchored to the wall and the other end was attached to a rotating arm or crankshaft, about 24 inches long that swung the wire in a circle, getting the disk into motion. The arm could stop or reverse, and the disk would continue to spin around and jump around the wire a bit. Then there were two disk cymbals, one was 12 ft top to bottom, and the other was 17 1/2 ft. There's a 4 ft diameter steel disk in this case, sort of a washer again, with a very small hole in the center through which a piece of four inch mechanical pipe spins. The pole goes through the center of the washer and has an arm underneath the washer, with a bearing on the end, that holds the disk at an angle. The pole spins bidirectionally, at variable speeds, causing the steel disk to jump around, oscillate, and crash-if the direction is rapidly reversed. There was also the boxer, a five foot diameter upside-down wok-looking device...

CY: That thing is really great. Everybody really responded to it very well...

MH: Yes-a lot of people really like that one. I wish I had four or five more of them.

CY: Yes, different sizes would be great...

MH: I actually had four or five other devices that I hoped to create for that show-which I guess is good in a way, I mean it's nice to have some ideas that you're still working on.

CY: Explain how the boxer worked-that was what everyone seemed most curious about...

MH: Magnets! (laughing)

CY: Really?

MH: No. It was very simple. Its a five foot diameter dish, two to one ratio radius, 14 inches top to bottom at the center. Weighs about 198 pounds. It's face down on the floor, like you turned your wok upside down, and going down the center of it there's a motor with a gearbox that turns an arm underneath it. The arm points out toward one edge and holds it up about-oh, maybe an inch-off the ground, and when you start the motor up that arm spins in a concentric circle, causing the dish to rock around either very slowly, which makes a rhythmic chuum chuum chuum sound, or very fast-so that the thing just starts to jump around.

CY: It reminded me of a sort of metal tympani...

MH: Yes, it was tympanic, if one could say such a thing-it's probably not a word-`Yes...it was rather tymponic-the tymponic qualities of the giant Boxer...' I call it the boxer because there was a small one that I built for an art auction-I wanted to test the idea out, and I had an 18 inch dish-the end of a compressor tank that I cut off-and I built a steel table for it to run around on-it was about 3 ft square and had a raised edge all around so that the thing wouldn't jump out. I had to make a name for the thing in a way that I'm not used to because it was the day before the auction and I was trying to figure out what the hell to call it. So I was watching it move around, and the way that it moved around on the table, and the device was very heavy and sort of dumb-seeming, like your stereotypical heavyweight champ, and I though `Well, it looks like a boxer' You know-Mike Tyson on a motor-so I called it the boxer for lack of a better thing to call it at the moment, and that just stuck. I had always envisioned making a much larger one-and now it's sitting down there in the shop.

CY: Have you ever wanted to make something that could destroy something with sound?

MH: I hope that I did destroy some things already-and I think that I may have-in that show I destroyed some people's preconceived ideas about sort of emotive qualities that machines have, in that that building was always seen as a very `cement/cold bunker' type of thing-ammo dump-and I was bringing in an orchestra that was-well, what could be more fitting-machines-so you would imagine that this was going to be the most Teutonic, cold, unemotional thing that you'd ever seen. In fact, the responses that I got from the show proved that this was not at all the case. I know one woman who worked at the museum was very excited and was saying that she felt that the building had come to life and was breathing during the show. And that really pleased me, to hear that, because I am emotional about my playing, and about my work. It's not as if I simply create a machine and write a program and that's the way the machine always runs, and that's all that is ever going to happen-it's not that cut and dry. I went over there to the site and rehearsed many different times to discover what I could extract from this particular assemblage installed in this particular site.

CY: And every site is very different...

MH: Absolutely...and that's my answer to your question about destroying things with sound-and I would hope that I did destroy some people's predetermined attitudes that one cannot express emotion through mechanism.

CY: Well, I think that you succeeded in that...most of the people I saw at your exhibition seemed quite involved in the performance.

MH: The physical destruction-which is, I think, the point of the question that you asked a moment ago-I'm not that interested in.

CY: Have you ever thought about experimenting with infrasound?

MH: I don't really know that much about it-and, to me, the idea of making some machine, or some speakers with tone generators to effect people by making them all shit in their pants, or throw up-what's the point of that? I wouldn't take any pleasure in it. I would much rather take a different path towards really affecting the audience...

CY: In a positive way?

MH: Not in a positive way, necessarily-no, there have always been people at my performances that just hated it-and that's fine with me, I don't give a shit-it does not matter to me that they hate it. When I had a woman who is an opera singer, Stephanie Friedman, come and work with the orchestra, we rehearsed and worked diligently for many hours before the two performances we did, to put out something that we were both excited about and felt good with. A lot of people, including good friends of mine didn't like it-positive has this connotation of being smiley and happy, but it can also be causing people to change the way they think, or whatever. I'm just not interested in a tommy-gun/howitzer approach to affecting an audience. It's always easy to take that approach, you can get a little puppy, and a gun, and video tape yourself blowing the dog's head off-that's definitely going to `affect' people, if they see it. It would affect me-a lot-and it's just the hatchet technique. I think that there are many more challenging ways to affect people other than trying to make them take a shit at the show with infrasound.

