Interview between Leon van Noorden and Jerry Hunt
NOTE: The following interview was conducted in the Netherlands in March 1988. It appeared in a booklet published by the Middelburg Bureau of Culture and het Apollohuis to accompany an exhibition of Hunt's installation works Birome (ZONE): Cube and Birome (ZONE): Cube [frame]. As part of the exhibition, Hunt also performed at de Vleeshal in Middelburg and het Apollohuis in Eindhoven.
Included in the booklet is the score to Sur (Doctor) John Dee. Typographical errors in the original are corrected here.
Leon van Noorden: I have a few questions prepared for you. Maybe you can explain first the difference between the Birome (ZONE): Cube and the Birome (ZONE): Cube [frame]?
Jerry Hunt: There is not a simple identification between the physical object itself and the electronic connection to it. And so particularly [in] the last couple of works…for one reason or another it hasn't been always possible to go from one aspect of the physical appearance or the mechanical construction of a work to the information that it might bear. I had to come up with some new way of doing it. There is a work I made for the Synclavier just recently where there was that problem that there was no direct connection between the physical object, the Synclavier itself, and the electrical sounds it makes. Although there is a keyboard, there is no interplay, no interaction. For me the electronic and mechanic presence of something is identical: I don't want to have the machinery seem to be something that is embodied somehow with soul by electronics.
van Noorden: What do you mean by identical, the physical and the electronic information?
Hunt: In the performance work I do, the audience's reaction is sometimes centered on some very specific aspect that they feel very sympathetic toward or that they are accustomed to and that is frequently just the physical arrangement of the space. The opposite I think happens in the case of some electronically involved performance where people seem to think that only the thing that is electronically transmitted is real. I am interested in crossing that bridge with people and not having the audience be at either distance (object, content). The thing I think is important here is the idea of body and mind, that there isn't that separation. The fact that something appears is enough: there might be an extension in some way but that is not necessarily where all of the real information of the works lies. It just sits there, you don't do anything with it. I'm more interested now in making this clear in the course of the time when the system is in operation to switch back and forth between the two modes of the work interchangeably.
van Noorden: What exactly then are the modes, can you explain that?
Hunt: Yes, mechanical and electrical. The way the works I am doing now operate, there is a structure that is [a] device whether it is something I personally use or, in the case of the installation, a structure that exists in space. By manipulating these devices (artifacts), there are mechanisms to sense sound or light change. These are translated by a memory process into information, that has some bearing on the whole course of the work. I was not making an appropriate bridge between the way the information was being processed and manipulated and the way the works had their physical continuity, direction and presence. It presents the situation or conflict between body and mind at the most abstract level. For the audience I think it is a simpler question: "I (he) did this; what, caused that? What is the meaning behind this?" I think there is a tendency to believe that there is some other meaning behind things. More and more, I try to make the physical presence and the implied information of that physical presence...interchangeable, the same, equivalent.
van Noorden: If you are performing, you manipulate mannequins or something like that?
Hunt: There is a large set of objects, some of which make sounds and some of which don't; some I've been using for 10 years or more.
van Noorden: Can you predict what will happen or...
Hunt: Yes, I can predict what will happen over a period of time which varies due to the memory processes used. In terms of the electrical way in which the work operates, everything has been preplanned in advance. The principal changes are changes of overall directions, or what specific detail might appear when.
van Noorden: But there is no direct correlation between what you do and what comes out?
Hunt: That is right, except in the sense of information and memory; it is very much like reading Tarot cards: the sequence of cards has a certain degree of change variability, but the interlockings of the card readings are interdependent, so in that way the mechanism I’m using in terms of predicting what happens next is less like the chance operations involving number operations like those John Cage made with the I Ching and some other chance operations, but more like some of the "softer" operations made with the Tarot cards in which there are many layers of interdependent material in each of the card numbers. That is one of the reasons that I think even now things like the Kabbala are interesting, all of the manipulations that are possible with the Kabbala because of the layered number-significances.
van Noorden: The fact that it doesn't react directly to your manipulations, doesn't that bring forward the difference between mind and body?
Hunt: I think it probably poses the dilemma. In a way, because we speak we create the problem, in other words because we are communicating animals we have that double in some ways inherent. But if you don't focus on that, in what you do, I think you reinforce the sense of the separation and continue to regenerate it. It is not as if I am trying to say there is no separation: I do not have any sense of the separation.
van Noorden: Yes, something like a struggle.
