Stompin' and Beatin' and Screamin'
an interview with Jerry Hunt
NOTE: the following article originally appeared in Musicworks #39. The issue includes an audiocassette which features an excerpt from the following interview, as well as a performance of Hunt's Fludd: (VOLTA): Jal
As one of the performance attractions at the 1986 Newfoundland Sound Symposium, Jerry Hunt bewildered audiences with his peculiar brand of pseudo-religious hi-lo tech. In an interview with Gordon Monahan, he explained that he loves to talk: My mother says I was vaccinated with a phonograph needle. I love to talk. I just love to talk. The following are excerpts culled from extensive monologues by Mr. Hunt, as he proceeded to talk the clouds right out of the sky one afternoon in St. John's.
The World Is Not a Symphony
Jerry: Everybody's always talking about new sounds. I haven't heard any yet. I haven't heard any new sounds. I'm not saying I've heard all sounds; I'm saying that if you say new sounds what you're really talking about is the re-born experience. In other words, I've been re-born to sound. And then there are these absurd excesses. Once we were at some program someplace, and we were outside and Cage had been there and he'd been giving a lecture and this woman was coming out and she even had her fingers on her earlobes and she was saying, All the world is a symphony! You know, I mean, it's not. It's just not a symphony. It may be a lot of things but it's just not a symphony. And this raises something that I think is a critical issue and gets to a very serious problem: I don't think Cage really believes what he says himself, because he needs his jobs; and I don't want to say that I believe it myself because I need my jobs, too. And I don't understand why it's the only thing that interests me to do. I have no understanding of that at all. But in fact, you don't need concerts. There's really no reason to listen to music at all, particularly in the world that we have now. The real reason for music is as a way for exchanging money. That's its real source. it has nothing to do with sound or technology or new resources or anything else that I honestly can see.
Now, I can see how you can specialize your vision and then all of these games work. If you just specialize your vision here or here or here, then all of these questions of new resources or new sounds, new technologies, new concert attitudes, can work. Yet it looks to me like people have gone into a kind of re-looping. People are continuing to re-loop around the same old stuff all the time and as a consequence, the real avant-garde part has totally broken down. The money structure that supports music has shifted. The avant-garde has been re-defined in a completely different avenue and that's in commercial, technically sophisticated dealings with masses of people in top-40 global rock. In other words, where the real innovation is, is with Prince. Prince is a real innovator because he is utilizing ideas and life patterns. He has a profound influence on global culture. Stevie Wonder. I'm not trying to isolate individuals. Cyndi Lauper. They're the ones, and the institutions they represent, because they cease to be individuals as soon as they're powerful. They're now institutional forces. You can use a conspiratorial or consumerist-dominant or monopolistic theory to explain it but the fact is that they are truly innovators. And it's not sound innovation that they're doing. It's social engineering in a kind of funny way.
Music has taken on a powerful importance in modern times. I think music is more important since 1960 than it ever has been. In the U.S. for example, music wasn't that important when I was growing up. In 1955 music wasn't that important. Music was a kind of a special thing you went and did. You know, you didn't have to have your music with you. When I first got to Philadelphia (en route to Sound Symposium in Newfoundland), the woman who took my tickets off of my baggage before I got onto the thing to go over to the right terminal to stand there in 87' air-conditionless heat and claw at a metal grate to try to get air -- took my ticket and I went out and was waiting for the bus and then she came out -- she'd gotten off work. I saw the biggest boom box I'd ever seen in my life. I swear the thing was as big as ... it was enormous. It had two speakers ... it didn't look like it was terribly heavy. It didn't look like her arm was about to disjointed. I've never seen such a big one, you know. So you're thinking, Is this consumerist conspiracy? In other words, the more of those machines that we can provide for people; the more Walkmans, the more CDs, the more Peewees that people can come up with, the more product can be sifted and shifted and manipulated.
Hunt Goes Heavy
Jerry: Then there's the reality of independent distribution. You come to one of these festivals and everybody's made 40 records. Where are they all? It seems like there are about 25 distributors around the world that'll even piddle with the stuff. I nearly fell over dead when I saw Tower Records carries Irida (J. Hunt's label). So I'm sitting there and I'm thinking, Why is Tower carrying Irida? PR. They don't make any money off of carrying those things but it's good public relations to be able to say in your advertising, in your literature, in your four-colour glossies, Most complete record store on Earth. And you walk in and you say, Do you have blah? No, but look over there. And so you go over there to look and an entire wall, which doesn't take up very much space in their overall stores, and you see up on that wall are about 250 to 300 independent labels; a few records from each. And you think, They don't have what l want, but they do have a lot, don't they? I was impressed myself. They do carry a lot of independent stuff for one of those clenched-fist type record stores. But it's obvious they don't have my picture in a relief punch-out, holding one of my wands out, up in the front of a stand-up, Get 'Em While They're Hot, Hunt Goes Heavy. And a picture of me on the front of Newsweek magazine?
