Interviews conducted between TJ Norris and the following artists and labels for various publications. Watch for more here at Toneshift.net, in the future:
- Steve Brand
- Bine Music / Jens Rößger + Thomas Touzimsky
- Bottrop-Boy / Robert Meijer
- Fällt Records / Christopher Murphy
- Deadbeat (Scott Monteith)
- Sam Hamilton
- Important Records / John Brien
- Infraction Records / Jason Bryant
- Jason Kahn
- Andrew Liles
- Afe Records / Andrea Marutti
- Mlehst (All Brentnall)
- Roel Meelkop
- Mille Plateaux / Marcus Gabler
- Lucky Kitchen / Alejandra + Aeron
- Non Visual Objects / Heribert Friedl + Raphael Moser
- Raster-Noton / Olaf Bender
- The Sensualists
- Shonen Knife
- Nao Sugimoto / Spekk + Plop
- Terre Thaemlitz
- Vivo / Janusz Leszczynski
BONUS: The long-lost interview with The Hafler Trio (circa 2005) in its entirety.
an intimate interview with The Hafler Trio’s Andrew M. McKenzie
Since 1982, Reykjavík-based The Hafler Trio (one Andrew M. McKenzie) has delivered a broad scape of sensory aural work that is as immediate as it is distant. Among his most notable recordings are his “wallet” series which includes ‘The Sea Org’ (1987, and newly re-issued on Korm Plastics), ‘Ignotum Per Ignotius’ (1986) and ‘A Thirsty Fish’ (to be re-released by Korm Plastics this Autumn). Though, what is pretty incredible is a man who has remained even more fervently prolific as he suffered major illness through the density of an unbalanced health care system, not to mention the dawn of MP3 standards, caught between cultures.
The new works just out on Important, Die Stadt, Crouton, C.I.P. and Soleilmoon are all an incredible testament to his voluminous artistic perseverance. The sheer clarity put forth over these last few decades is of a most delicate balance, making for one of the more timeless voices in experimental contemporary art. The Hafler Trio is noise personified (with a touch of elegance). A collaborator, true innovator and something of a sound art alchemist, McKenzie has brought a steady stream of vibrance to an otherwise murky underground ethos of grey areas. After speaking to some of his key collaborators, who richly identify with his distinctive vision one could see the layers of respect for what this man does for the masses, especially for those who have yet to catch up with him. I had the opportunity to reach him at his studio in Iceland….
TJ Norris: Greetings from the wooded and rough Pacific Northwest! I heard that you “almost” came out to tour here in September and I know this was not your first attempt to do so. It’s a pleasure to have the chance to talk with you. Tell me, have you played live ever in the U.S.?
Andrew M. McKenzie/The Hafler Trio: Surely. Did a tour, as a last-minute addition to a tour by some Swedish people during the last part of 1990. Practically nobody knew who we were. I was asked while playing in Boston when the “interval music” would be over. This was a typical response. A bootleg video of some of this happening in Dallas was released, claiming that I was doing all the things the Swedes were.
“Andrew made some very magical, special music for me, when I did my ‘Legend of the Sacred Prostitute’ performance, which I presented over five years in theaters worldwide. Andrew’s music “Masturbatorium” sent me into a deep, ecstatic trance every time. We had a fantastic time recording our sex sounds for “Fuck”. Very HOT! Oh, and I’ll never forget the night we were on stage together and he stabbed himself in his thigh with a switch blade, and no one, including me, knew if all the blood was real or not. He finished the show, then we took him to the emergency room. The blood was real. I can’t wait for our next project. Andrew makes the world a far sexier place.” – Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D., Prostitute/pornstar turned Artist/Sexologist
TN: (chuckles) “interval music”, huh? Well, I guess if you get between the cracks you can shake the foundations. I’m curious. Who is Anjey?
AM: Anjey is Andrei Bakhmin, who looks after the H30 website at Brainwashed.
TN: Superb job, and speaking of which, the site on Brainwashed.com, is quite lovely with an intuitively creative interface. How did you come upon making links with them in the first place? They are based in my old stomping grounds in New England. How do you feel about your presence on the web in general?
“As an artist, Andrew is full of surprises which is one of the reasons why The Hafler Trio continues to be so interesting.” – Jon Brien, Important Records
AM: I had no contact with Brainwashed prior to the website being set up, which is almost 100% the work of Mr. Bakhmin. He has done an amazing, sympathetic, sensitive and highly intelligent job of rendering the spirit of the releases as well as possibly can be done in the highly dubious medium of “the internet”. I doff my cap in his general direction very often.
TN: Being someone fascinated in the hybrids between the arts and sciences I have always been intrigued by your associations to what you have termed “psychoacoustics and sonic research”. Could you explain, to the common wo(man) what it all means plainly?
