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Interview with Andrew McKenzie

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Since high school, I have followed the work of Andrew McKenzie and was fortunate enough to work with him on a couple projects during the time I ran Crouton. His work is not easy to describe, yet when absorbed, it can be incredibly satisfying. Through text, sound, and even logistics, the work he’s done since 1982 under the moniker The Hafler Trio is something appreciated by many, yet far too few, considering the scope and history of the work – and even, as this interview points out, the history of the references that it draws from.

If you’re familiar with McKenzie, The Hafler Trio, and, his relatively new venture, Simply Superior, you’ll find some good clues here. If you’re unfamiliar, I hope this discussion provides an impetus to look further.

For those completely unfamiliar with your work, how would you best describe what it is about. You’ve been doing it a long time, yet there is a tremendous consistency in approach. What is hoped to be achieved?

As to describing h3o activities over what now closes on 30 years, I would be at a loss. There are so many elements, and to be able to sum it up in a few phrases would disadvantage anyone unfamiliar.

As to what is the eventual aim – this is not disclosed outwardly, because this would make that aim turn into a target – which is not an aim at all.

Many people are interested your work, but many also might not understand it on the surface, yet something is communicated. Describe how your creative process works to enable such an effect.

The reason it works more often than not, is that real will is employed in the creation of h3o items and manifestations. They are not just amusement on the intellectual plane. The “understanding” is on a deeper level, mainly subconscious, and as such, is not subject to the Aristotolean either/or thinking that computers, in particular dictate.

We know everything we need to know, but we don’t know what it is that we know. The things we think we know are the things that need to be re-understood. We do not need ‘new’ information. In fact, we have to chew, because our mouths are stuffed full.

What was the idea behind forming Simply Superior?

Rather than an idea, a need was felt, and the feeling was that the people involved could respond consciously and honourably, rather than pursue dead-ends, which are the main alternatives presented as being available to anyone involved in the creative process, on whatever level, at this time.

Part of the h3o/SS work addresses the decline of attention toward detail, and increasingly toward impatience and quick information. This fact is evident in confusion over what h3o ‘is’ and what it’s about. As you’ve stated many times, ‘the facts are all there’ but people are less and less inclined to look. Comment on this in regards to your work. In other words, is the situation hopeless?

“There is always more help available than we can imagine” – J.G.Bennett. No, I don’t think the situation is hopeless. But it is hazardous. But that simply makes possible a set of circumstances that require intuitive basis for action, and not logic. To be able to shift into this way of dealing with matters takes flexibility, and not prejudice. Simply Superior is one response to this way of seeing the situation.

How does this apply to the quality issues you mention below? In other words, it’s likely that some quantitative operations have some semblance of quality in mind. How does SS enable a higher degree of quality?

Through a) engaging the recipient on the physical level b) allowing the focus of attention be *only* on one project at a time, and for a specified period, which brings in a quality of attention impossible or highly unlikely in other schemes, c) by employing craft as the vehicle that allows real Creativity to enter.

In what ways does it support, and go beyond, what is done with h3o?

It is a part of it, or perhaps another manifestation of the force that drives it. Salt crystals are all different, they say, but a ton of it still tastes the same.

The publishing industry is changing. Niche activity is increasing, and SS responds with ‘trogoautoegocrat’ and ‘djartklom’. Do you see this as a closed system for your work? How do you see people beyond the niche becoming aware of the ideas you present?

SS isn’t a niche, but an actualisation of the principle of quality: that which depends on quantity has physical mass as its way of doing what it does. Qualitative action does not adhere to, or is not restricted by, these same limitations. The affective qualities of quality are removed from physical manifestation, as far as we can speak of here.

How important is physical material at all in this process? Is there a possibility where single events are the best way to communicate something?

At this particular point in time, the physical aspect has to be engaged more fully in order for the desired impact on and attention from the recipient to be allowed to occur. Each of the “products” is in itself unique, and represents a single “event” in quite an elongated or “frozen” way. The recipient can then “unpack” the contents, and something will take place – again, over an unusually long period of time – that could not have happened otherwise. There is real “sharing” involved in this construction and consumption, rather than the current vampirism that technology allows the possibility of.

Participation is sometimes necessary for ideas to develop. Talk about how your call for participants through the SS site has worked and could work better.

I’d say that participation is not necessary for ideas to develop. In most people, there are too many of them. Action that brings the creative impulse to the point of manifestation is much, much rarer. Still rarer are the times when this is done with attention, conscience and vision, rather than automatic regurgitation. If people wish to participate, they have been invited; if they wish to ignore the invitation, there is no blame, and their impulses must be honoured. However, the quality of the signal determines the quality of the response, insofar as that metaphor can be pushed.

Describe an ideal participant. What does SS look for?