Pounding Higher and More Furiously
Jerry: The only piano music l really enjoy playing anymore is late romantic music, from Chopin, on. I like to play Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. I love Scriabin's piano music, I think it's just a joy to play because it's like a nut, it's like the music of a nut. Like this thing Toward the Flame. I love playing that because it's just this incessant pounding, rising by augmented 4ths, and you just pound, and you go up a little higher and you pound faster and more furiously, and you pound even more furiously and higher, you pound even more furiously and higher and you just keep pounding higher and more furiously and finally you just stop pounding, kind of because you're tired more than anything else. I mean it's just like he spent himself at the piano. And I've never forgotten that at the movies. When I was a child I went to the 25th Street Theatre in Waco and saw some movie. To this day I don't know what it involved but something had happened between this man and woman and the man was, I think, blind. He sat down to the piano in this kind of purple velvet room and he began just beating furiously on this piano, playing this pounding manic music. A lot of Hollywood composers picked up on this Schillinger-Scriabin harmonic language where there would be these, what I think of as cocktail lounge chords, just pounded straight to the bone. And he sat and he did that. He pounded these slightly dissonant things and from underneath the dark glasses, tears were streaming down, and the camera kept moving in closer. Scriabin is a fulfillment of that. He's the ultimate fulfillment of just spent passion at the keyboard. But those slightly luscious things use the 12-tone intonation, particularly with the piano, marvelously. He really understood piano resonance, like most pianists do. Rachmaninoff was a great one for that. Even Chopin was a great one for understanding how this mechanism that took so long to build up, can really be made to work, and to make it sound for its own sake.
I don't think I could have ever had a career as a pianist because I never ever wanted to play the notes the way they were written, I was too sloppy to learn them quite right. And I've found that a few pieces I can never ever memorize because of the way Rachmaninoff, for example, composed: First he wrote the pop song, the tune with chord changes. Then he slithered around a lot up and down, and after he got the slithers in, then he'd put accent marks over a few of the slithered big notes and scrape some of the other slithers out and voila! Sonata 1, Sonata 2. Which is the thing I like, it's kind of an aesthete and degenerative cocktail music. He's just more sophisticated than your regular cocktail player, because it's crisper, it's more highly defined. But I could never memorize these works because the note choices are so completely arbitrary. But I don't think I would ever have been able to make it as a pianist.
I've got a feeling now that I was an arrogant child. When I was young I felt like I didn't need any training. But I don't feel apologetic about it like a Schoenberg and yet I'm not proud of it. I don't make a cult of stupidity and ignorance, but I think I'm sloppy and self-indulgent and then I also know that I am just personally afraid. In other words the reason I've stayed in Texas is because it's always been relatively comfortable and I've just been sort of generally afraid to go anyplace else. And you hear all of these interviews with composers and artists and read in their bios, then I went to blah-blah ... and you realize that what they've done is over the course of a few years they've written a fantasy about themselves which becomes part of their work. So you read these long discussions, you know, in the European tradition particularly, And then I created ... in the middle of the night I woke up and a vision appeared to me ... Like what's happening to Stockhausen? Apparently the music is being sent here from Jupiter? Is that where it is? I'm trying to get the planet right. He thinks he's from some planet now. You would think that these people never ever had to shit, that all they ever did was just work on their next work and there was no time for shitting. You know, Pardon me, I'm composing this symphony and, oh, seal the bathroom up. I don't need it, I'm not through with my work yet. And to me, what's most important about life is the need to shit. That's the really significant detail about it.
A 100 Pound Show
Gordon: When did you start to really get going with your current work?
Jerry: It really started happening, I think, in the middle of the 70s. By that time the National Endowment for the Arts and other federal government programs were beginning to get pretty well organized, and there was a move towards decentralization of funding; giving more to the so-called regions. But the nice thing for me was that a lot of people all over the U.S., I think, knew what I did; there were people in Europe who knew about my work, people even in Asia who knew about it, but only by word and reputation and, I think, curiosity. You know, Why would someone whose name is J-e-r-r-y, who lives in Texas, be doing things like this without moving? I think that was the only novelty about me at all. But then I think I came to be of service: that there was a need to show decentralization of funding.
I've always thought of myself as a new music novelty-act, socially, in that if you call me, you can guarantee that I don't cause a lot of technical problems, I don't require a lot of complicated technical set-up, because I just don't believe in it. So for instance, You've got no lights? I carry my own: four or five 15 to 35 watt bulbs; a few sockets. I have a few pieces that use interactive dimmers but I mean, it's still my own stuff. Uh, sound system? Mono, up. The reflections are bad in this room? So the sound reflects. I re-equalize, or I change what I do. I get there and I think, This is awful, I'll X.