AM: Erm, well, I think you’ll have to be more specific about what the “it” is in your question. Much of what would be ‘explanation’ is there in the releases quite naked and actually requires no explanation whatsoever.
“Andrew McKenzie is one of the true sound geniuses of our time for me. I never get tired listening to his works as they have a depth which I rarely find elsewhere.” – Jochen Schwarz, Die Stadt
TN: In numerous reviews and articles there are links and associations between your work and that of Steven Stapleton as Nurse with Wound. I know you have collaborated, but what was/is/will be the overriding artistic connection and relationship between you?
AM: I have recently resumed relations with both Mr. Stapleton and Mr (late) Tibet, and I really can’t say at this juncture what might or might not happen. I have my hopes. The relationships are not so clear, but it has more to do with ‘spirit’ than ‘form’, I think it’s fair to say.
TN: I’m happy to hear this, it’s great when a fusion of thought is crafted, or even grafted. For me, your work is deftly associated with the five (or more) elements. Do you care to comment on any such connection?
AM: I am spearheading a campaign to have the word “elements” replaced by the word “elephants”. Try it for a day, and see how you get on. It always makes wonderful sense and creates delightfulæ surrealist visons. Plus, if you use it, nobody can actually believe you *really* used the word, and so they just blot it out and think they mis-heard, thus demonstrating The Roosevelt Effect before your very eyes. Of course, what I do is necessarily a product of the Elephants. How could it be otherwise? I’ve referred to them and utilised various aspects and ways of working with them many times. Again, these are pretty obvious and I don’t think they need any further comment from me.
“The Hafler Trio is not a musical group, and are not artists, it’s more of an iceberg floating somewhere in the cold seas hidden mostly below waters. A door to many things. It’s not abstract, because it’s not torn from practical matters. It’s not vague, because it’s based on a concrete structure. The Hafler Trio is everywhere and nowhere.” – Andrei Bakhmin
TN: Maybe ob(li)vious to me, though after watching ostrich and deer this past weekend I feel one with the animal kingdom, so I may wake up and completely understand word for word. OK, I do not want to rattle any cages, though I am interested (as a former customer myself), as many probably are, by the odd debacle with the Phonometography label. It seems the owner has decided to run to the bank with any profits from your own recordings and those on which you collaborated with Autechre, for which he is selling limited editions for significant price tags. If it just reddens your skin you may plead the fifth, though, if you have anything you wish to say that hasn’t already been stated in your eloquent statement online, you are welcome to speak your piece.
AM: His actions speak for themselves. Anyone buying from him can be assured that the money will not come my way. Not even near my way. We move on, and the packaging of those releases has been improved upon quite obviously with recent releases that are the further development of the series begun with the “P” releases. It doesn’t redden my skin. It’s not the first time it’s happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. My situation means that I cannot actually be as discriminating as I would like about the people I have to deal with – many of those that I *do* are old, trusted friends. And some are not. I have to work with the materials I have. No silk purses from sow’s ears.
“One of the reasons I have such a great admiration for the work of Hafler Trio is the underlying aesthetic: the pieces—the aural, the visual, the textual—come from a commingling of vast research (studies or ideologies might be a better word, or “schools of thought”) and good, old-fashioned work. Hafler Trio has, for my mind, always been driven to present information. This information, however, is never simply handed over on a platter. And why should it be? A great deal of process and person goes into what becomes a “finished” piece, so if your curiosity is piqued (as a listener, etc), there’s no reason not to have an obligation to do some work. As “lofty” as it may sound, Hafler Trio work invites you to be another person in the dialogue, to start clicking pieces together, and, most importantly, engage.” – Blake Edwards, C.I.P.
TN: Speaking of old friends, I have been a writer for Frans de Waard’s Vital Weekly for several years, as well as a regular devotee and correspondent. It was so great to hear that his Korm Plastics would be re-issuing many of your seminal works. Knowing the scarcity of some of these titles, how did the evolution and rights get so graciously passed on to him, and how will this very sought-after series develop further from the originals? The ones I have seen look amazing visually, and I heard there was also an upgrade to the previously deteriorating cd version. Is that true?
AM: As far as possible, all the titles in the series will be remastered from the original tapes, cleaned if necessary, and added to with relevant material from the same period, where appropriate – be it sonic or visual or written material. Frans was the only person willing to undertake such an enterprise, and I have known him for many years, through many different situations, and I knew he’d do a good job. …and he has =)
TN: Iceland is mysterious and all about light, the seasons, the wind and air. I will never forget the sunrise and the quaint fishing village of downtown Reykjavík. In many ways the city is poised in the past, though is one of the most outrageously artistic and futuristically conceptual places on the planet. There seems to be so much important music of our time driven out of this small homogeneous country. As I think of Quentin Crisp ‘s “An Englishman in New York” I can’t help but ask how you landed there and what keeps you energized about making a creative life in a foreign country.