Hunt: That's right, yes. In a way I think it is more my problem and less so the audience's. But that is the reason I have been going in this direction, because of my feeling about the kind of situation I have set up for myself and the work I do.
van Noorden: I was very interested in what you said in an interview with Gordon Monahan about the line from your activities when you were a thirteen year old boy and your activities now, I see the line between these, you did these magical exercises. But did you have at that time already also interest in electronics for instance?
Hunt: I did, but that was not what would be called in any sense a professional interest, and it is still not today, I mean in term of electronics. As time passes, I realize that I am a complete amateur at electronics as the systems become more sophisticated and complex.
van Noorden: Yes, but you use a lot of electronics, you built that yourself?
Hunt: In the beginning almost everything that I used was completely built by me from resistor and the transistor up, none of which would have been possible in the world before transistors. Gradually systems have become complex both in terms of their physical structure and in terms of what is possible to achieve with them. So more and more I use pre-existing equipment, modified in one way or another to accept certain kinds of control that they weren't designed for. And usually it is either a matter of simplification, or doing things in a more direct way, or finding ways to use equipment more suited to my purposes in performance.
van Noorden: But you build the sensor instruments yourself?
Hunt: I do to an extent, but mostly now just modification; for example the microwave sensor that I use to detect the rate of change and movement in the cube, is a standard microwave detector used for burglar-alarms. I took out the direct microwave difference signal and I did a little bit of processing on that to get rate of change and peak-instantaneous amplitude. So it is small changes. Sometimes just to save money, to make it more efficient, sometimes to speed it up, sometimes to make it simpler to handle. Gradually I find myself just doing modifications. I have not done much in [the way] of direct software-generating systems using a computer. Mostly because for me, given the price, the information-level would be too low. For example, in a performance I think in terms of memory in hours of memory, not minutes. And only the largest computing systems have available so many hours of memory. Also the complexity of the outcome of these systems for me is a little low and they become almost self-defining no matter what kind of efforts you put in to the software structure; the hardware in the smaller systems is so self-defining that it tends to creates a kind of uniformity. That is gradually changing. It would still be unthinkable with visual material though, because the visual material requires much more memory. I even run into the limitation with optical disc.
van Noorden: You use videotape for your...?
Hunt: I have been using videotape for several years now. I used to use a sequence of sixteen track audio cartridge players, electrically and mechanically switched. But because the fast forward was slow, fast access required redundancy, so I used a lot of identical tracks. Gradually I have been moving toward optical storage where a very high amount of information can be stored.
van Noorden: The symbols that are included in these copies I have here, are they on a videotape or are they from a computer?
Hunt: Some parts are originally generated using computer animation devices of a variety of complexity, and some are directly recorded using a video camera. It is a significant distinction, there is a priority in the arrangement. Material is transferred with time code and interleaved, so while one system is playing the other system is looking up the next appropriate time code location. The matching between these sources is directed by the sensors and the program results of simple pattern recognition done over a very small amount of time, variable, sometimes short, 5 seconds, sometimes as long as a minute and a half. The convergence between the past of what has taken place in the space of the sensors and the present, dictates what direction this memory takes. So that you go forward in time or backwards in time.
van Noorden: My question this time (second interview): you prepare a tape, several tapes or so, and how do you choose the sound and video material that goes unto the tape, and why do you choose that?
Hunt: Everything is already done. In many different versions. There will be for an image or a sound sometimes as many as 20 and sometimes only one or two versions of that. These are edited together into a serial string. Each one has a location in the tape with a different code.
van Noorden: Yes, but at the moment I'm not interested in how you do it technically, but the material that you use, the visual material. For instance this large number of symbols. And I don't know whether the music or the sound has also this kind of connotation.
Hunt: Yes, they are tied together in a sense that each sign or each thing that happens with an object or the manipulation of a group of symbols or objects, is tied up with a scenario that consists of its sound and the kind of melody or timbre development or whatever that is just one single string of material, and each of these strings is made uniquely on its own. They are attempts to create a particular fulfillment of that thing just in itself. Once that principal type has been done, I make many different versions of it. In other words, I might have a group of objects that, for example in the video, move a certain way and have certain texture and certain color and they might be connected with a certain melody or timbre or musical development, and then there will be another version of that which will approach it from a slightly different aspect. What then exists is many different versions of the same set of material. Each one of them has many connections; they represent things people relatively share in common. The exact meaning, the exact significance a sign might have might be disturbed in some sense by your history or background. There are certain, I suspect, common connections with each of these movements and signs that can establish at least some common ground. What takes place in my music is that the way you get from one thing to the next is the most important aspect, probably the most important message I am interested in. I don't have any hidden meaning in the symbols, the signs or the sounds or how they move, other than the implicit meanings they might have. In the Cube installation some of the sounds are suggestive of human or animal speech, because they are either computer generated or regenerated from animal or human sources. So they will in some ways sound like disturbed speech or natural sounds, and I expect that people will respond to these in that way, but there is no hidden meaning. What I am interested in is having people notice that it was more or less distorted earlier than now, or to think I remember that image in another way from an earlier time in performance with that sound sequence, and now it is changed. In other words, it is the global pattern, the relationships between one thing and the next, that is most important. In a sense every sound and image sequence is a revelation of some personal idiosyncrasy of my own history. It might be a particular music or image sequence that interested me at the moment of making. One of the good things of working in this way is that it leaves you free from any dependence upon the means of production other than the way the images are technically indexed and retrieved.