So the way that I think I benefited from this need to decentralize funding was that people had always heard about me, I was an easy act to install, also I'm guaranteed to be different from everybody else, I mean, I'm just absolutely guaranteed. I'm not saying that it's so original, it's just that I think a lot of people aren't willing to do anything that awful, in such an unstudied way. I don't work at being bad. So I'm guaranteed to be enough of a novelty act that I don't slop-off into other peoples' area; I'm extremely flexible and so I was a natural. I'm pretty cheap to travel, too. I don't come with 75,000 pounds of equipment because I gauge my weight depending upon what I think I can afford. I have over 150 light poles, some with dimmers; I have 5 different dimmer subsystems. I've got at least 500 stage objects that David McManaway and I have worked on over the years; some quite large, some quite small, some as big as this room. If it's practical to use, I use it. If it's not practical, I don't. So I judge everything on the basis of weight and cost. So this was a 100 lb. show. That's basically how I think about it. It was 100 lbs. And that's mostly because my power supplies are old and heavy.
So that's what entered me into this pattern of this concert network. And when I started meeting the people involved and getting to know them personally more, I got to thinking, I like them. Almost everybody I've ever met in this business I actually personally like.
A Great Big Happy Easy Accident
Jerry: I've been listening to the people here who are in the ages 12 to 18, who are kind of hanging around this festival because they have to because their parents are working there. I've talked to some about what they think of this stuff, and it's flat. They are neither enthusiastic about it nor are they bored. It's a flat response, uniformly. It's OK. It's kinda interesting. That's the peak enthusiasm: It's OK. It's an experience which they're not sorry they've had, but it's an experience that has not moved them in any way whatsoever. They are going to go out and eat the same food, go to the same stores, buy the same clothes, have the same conversations, raise the same families that they would have before they came to the concert. And that's got to concern you in some way. I can't understand how people are not concerned by that. It isn't even that I want them to like it. It isn't like. They don't dislike it.
Some of the children of some of my friends like what I do, sort of. They sort of like it. But they like it in the sense that, My parents know this strange person. The other thing that's odd to me: I'm getting old enough now that I'm developing a following of a kind that I don't completely understand. I attract boys in the age from 19 to 27. I'd say that's about the age. I can't touch a boy under 18. They have no interest in me at all. After I do a concert, usually, if I go to an alternative space thing, these boys come to me after the concert is over and I'm sitting there and I'm looking at them and they're looking at me kind of funny. And I'm looking at them funny and we're both sitting there looking at one another and they're kind of in a ring around me and I'm thinking, Why are you here looking at me? What's interesting about me? My friend says he thinks that what it is, is that they are at a point in their life when, very soon, they're going to have to go to school, select a career, something like that.
And most people offer them rather extreme choices: That they must either take drugs and live in the street and maybe end up a bum in a drug rehabilitation center if they freak out too far at one end, or that they're going to have to use the missionary position, produce two children, three cars and a mortgage in the other extreme. And they can look at me and they can think, Well look at that old fart. He's just kind of buggerin'on along. He hasn't lost all his marbles and yet he seems like he's kinda having a good time. There are options in life.
I don't attract girls and I'm not sure why. I do attract a few, but not as many as boys. The girls I attract are in the same age period and I think it's because maybe these girls have had less sex indoctrination, or they are genetically or chemically disposed in a slightly different way, and so they also have that feeling of independence to make a choice. But I think for many women, still one of the easiest choices is just to socially relax, and that will result in a house and a life and a washing machine. Just by relaxing a little. It's still very endemic to U.S. culture. A girl really has to work very hard to stop being a girl in the same way that I think it's very hard for a person whose skin is black; it seems like they must work at not being a nigger. They don't have any choice. Am I glad that I'm a white male? You better believe it. Because I've never had to make any of these choices. I didn't have to do it. It's been very easy for me. My whole life has been one great big happy easy accident in which all of my stresses and neurotic reactions and unhappinesses have been completely luxury items which I can indulge in to whatever degree I find satisfying. In away I wish everyone could have that choice. I don't think a woman should have to take the risk of having gasoline poured on her and set on fire for her dowry, for example, because that's what women's rights means in India. It doesn't even mean the right to vote or whether she can choose to use pills or not to control reproduction. What it really means is, will she be burned to death for her dowry at the conspiracy of the husband's parents? There is a feminist movement in India and that is their number one priority. Their number one priority is to stop wife burnings. That's what they're working on right now. They're not working on abortion or unisex toilets, and yet you can see that's how the entire women's movement in America was deconstructed, was by reducing feminism to a question of hairstyles, pants and unisex toilets. There was more discussion about unisex toilets in the United States than any discussion of wages, workplace and women's rights.
