Interview: Andrew McKenzie (The Hafler Trio)

The Hafler Trio

1. Hello Andrew! Where are you right now, and, what are you busy with?

At this very moment, in Paide, a town in Estonia. I normally and nominally live in Pivithuru, Estonia. I am "busy" with many things.

Transcriptions of interviews with noteworthy people first begun with the AAA series of documentaries, to be published as a book by Trapart, Sweden.

Salvaging work from (literally) thousands of CD's and DVD's after a disaster involving water and a basement in Latvia last year, transferring the contents of those not completely dead onto hard disks, as well as still (!) rescuing other damaged archive items

Writing texts for the preparation of Conversational Complementation Counselling, an online service for assisting anyone with creative situations, one-to-one

Organizing the "'''''''" workshop and performance in Glasgow, Scotland this year

Organizng "Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Own Head", a 9-day workshop involving a kitchen, with a (sort of) performance entitled "Sly Man's Pill" in the North of Sweden and in Estonia, both this year

Deciphering and typing out many hundreds of pages of early COUM TRansmissions texts for publication perhaps this year

Transcribing many hundreds of pages of the notebooks of Val Denham, for publication hopefully this year

Planning a series of books explaining in horrific detail Hafler Trio releases so that nobody ever asks me about them again

Finishing, finally, "Venjulega", after re-making it 7 times, due to hard disk failures scarcely to be believed over the last years, packaging them up and sending them to their rightful owners

That's all I can think of for now. There are more, to be sure.

2. How is your health doing? Is there any improvement?

My health is barely worth the name, really. It continues to disintegrate. I hang on, is all I can say. There are many, many more bad days than good days, and it continues to erode my effectiveness in all areas of life.

3. Where do you find the energy to do so many things at once? It seems like you really feel like you're 20 again, do you feel young on the inside?

If I was not suffering from various chronic diseases, I would be doing a great deal more, I would say. Someone once suggested I was living life backwards, so at this stage, I am probably a 54 year old teenager.

4. What do you feel like you really are in reality?

Not much, really. I think there is a real sense in which "I" do not exist, and yet something tells me that this is possible to reach. But is it necessary? For my part, I wish to help people as much as I possibly can, and so in that sense, I am simply a servant, and, not a very good one, but I am trying to improve.

5. What esoteric practices have you participated in? Are you practicing something now?

In my teens I dabbled in many of the "standard" ones. I was closely involved with the Gurdjieff/J.G. Bennett system(s) for about 35 years, and for quite some time, the practice of Chöd, and Tibetan Buddhism in general. However, I am interested in all systems, and I think that all of them have something to offer. Wherever possible, I sneak these into the workshops, seminars and courses.

6. Could you explain in detail what your workshops are all about (workshop and performance in Glasgow, organizing "Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Own Head," a 9-day workshop involving a kitchen, with a (sort of) performance entitled "Sly Man's Pill" in the North of Sweden and in Estonia, both this year)?

"'''''''" (also known as "seven single quotation marks") has been written about in a book of the same name, available from Trapart in Sweden. there are extensive notes about it on the Simply Superior site. "Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Own Head" is a new, extended version of that, and is 9 days dealing with the basis metaphor of the kitchen, the way it operates, and how people might see that pattern as applicable to other areas of life. 
A book about this is also in preparation, as well as a web page with many of the details.

Hafler Trio

7. Are you planning or preparing for release any new albums? Could it be new collaborations?

The only things that might be released would be old projects that were not completed, but other than that, nothing.

8. You've lived in the Netherlands, Iceland and now you live in Estonia. Do you prefer small countryside towns or big modern cities?

I have lived in Holland, Denmark, Iceland, Estonia and Latvia, with extended stays in a few more countries. I would say that I prefer small places.

9. As far as we are concerned, you have starred in a few advertisements in Iceland. Could you tell us about it? Was that a pleasant experience?

It was very well paid, and very interesting, tiny glimpse into that world. They were all done on one long day, and it was quite exhausting. They were scripted, but I improvised, in the end, most of the dialogue to make it seem more natural. My London accent surprised many people.

10. What is the defining trait of the Scandinavian people in comparison with other Europeans? Have you noticed anything different?