van Noorden: Is it your intention to create this magical atmosphere?
Hunt: It is not a principal intention but a by-product of the materials I use. I know that is going to be one of the results though. Most of these elements are still very much prevalent in most world cultures, yet they may have slightly different connotations. Part of it is just that it is my own experience, my own history and I can not work or think without that background. People might see it as connected to some ideas they have about the occult and religious practice. Most modern Christian practice, for example, involves some level of this experience, obviously for example, the cross. But it has many other connotations in Christian cultures -- I don't have one special significance above another. When a cross appears I don't mean to specially signify the crucifixion. More and more I think I am interested in evoking a unique experience from each audience member in their relationship to my work, and not context-specific.
van Noorden: In the interview with Gordon Monahan you said that these images are seeds for the attention of the audience.
van Noorden: And that they provoke a lot of questions.
Hunt: That is right.
van Noorden: And you are questioning also in this interview why I am allowing an audience to watch me.
Hunt: I want the parameters of the expectations not to be immediately taken for granted. It is a little bit to upset that relationship immediately. On reviewing I think you begin to see the possible meanings that can take place outside of the specific visual or sound materials. I'd like to leave room for a certain kind of community experience between the audience or participants and me as performer: that is really the thing for me that is under observation. That is why I have become so interested in the problems of the spontaneous. In the beginning I think it may have been just a result of some of the technical problems in the work I was doing, gradually I begin to question many of the ideas I had about free will choice, history, intention and the past. What is a spontaneous action? What is intention? If I were to use solid state memory, for example: just because it is faster than another retrieval system, is it more spontaneous? Or does it have to do with the conventions of what you assume is happening? Sometimes audiences believe that every thing I do in performance is completely prerecorded, other times they believe it is all being made up immediately. In fact you can't know unless you've set up to know what to believe in advance.
van Noorden: So you think you have more questions than answers to give?
Hunt: No doubt about it. Why am I doing this stuff? That may seem like a foolish thing to say, but when you come from the kind of background I came from, there are not many roots to lead you to a certain outcome in, say, the fine arts, as they are thought of in the USA. You can make yourself up from scratch.
van Noorden: So how do you feel about being described as a shaman?
Hunt: I think that is a result of the need to quickly and easily categorize because that is clearly one of the first impressions one might get. When one sees the performances one asks oneself how can I connect this to my previous experience or knowledge, and shamans became widely known in the 60s. I was so interested in magic and the occult when I was a child that it seems quite ordinary to me now. I know an audience won't feel that way and I expect that. I am willing to have that first reaction because it disorients the audience with respect to the usual conventions of the concert, performance or museum installation. Then too in critical writing the authors need to sum you up in a phrase or two, a couple of column-inches. I don't believe in anything at all. John Cage used to talk about this when he referred to silence: emptiness out of which anything can happen. I was a little shocked at first by the way in which people centered on the occult aspect of my work, but I've come to accept it and understand it.
van Noorden: Maybe it is a little bit misleading in these interviews when you bring forward what you did when you were young and so forth.
Hunt: In some ways I think it is a little misleading and yet it is very much a part of how I've come to approach everything. In the last few years audiences have begun to look at other and, for me, larger and more important aspects of my work, and more appropriately integrating the surface detail.
van Noorden: You consider your work primarily music.
Hunt: Yes I do. The visual and gestural components of what I do I regard as subordinate to and dependent upon the sound stream. The visual and gestural parts are signals, overlays of the course of development that the musical stream takes.
Original Material Copyright © 1988 by Jerry Hunt and Leon van Noorden. HTML Coding Copyright © 2001–2016 by Michael Schell. All Rights Reserved.