Jerry: I find the level of craft and competency in music one of the most serious threats to your saleability as a musician. When I was in college for a year and a half, I was probably one of the best pianists around. If I entered that college today, I would probably be one of about two hundred, and we'd all be equally good. It's because if a child is two months old and there are these things hanging over the crib and it goes boo-dappy-boo-da-boo-padoo, immediately it's ripped up out of the crib and carried to the conservatory and put on bongos. I mean, there's no chance to not have every possible talent exploited by anybody who is anywhere from the middle class, up. And that's also a manifestation of the aspirations of many of these third-world folks. Imagine what the black choice is if you're really low down in the ghetto: You can slug your way out, baseball your way out, or boogie your way out. Those are three ways. They're three powerful ways. Where would Stevie Wonder be today if he hadn't boogied? Have you ever thought of that? A blind black man?
Cake Decorating, With Sound
Jerry: I've always felt like it was boring to me to go to a music concert and see people work the mechanism of their instruments, And I just can't understand why, when you talk to non-musicians, they say, Oh, well I just think it's fascinating. And I'm sitting there thinking, In what way? How is it fascinating? And then I think, Well, I can understand it a little bit. Like you'll be walking down the street and you'll see somebody doing some kind of a very careful spray painting or lettering of a sign; it's a manifestation of a virtuoso skill and you can think, Oh that's fascinating. Look how beautiful that person's doing that. It's a refined skill. It's fascinating to watch a pastry cook, for example, who is very good, do the finishing. Like, I've only seen it once, this exquisite Italian sugar lace-work that started in Sicily, it's almost like in Belgium, where they do that very fine lace-work and go blind doing it? But they do this cake decoration and it's fascinating to watch once or twice, but then to spend 35 years of your life on subscription series? You know, What are you doing tonight? I'm going to go watch cake decorating for two and a half hours tonight, with sound. In other words, I don't understand how continuing to see the exercise of a skill remains interesting more than for just a few minutes.
The Green Slime Dripping Out
Jerry: I taught myself to play the piano. I've always been able to play, the minute I could get my hands up. I've always wanted to play the piano. It's the only instrument I've ever really liked, and it's the only one that's ever interested me. I have no interest in things you blow through. They seem dirty to me. I mean, the idea of putting my mouth on something, you know. And all that spit and they get slimy and, have you ever smelled a reed? They're dirty. I don't like winds. And drums, they're fascinating. I like beating on things but drums are very frustrating to me. I see people beat real fast and I think, I oughta learn to hold long, hard sticks and flamadoodle. Then I think, Why should I learn to flamadoodle? If I get small enough sticks, if I get tiny sticks, I can play like the best of 'em. The only reason that the drums are hard for a pianist to play is because they're too big and spread out and you have to use these sticks. If you can get those sticks down so that you don't have to deal with weight and everything, you can just go to town. I can't do anything with a normal trapset. Your shins start aching, you know. But you get these real fancy foot pedals that are three or five hundred dollars for the thumper, that makes the thing work, and you can just go to town like this, Look no hands. So, it's just if you can afford high enough equipment, you don't need any technique.
I always loathe the organ. It's not the keyboard I like. I loathe the organ. I think it makes one of the ugliest sounds known to man. I despise sustained sounds. I think sustained sounds are repulsive, they're pseudo-religious, first of all. Ninety-five percent of this drone crap is pseudo-religion. It is. It's to play on some kind of peculiar after-image of some phony religious experience that people have had, and I think it's a fake. I think the whole thing is a fake and it makes me feel creepy when I'm sitting there. And then the rest of it sounds like science fiction music to me. Like that piece that I heard the other night. It was The Attack of ..., I had the whole scenario worked out ... the monster ... and it's hairy here, there are little globs that come out and there's this ugly kind of hair and then two hooks like steel, and there's green slime dripping out of here ... uuuuuhhhh, uuuuuuuuuuhhh lot of echo ... a lot of sustain ... uuuuuuuuuhhh it's for the movies, isn't it? All electronic music to me, just about, as practiced by convention before it went DX7-disco, all sounds like the movies. Like Tangerine Dream, they started playing chords and rhythms outright and not using electronic music as anything but kind of souped-up organs. Then they got klinkier and then they DX7-ed everything and now it's real pert and snappy. But it seems to me that's what it's really for. It's either pseudo-religious or it's science fiction music. And I'd have never thought that 15 years ago. If I'd said that, you would have thought, Why you crude son of a bitch, you don't understand what we're doing here. And the trouble is, I did it myself and didn't feel that way about it -- I didn't feel that way about it at the time.
Gordon: But what you're saying about pseudoreligion and sci-fi describes your work, too.