SS is a magnet, a broadcast on particular wave-bands. If SS attracts the “wrong” people, then the signal is faulty.

Going forward, how do you see SS balancing digital information with real experiences?

Digital information is useful for many things, but ‘manifestations of the creative act’ is not one of them. Moving blocks around on a table is not “creativity”. Making the blocks might be.

You’ve recently been doing more lectures. What has been the focus of these, and were they for particular audiences or general public?

Both lectures and workshops, and both bleed into each other, in actuality. The subjects are many, but fall, roughly, under the heading of the title given to the last lot, which is “strategies and techniques of the creative act”. This is of course a huge set of parameters, and the courses/lectures only presume to function as an introduction to the practices and ideas, with a view to further more in-depth work if the introduction is a success. Which so far it has been, to a degree unanticipated by myself or any of the various organisers. The recipients have been so far students of music or art, but soon I will be doing these for ad agencies and a couple of businesses. The application(s) is/are non-specific.

How do you think companies will react to your workshops? Considering in the end, their goal is making more money, will the things you discuss help them do that?

Your assumption is actually incorrect, for the most part. Most people in business recognise that new ways of thinking are what makes a situation (we here define “situation” to be capable of including “company” here) viable. Most business bosses aren’t interested in money, but other things that money enables them to access. This is of an entirely different order of endeavour. Part of the reason that I see many smaller-scale businesses fold is that they focus on what they don’t want – mostly being poor, going bankrupt, not selling, not breaking even, all the rest of it, instead of what they actually want, which by and large, they have only vaguely defined – if at all. Their model of their operations is outmoded, and they respond, as they are trained to, by trying to push through. This will not work. At least not now, as far as I can see.

What I “teach” (and I dispute the term) is precisely other ways of thinking that the people in question have not considered, as well as making them aware of what they know, and aware of what they don’t know that they know.

What do you see is the effect of decisions that don’t cause direct harm, but are not the ideal choice for someone?

1) Most people, again, in my experience, do not make real decisions, but choices. These are subject to the fluctuations of local circumstances, and have about as much substantiality as smoke in the air on a windy day.

2) Ideals should be formed from active mentation in the construction of aim. Anything else is superfluous – however entertaining it might be. As such, there can only be temporary deflection from aim, if it is real. If not, then we have a different question, I think.

3) “Harm” is a word that can be stretched.

How can creativity change this? Or, how can someone even begin to think creatively after making so many such decisions?

We have to then define what you mean by “creativity”. One such definition might be: that which enters into a situation where the situation attracts it, although it cannot be predicted. The future can be created, not anticipated. Thus, nothing can ever be the same as it was before.

Therefore, how can creativity bring “change”, without bringing it down to a level where it can be talked about? Language deals only with what has happened, not with what might be.

How is your health condition, and how has your health affected the work you produce from a creative standpoint?

The Estonian medical system is still living, technically, in the Soviet Era, and language problems as well as red tape (pun intended but regretted) remain obstacles. The effect of this is to reduce capacity for action.

In the past, you’ve written about Sufi traditions and language, and some of the fundamental principles that exist in those. What are some other traditional practices or religions these principles exist in?

Specifically, as far as I am concerned, *all* valid traditions contain such matters. What is missed, mostly, I think, is that real tradition looks back, via ritual practices, to the original event as being perfect, or at least, more desirable than “the new”. The notion of “progress” is a product of the last 300 years of western scientific thinking, and has no resonance with the past, which is to be jettisoned, it appears, as soon as possible. This resonance is important for many reasons, and there exist many versions of the approaches to effecting such a sympathetic vibration. If it is said that any real religion cannot be corrupted in its essential form – one only has to look back at the core, and it can be found again in its real state. My own experience suggests this is indeed so.

How relevant are religious practices outside of what an individual experiences?

One way of approaching this is to posit the question: what is “inside”, and what is “outside” in the question submitted? I suggest here that these things are highly volatile, and (at least my experience tells me so far that) we cannot reply on subjectivity to judge that which is (supposedly) objective. Ritual, as practised in “traditional” societies looks backwards towards the original act. Modern “religion” looks forward to the answer to all questions. This is a modern, western, scientific, logical idea. It has no real validity over any other idea. “Eventually, given enough time, it will all become clear”. Bollocks, I say.

All religions should, it is said, be respected. This does not say they should be accepted.

What is also relevant, is that major structures are falling, and “faith” is now seen as an outmoded vehicle. However, wonder, awe, suspension of disbelief, and direct communication with anything higher than our petty egos is something, as I see it, even if it comes through religion (or whatever channel – I like magic, myself), to be embraced.

Describe an h3o meal.

One prepared with regard to locality, seasonal elements, and the nature of the people who are presumed to be about to consume it.