I haven't really studied infrasound. I think that it would be interesting to discuss the subject with some people who are well informed about it, because there might be other uses for it, and that would be a good reason for some dialogue on the subject.

CY: What are some of the things you're interested in doing in your future work?

MH: Well, one thing that I'm very interested in pursuing, and I'll probably get to work in the next few months on this, is to do more operatic type of thing, with opera singers and a mechanical set-not just background machines, I mean, there have been mechanical sets pretty much since the beginning of opera as far as I know. But to have the instruments-not just in front of the set in the orchestra pit-but to have them become a part of the opera.

CY: As in the machines being considered performers?

MH: Yes. And the singers would have to deal with them as well. I'm not interested in modern dance, not at all. I've been asked by quite a few people if I'd like to work with dancers, and I'm not interested. I mean I'm more interested in the human voice as an instrument, and the people who have studied and practiced so very, very hard to improve or perfect their instrument-to work with these people, as opposed to dancers. People acting around the machines would be wonderful. The opera has such a history of romance, of passion, of angst-the pain, the suffering-it's a romanticized notion, for me-to work with them. Stephanie, with whom I worked at Berkeley, is great. She's just such a fantastic person. I happened to mention to Larry at the art museum that I was interested in working with an opera singer, thinking that nothing was going to come of it, and a few months later, she called me and I was gasping for air, like `O god what did I get myself into-I don't know anything about opera...'. And her attitude was `You don't know anything about opera, and I don't know anything about what you do-let's see what we can do together...' So we both gave it a go, and a couple of things we did worked out really well, where we were both excited, and those things showed the promise of the fruits of future efforts.

CY: So you'd like to work with a group of opera singers, and maybe a writer-or would you want to compose the whole thing yourself...

MH: Right. I'd like to work with a group. I might mention the name of, say, Peter Sellers-I mean, I don't know what this person is like to work with, but he seems to have a more up-to-date attitude about presenting what would be considered operatic productions. I don't think that there's a lot of money in it-from what I hear the opera scene is pretty broke right now...

CY: Have you ever seen any of Rinde Eckart's work?

MH: No. I've heard his name.

CY: Well you might want to talk with him for a couple of reasons, A: I think he'd find what you do quite interesting, and B: He's got sort of his own small opera company here in the city, as I understand it. I think he works with Paul Dresher...

MH: Yes, Oh, now I remember hearing his name from Stephanie-she knows him. The reason that I said I want to do opera is because I was so glad to have the opportunity to work with Stephanie. I learned a great deal in that whole process, because it forced me to think about the sound that I make and the way that I play the machines in a way that I never would have had she not been standing there-and I had to adhere to a schedule that was predetermined-she would be singing x,y and z. There were small places for improvisation in there-but not a lot. We had to define very exactly what we were going to do and say and plunk and clank and boom at every single moment. I knew that we would never be able to achieve 100% of our rehearsed ideas. I knew that we would only be able to achieve about 50% of what we wanted to do, therefore I wanted to try to make it as rigid as possible. The way that I had to think about everything was completely different, which it would not have been had I not had her to work with.

CY: The idea is really interesting-on the one hand you have absolute machines, with a human instrumentalist, and on the other you have absolutely human instruments...

MH: Yeah, we'll see what happens-I hope that something will come of it. We might start smaller, possibly with just us and one other person or something. There's a text we're both interested in-it's by Max Ernst-A Young Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil. And it appears to be this stream of consciousness/dream influenced-generated thoughts, or word-groupings. And they're coupled with these wood block line drawings. Stephanie's very interested in texts. Her husband is an English professor at U.C. Berkeley.

CY: Is there something that you want to build or do that you're unable to because of some limiting factor like money or time or space? Something in the background that you'd really like to do?

MH: There are certain things that I'd like to try that would require some specialized microprocessors or unusual components that I've seen in trade journals-and I see this stuff and I think `Ooh, wow, if I had this or that it would be really neat to do x with...', but that's just like another part of a dream to me-I'm not really waiting to do that, that would be a bad thing to do. One dream that I've always had is to have a whole factory given to me to just turn into one gigantic instrument. I would be able to use all of the production equipment that was there, and only that to transform the stuff into a different mode. I have a lot of site-specific ideas. Every place that I go is hopefully going to be different, as opposed to art galleries where you're dealing with the same basic thing over and over again-it gets boring. If I was forced to work with those kinds of boring spaces over and over again, I might have a much greater interest in what you were asking about earlier, in using sound to wreck buildings.

CY: Yeah, I wasn't implying that you had some sinister, murderous itch to scratch-I mean, sometimes it's just fun to watch things break...

MH: Sure. Or to transform them in a more radical way.


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