Jerry: I know that, yes. The reason I don't mind talking this way now is because I realize I don't mind holding myself to the same standards. I'm not saying I've found a way around it. I feel the same way. The other day for my workshop here at the festival, I had provided a piece; they wanted an example of something and it had to be nine minutes long. So I thought, Well, what I can do is that I can set up some of the recordings and a small program and run into the recording studio and plug directly into the gadgets and run 'em through some Yamaha reverbs, and make a 9 minute version. So, first pass, nothing. It didn't work. I mean, it was still going bhuhmlamlablubbladldaddleiliddledliddle ... and it was 9 minutes and it wasn't getting anywhere. So we turned it all off and we goosed it again and second time it ran 8:54. I think it stopped reasonably at 8:54 and then there was this long sound at the end that trailed on out. It went duuuuuuuuuuuuu ... and it trailed on out and I said, That's what we'll do, we'll cut duuuuuuuuuu out. We just quick, snip it out. And when that last drum clunks, you just cut it. Cut the tape. And so when it runs through the Yamaha it'll bonk and it'll just die away in a nice 8/10ths of a second delay. Sounds great, you know? So when I was listening to it the other day I thought, That's a piece of shit. That's a piece of shit. And yet I liked it when I heard it. I carried it home and I thought, This is a wonderful little Evatone (a flexi-disc). But then I sit and listen to it and I think, Under the circumstances this is the best I can do. And I know everybody else is doing the same thing. The trouble is, nobody's talking about it. But the fact is everybody is saying that. The people in the audiences that are not practitioners of the cult are feeling and saying the same way. And they're being nice to you when they tell you otherwise. I've been walking around in the audiences. I know what they're saying here. I know what they're saying at other festivals. It's interesting to me. In fact, that is the focus of what my interest is now, is given that situation, what are you going to do about it? That's an interesting thought. Earlier this year I thought, I'm sick of this shit. Very real. I thought, I'm sick of this shit. I don't care about hearing any of it. I don't care about doing it. I don't like my work, I don't like anybody else's. And yet that's not true. I mean, I've been here now for two weeks. I've genuinely enjoyed hearing some of the things here. Even the pieces I didn't like, I enjoyed. But then I got to thinking, The reason you're in a position to appreciate it is because everything has been set up to accommodate you that luxury. Back home in Canton (Texas), would I ever go see a piece like what was on last night? The chances are absolutely, I can tell you, pure zeeero. It is the purest kind of pure. I could write a 500-page dissertation on the purity of that zero. I'd never go see it. And yet it is the logical consequence of me being here, the whole conditioning. It's them against us.
The Technical Setup
Gordon: Could you explain your technical setup?
Jerry: Yes I can, but there's a history to it. Because of some of the general feelings I've had about what performance means live, to be with a group and to be in front of them, I never felt satisfied about using musical instruments, even electronic ones; or playing tapes in halls never satisfied me, and I've never done that. I've always avoided it. I've never put a tape up and played it in a darkened hall, for example. So I was looking for some alternative and also something which I could travel with. Now this is before computers. Recording seemed to me in a way to be the most powerful thing because it's just basically memory, and there's a psychological aspect of music which I'm interested in which is memory. So by accident one day I happened to be going through a used equipment place. By the middle of the 70's the idea of cartridge recorders had pretty well died out and Sanyo had dumped these things. There was a period where everybody thought they'd go from two speakers to four, and the eight track stereo cartridge had caught on and was popular. And Sanyo thought, Well, I'll make a higher fidelity 8 track but it'll be a 16. In other words it'd be a 4 track - 4 track. And I happened to see one of these and I bought it and kept it for two or three months. Then the first use of it was in some concert somewhere. The way it was used was that there were sensors around on the stage and they just had triggers on them and when I hit a trigger that would turn on whatever happened to be on whatever track and the thing would just cycle through. That was I think about '75 or '76. Well, by 1978 it had changed entirely. I just kept working on the interface to the thing and added electronic and electromechanical switching to the tape transports. So I have electronic switching between tracks on the same channel and slower electromechancial transitions between channels of sets of four tracks. I pre-record material onto the cartridge along with a time code track. I record the stuff a group at a time and play the time code on by hand. It's very time consuming and very laborsome. To do 20 minutes of potential material that might be heard by an audience. There's almost 850 minutes of actual recording for every 20 minutes of possible performance that anyone might ever hear, in some combination. But every part must be worked on efficiently because you never know what part might be heard.
I went to time code so that I could go fast forward and back and locate relatively arbitrary places in the tapes. In other words there's logic in it so that a single digital word will cause it to try to find one of these places. Then I designed it so that I can electronically listen to everything that's happening on every track and I can, at the same time, pre-select. I can select backwards by listening to tone code off of it. That tone code is sent into a very simple frequency detector. So with tone code I can locate what kind of material I've got. I'm up to eight different tones for eight different kinds of material. The tones are different and they have different logic significance on each of the tape transports. They're just arbitrarily wired up differently. I have no idea how I hooked them up. There were a group of wires, they came out, I never put numbers on them so when I hooked them up, I said, Well, I'll hook 1 to this pole and I'll hook 2 to this and 3 to this. There was no order at all, no effort in straightening them out, they're just hooked up. So the machine has built into it a certain priority.