AM: I have little to do with any cultural or indeed social life in Iceland. I’m largely ignored. I know very few people indeed, most of those now spending more and more time in other countries anyway, as the country gets more and more expensive, racist, and Americanized. I came here to do a project years ago, in 1991, and as a result of meeting someone at that point, was asked to take over a guest teaching job at a college here. After that, having had just about all I could stand of the “European Subsidy Circuit”, I came here, which at that point has *nothing* to do with *any* of that. To give an example: when I first came here, it was impossible to pick up a telephone and order a pizza. Now, it seems like people here think they’re in some big city in the US, and think, dress, act and speak accordingly. As to what is produced here, I am completely out-of-touch, so I can’t really comment intelligently about that at all.
“The Hafler Trio are about controversy. Controversy? We need controversy.”
– Frans de Waard, Korm Plastics/Vital Weekly
TN: Hmmmm. I fear this Frappuccino-frenzy has hit the planet like an asteroid, taking with it precious culture while sharply carving the mindset of speed culture in two. Though, there are still the final frontiers free of billboards.
Do you have much to say about playing live, how you go about this, are large grants necessary to present your work as an “event”? Do you feel that in some ways the sound speaks for itself in its physical form, and that all who play your music on their home stereos and pocket computers and even in their cars get the full message you want to communicate?
AM: Grants would be useful, but I have no idea how you get them, and nobody I know is working to arrange anything like this on my behalf. The “live” situation can be interesting, but unfortunately, at the present time, very, very few people are prepared to meet me even half way to present something “special”. The only way that the people in the situations you describe will “get” the “message” is if they put *at least* as much effort into listening/experiencing it as was involved in making it.
TJ: Well, often associations with non-profits in your area help, though some of the leader foundations for performance and sound art seem to be the Chinati Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, Goethe Institute and the Phaedrus Foundation. These groups sometimes offer technical or travel type grants, some are associated with emerging or mid-career status, however, maybe something can come of it so you might find more support to bring the work live.
The texts associated with your many releases are often times very open ended, some would even say splendidly obtuse or deeply theoretical. Do you consider yourself a poet?
AM: No, I don’t consider myself a poet.
TN: Several years ago I got to meet and act as spotlight man (which I heard you had done yourself!) for Annie Sprinkle during one of her performance/screenings. I found her to be so down-to-earth and real for a former porn queen. Is there anything special you could say about her personally, having worked with her and the related recordings?
AM: As many have said, and I concur wholeheartedly, “she’s the real thing”. Possibly this explains why so many people are threatened by her. A fantasy object is easy to shelve and dismiss. But in my experience, Annie *always* manages to scupper expectations – sometimes by design, and sometimes because she simply cannot help it. At any rate, I owe her a profound debt of gratitude for all that she is and helped me to realize. The forthcoming last part of “the sexual trilogy” will, I hope, attest to that in an appropriate manner.
“I’ve listened to Andrew’s work since 1988 and it is absolutely wonderful how he has developed to the present. His approach is something more people should take note of. It’s an all encompassing experience communicating things which we don’t even know, and that’s the pleasure of admiring what he does.” – Jon Mueller, Crouton Music
TN: You had a health scare a while back, and many came to the calling and purchased works, made donations and even a few benefits were thrown on your behalf. Do you want to talk about how you are doing physically and your reaction to this philanthropy in the name of your art?
AM: I am still physically very ill. I can still not afford regular medical treatment. I am doing all that I can with options that are open to me, but this doesn’t go as far as it *should*. It is a constant struggle. Don’t know what else I can say about this, except to repeat that what would solve the problem would be a regular, boring, 9-5 job. I have had no single serious offer in 5 years.
TN: Somehow I can’t imagine you in an administrative role. I’m interested in your upcoming collaborations with Bruce Gilbert and Michael Gira, can you tell me how that has developed?
AM: Both ongoing. nothing really to report at present. Apart from the fact that they will both be excellent. a section from the work with Mr. Gira was included on the recent double 10″ release on Small Voices in Italy.
TN: You have the right to speak the last word here…would you leave us with a quote, something in the here and now?…
AM: “Allt er gott sem endar vel.”
At the Horse Hospital, the occurrences consisted of a specially designed installation for the space – it literally ate it – which was mutated into an almost dada panto for three evening performances. During the first one the room became a maze around which you could walk, with Andrew giving absurdist and magical proclamations sporadically. For me, he managed to slow down the audience’s pace to that of gay men cruising, and I noted how fantastic it was that he’d turned a gallery into what felt like a fuck club…I admired the fact they’d taken my curatorial words to heart – that the HH wasn’t a traditional venue, and thus we didn’t want traditional gigs – and the amount of dedication he put into an event that was very, very wry in its final form. I hadn’t expected him to show his inner jester so fully, and it made me admire him, not only as an artist, but as a human being too, which is rare, y’know?”
– James Hollands, The Horse Hospital