The machine is, to my mind, system transparent in the sense that any kind of compositional algorithm or any kind of idea about synthesis or any philosophy of music production is available to the instrument. It can sound totally electronic just by producing these recordings entirely with electronic sources; it can be just a noise generator, it can be huge volumes of distorted noise, it can be human speech, it can be birdsong, it can be environmental sound. It makes no difference. I can do a thousand different qualities out of it, even conventional rock music. I've even appeared with jazz and rock bands using this system.
The serial nature of the machine is what's bothering me the most, combined with the occasional serendipity of the whole operation. So the unfortunate part is the serialism, that once that place is past (on the tape), you can only back to it (rewind) at a speed of 4 times; and you must go all the way back around, so it is by nature, serial. So that's a bit of a problem. Then, because of the nature of the circuitry, there's some delay which is absolutely essential in making choices. By about 1980 I started getting very strong ideas about how a tree always has its roots down in the ground, the trunk goes up and the leaves are up. You never see in nature a tree with the roots up in the air, the stem down and the leaves on the ground, reversed. So I thought, At this level it's nice to play the game of natural orientation. There is a bottom to the picture frame and there is a top and I would prefer the representation where the head is pointing up and not hanging down only because it's the convention. So my pieces are not really concerts or performances but they're conventions. They're convention exercises because I accept the convention arbitrarily. One of the things that I've accepted in this is the serial or sequential nature. I'm really getting tired of that now so I'll be using exactly the same system next year except that I'm transferring over to disc. I'm changing to a disc-based system for audio and I hope, video.
Every piece I've ever done has involved what I regard as a rational translation of something that's happening in the space (picked up through sensors) into a consistent rational schedule of changes. I don't do direct translation, which I think is vulgar after three minutes. It's fascinating to watch somebody go like this (wave arm) and hear a sound connected with it for a minute or two, but then it becomes compositionally appalling after a while. It's like watching etch-a-sketch, you know, it's wonderful for a few minutes and then it limits itself. It becomes so self limiting that no matter what you do in way of effects, it just gets increasingly self-defining until it just keeps getting tighter and tighter and after 30 minutes you're almost ready to scream, because you say, I got the idea. Oh hey, he did a new sound. I got the idea. Oh hey, he did a new sound. I got the idea ... (etc.) That's all you can think of at a certain point. So, I wanted to stay away from that. Now, decoding. That's one last thing and then I'll stop for a second.
I've used a lot of different methods. The most interesting to me in some ways involved a video scanner, where I used a black and white television camera and I analyzed a 64 square grid out of a television camera space, whatever it saw, and translated it into data that controlled the machine. The interpretations that I've used through microphones have been different ones. I tried to get complicated in the early ones by doing almost vocoder-like analysis of a couple of microphones. But they've all involved some kind of system along this line.
I like this idea of modeling, in a renaissance sense, and I've always been a fancier of Rosicrucian chess, which is a kind of 3-dimensional chess. So one day a friend of mine handed me a bag of IC game chips: Chess Challenger and the like. They play kind of interesting games, so I've got two of them in the machine now. A certain change in the space (picked up through the sensors, such as microphones or TV camera or microwave detector), is always translated as a certain move in the chess game (e.g. Q-R4). That game might start anywhere. I don't work at controlling it, I just preset and start it up. And then there are little triggers that are arbitrary that start it, depending upon the piece it is. If it's a piece in which I don't want to finger-start then I have a way of starting it via some challenge which sometimes is extraordinarily simple, sometimes very obscure.
Gordon: For instance, the other night you had a phonograph needle on the stage that you had to hit to start it?
Jerry: Yeah. I was using it on the lid of the stage. I thought that because of the room and because they kept fiddling around and I didn't have time to work on placement and I didn't know who might be up on the stage, I thought, Well, the only way to solve this problem is just the best way that I know how: I'll use a crystal cartridge on the door to the stage and I'll just pound the performance up. That cartridge is translating the material which tells the machine whether to start or stop and whether to preset or reset. That pattern is usually read off of a microwave detector which scans the room, but I thought, This is no good, there's too much happening in this room, I can't have it constantly turning on and off throughout the whole performance. That won't do at all. The space was so uncontrolled. But my first idea was that I would put it in a secure area of the room so that I could go over there, still be in focus with the microphones, and I could go over and pound and thump and get the audience kinda worked up and we'd really get to going with some poles and some beatin' and screamin' and by that time that would build up enough material and it would get me started on my little playlets. There are specific scenarios for each of these works that involve certain relationships with objects, what objects I carry, what are available. I have a list of strategies and a list of goals and interests and pursuits and exercises and desires that I'd like to work out with the audience. Some very personal, some confrontational and violent, some overtly sexual, some pretentious, some apologetic, some friendly. They're all just interpersonal games with tools.
Gordon: With a lot of religious references?
Jerry: Yes. There is a lot of religious stuff, which I think has become increasingly overt in recent years because I realize that it allows people's imagination to relax into things which are understood and it allows a kind of casual conversation which is non-verbal and yet clear. The use of the cross, the use of the egg and the use of the hand and the use of the pole are I think basically very strong simple ways of gesturing which are a little larger than just the hand. When I started doing this I didn't use any gadgets or props or anything. All my stuff was just with the hands. Everything was just hand-jive. That works for a while but it doesn't give you very much to work with. The other problem is that it requires a special knowledge of me as a personality. It works in Indian dance beautifully because the language is extremely well known to the audience, so the tiniest little gesture immediately gets a level of communication out of the way so that you can deal only with inflection and interpersonal relation. That's the power of a deeply convention-based thing. For a typical audience I only have one shot at a lifetime. Someone may only see me once every five years. So I thought, I've got to be more brutal. I also must be more overt and specific, and yet I must be sufficiently general. But these are mimetic transactional exercises. That is what I call them and that's exactly what I mean them to be. These objects are not symbols; they're seeders that seed the attention; This is what this is about. This is the seed. Now we can get on to the transaction of why I'm here: Why am I displaying for you? Why are you allowing yourself to watch me? What are you getting out of me? What can I extract from you? and, How can we do this with the convention of the music being made to go on? Because one thing is true of all of my equipment: the sound will finally stop if I stop moving around and beating. It'll finally stop.
So in general, that's how everything I've ever done works. What I'm headed to is the exact same process of performance but I'm changing physically what happens on the stage. In other words, in the way that I deal with people. I'm changing the way the machine works in that I want very high speed precise access so that literally this twist of the hand can just, within a millisecond, bang, and it's on the appropriate cue. And I'm hoping that I can do that with video, too.
The audience is probably thinking, Oh, this is iust a tape recorder. But it behaves in ways, sometimes, that I have no understanding of at all. I did a concert in New Jersey several years ago and I set the system up and we were having trouble with the basic access system. It was so strange. I was just working along and I was thumping poles or scraping something or I was using lights, because I think it had an optical interface. I've done about 20 different interface gizmos to plug into it and about 20 different ways of translating these gizmos, including different hookups of Chess Challengers to retranslate information into different patterns and ways that seemed ultimately more interesting. All of a sudden I was aware of wild mechanical chattering offstage where all the electronic gear and the sensors were. Since it was very dark offstage I happened to glance over there and I could just see electrical fire coming out of the top of my box, and yet sound was still coming out but the sound was CHRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR ... like that coming out of the loudspeakers and I thought, Good God, how am I gonna get out of this?, because I was only about halfway through the performance, you know. And so I just kept on a' stompin' and a' beatin and a' screamin' and trying everything I could think of, because I know it's particularly sensitive to certain combinations of movements of very-high frequency, or short transients. Low thuds on the floor or low thuds like a drum or my suitcase that I use sometimes, tend also to introduce kind of global changes.
So most of the time I don't even know what's going on. What difference does it make how it's working? It is systematically working in some way.
The First Church
Gordon: When did you start your first church?
Jerry: Well, I've always been interested in religion although I've never been a member of any church. I have never been to any religious service by compulsion. I don't know what happened to me. I think it's genetic. My genes just say, Of a religious nature. I was disposed to it from the time I was just a small child, just from origin. I used to stare at light bulbs when I was a baby, and it worried my mother so much that she carried me to the doctor and she says, Is it going to hurt his eyes?, and he says, When it begins to bother his eyes he'll close them or look away. And it may be that that's got something to do with it, that it's just a neurological disposition which is partly chemical, partly genetic. But the fact is I've always been interested in religiosity in some way. I've always been drawn to meditation practice, and in the town where I was born (Waco) and where I was raised until I was 11, the library there had a very, very large collection of books on Vedanta. I got interested in yoga, and so I just started practicing yoga and meditation at a very early age. It was just something that made sense to me and was a delight to me. And then when you're 10 or 11 years old, there's the club, the cult, and I started getting interested in all of these other religious groups and movements. So at one point when I was 12 or 13 years old, I was a member of every Rosicrucian organization in the world. There were about seven or eight at that time and it was complicated because I was underage to join several of them. But in the course of all this, somehow I also felt like I had to teach. So when I was 12, a friend of mine's mother had access to a lithograph offset device, and his mother was extremely indulgent with him. Anything that this boy wanted, she'd do for him. If he had said, Momma, kill that man, she'd have pulled a gun out and shot him without any question at all. I've never seen a mother this indulgent, and it ruined his life, too. Bill has just recently, in the last year or two, gotten himself pulled out of that.
Anyway, so we had access to a press that way and so I began writing religious exercises and sermons which were culled from different sources. Some would be lectures on alchemical exercises, partly intellectual, partly physical. Some were just basic yoga that I had simplified. Some were devotional exercises, some were just plain old good old common sense advice. Other things were different western magical ritual traditions, like the ritual of the pentagram and the hexagram and the like, that had been compiled at the time. This was my pre-Crowleyian period. But out of all of this came this desire to start a church. So I just began putting notices up, All Truthseekers, Write to Post Office blah-blah and Receive Further Information. And I would carry them around and put them in libraries and community centers and stuff like that, and pretty soon I had a mail order church going. I had a group of people who were sending me between five and fifteen dollars a month to receive these things. It ended up being quite a complicated thing because here I was 13 years old, living in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, with my mother and father out in the front on the weekends in Bermuda shorts doing the lawn, while I was in the back in my bedroom at my typewriter, answering letters from the devotees. And the funny thing was, I think I was of help to people. I took it very seriously. It wasn't a joke. It wasn't a scam. That's what I'm sorry about now. We wouldn't be talking here now. I would be living in, I don't know, Paris? Rome? Madrid? I don't know where I'd be living, but I'd be living comfortable with a couple of Rolls-Royces harnessed out in front of the house, and a servant and somebody cooking up something. Nothing but the best coffee and the best Sauterne, and life would be fancy and it would be beautiful and it would be nice in a lot of ways that I now realize are not so bad after all (laughs). But I was so serious about it all, and the crisis came when there was a couple in their 80s who had been dying to meet me, and I'd kept it very obscure where I lived. They just desired to meet me really furiously and I kept putting them off. I'd write them and try to keep them from meeting me because I thought, This is terrible. I can't let them find out that I'm 13. They were quite persistent because one of the topics in their letter was that they wanted to arrange to leave all of their money to me in their will. And that's when I learned how true it is, you know. Aleister Crowley writes in his The Book of Lies, there's one thing called The Truthseeker, and this man keeps coming back to the guru saying, Tell me the true secret of life, and he keeps saying, You have to give me 500 pounds in gold. So he gives him 500 pounds, and he comes back a little later, You must tell me the true, true secret, and he says, Give me 500 more pounds worth and I'll tell you, and he goes, he works for years and brings back the gold and he keeps asking. Finally he says, If you just give me one more payment of 500 pounds worth of gold, I'll give you the ultimate secret of the universe. So he goes and he gets 500 pounds worth of gold and he brings it to him and he says, A sucker is born every day. I mean, this is in a religious text of Crowley's. I think that's the lesson I really learned there, and that we were both suckers; this couple, they were suckers, and I was too, but we both received satisfaction from it. It made me understand things about myself, about the world and about human nature, and it seemed to please other people, They got satisfaction, they got strength and I think it helped them.
Gordon: What happened with the old couple?
Jerry: They wanted to leave me the money so badly that they went to the post office and found a way to trace the box number to my street address. I never did figure out how they traced that. And it was Sunday afternoon and my mother and father truly were out working in the yard and I was back preparing lessons for the next week. I had a heavy schedule. I was both going to school, practicing the piano all the time, working night clubs on weekends and writing meditation exercises during the week. So I had a busy life when I was 13 but I was also very hyper. I only slept about three hours a night when I was a child. So I had more time than I do now. Now I'm up to 5 1/2, 6 hours sometimes. So I was there in the house and I heard this screaming in the front door, and I ran to the front and I could hear my father screaming, If you don't get off my property in a minute, I'm going to call the police, you goddamned bunch o'weirdos! It was this man and his wife and some friend of theirs who had come to meet the master. So they drove off and I never heard from them again.
The desire to believe is so very strong, because you do have to have it. You've got to have some form of belief to go down the steps, to know when you need to go to the bathroom, that you need to go. Belief is not something that you can do without, or that you can cut on and off like a tap, or that you can rationalize yourself out of. So I'm not belittling these people, it's just amazing to me how deep it is. That it is so strong. I feel certain now that if I had written a letter to this couple and just gone right on as if I didn't even know what they were talking about, that they would have thought, Well, it was all a mistake. We misunderstood. This is a test. This is a test of our faith.
I got interested in Crowleyianism when I was about 17. I really went full speed, full blast for a couple of years on magical practice of the arcane kind, where you do the ritual of the pentagram, you cut the pentagram in blood; I used to make beetle cakes, they were compounds of ground wheat and raw honey and butter and just choking spices. I used to do invocations to planetary intelligences for example, and stuff like that. There was a period there in my life when I got sufficiently disturbed. It came about when I was between the time of 16 and 17, I guess. A lot of things came together at that time and my parents decided that there was something wrong with me, mentally. So I did spend a short time in a mental institution (laughs). But it was not for treatment, it was just for observation.
Original Material Copyright © 1986 by Gordon Monahan and Jerry Hunt. Republished by permission of Gordon Monahan and Musicworks. HTML Coding Copyright © 2001 by Michael Schell. All Rights Reserved.