It depends what aspect you mean. Physically, of course, Scandinavians are physically a little different than other Europeans, their standard of living being quite high, after their financial prosperity came along in the 1960's, or thereabouts. They have certain attitudes, but within the different countries, this differs, of course. It's possible to say (all of these are generalities) that Danes have a slight German influence; Swedish culture is more conservative, and Norwegians seem, to me, a little more flexible in their outlook. But all of this is nonsense, really; my experience 
is limited to artists and musicians in Norway and Sweden, and business people in Denmark, for the most part. 
None of these are representative in any way of the wider population, and my comments here are purely subjective.

11. Did you enjoy staying in Russia? What can you tell us about the live show in 16 Tons Club in Moscow, the people that you saw? Are there any good memories you could bring up?

There was an intensity which explained a lot that history books and viewing from afar could not tell anyone, which I think I learned something from. As I have lived in the Baltics for quite some years now, and there is a sizeable ethnic Russian population here, a lot of what I first saw in Moscow has become very familiar to me, in terms of attitude, outlook, manners, and so on. I didn't really come into contact with very many people at all, when I was there, I would have to say. I have been trying to get back there for quite some years now, but there appears to be some sort of roadblock in my way back to Moscow, or indeed Russia in general, and of course, that is a great shame. It is to be hoped that some sort of organised visit will take place at least once more before I shuffle off this mortal coil, but I shall not hold my breath.

12. What elements or representatives of the Russian culture have had the most influence on you and your art? For instance, have you seen Andrei Tarkovsky's movies? If so, have his movies influenced you in any way?

I've seen most of AT's films. I also lived for a while about 200m from where parts of Stalker were filmed in Estonia, so I have a personal resonance. But I cannot truthfully say that Russian Culture has influenced me in any way.

13. What personal meaning does the song Tristan TzaraChanson Dada hold for you?

Many years ago, I caught the song being sung at the end of a BBC Radio Four Open University lecture about "art", 
the context of which I have forgotten, and saved it on cassette tape. It was of Tristan Tzara singing the song like a children's skipping song, unaccompanied, and towards the end of his life, in 1963, I think. I had always been more interested in the Dadaists than, say, the Surrealists, as I appreciated the randomness, the brutality, the roughness and the aggression, not to mention that Dada was never really subsumed and appropriated by advertising or mainstream media. At a certain point, I decided to make a version of, as, basically, nobody would have expected me to do anything musical, or do something like this. Serious, not a joke, not ironical, but a real homage to a particular current that I had been inspired by, thereby putting a full-stop at the end of the sentence. The settling of an account, if you like. The song is full of violent imagery, and I made it romantic and sweet, helped ably by Jóhann Jóhannsson
It also became the sing-along finale to h3o appearances, mainly to destroy the impersonality of 'electronic music' events, and get genuine participation from the audience.

The Hafler Trio
14. Could you tell us if the following information is true: At the age of twelve, you were already teaching the classic guitar, and at the age of fifteen you and your band Flesh played together with THE CLASH and THE FALL. If this is true, why did you quit the guitar music and created The Hafler Trio? What motivated you to do so?

Mostly true, except I was a bit older when I was a teacher. Flash did support both The Fall, Cabaret Voltaire (which is when I met Chris Watson), and The Clash. I decided to stop playing the classical guitar as much as I did (sometimes 12 hours a day) because I realised I would never be very good, and I wanted to do something nobody else did. 
That was my thinking at the time, at least, and it seemed possible at that moment.

15. How could you describe your own art? Is it scientific research of the unknown sound space or something else? What do you do in the sphere of sound? What is the main idea of The Hafler Trio?

I don't think of it as "art"

No, it's not "scientific", as I have little respect for "modern science"

 I have used sound for many reasons, however, almost never for entertainment purposes

The "main idea" is not really very easy to explain in short terms; it is, rather, an attitude towards being, learning and exploring - that's really the best I could do within this format.

16. The albums by The Hafler Trio are expensive books, true limited editions. This is a very high level of aestheticism. Many people believe it's too expensive (but we think it's reasonable) and don't want to pay money for your releases. In your opinion, who is your music for? Who is your target audience?

Not all of them are limited editions, by a long way. There is, in my mind, no 'target audience' - what has been done under the Hafler Trio name will find its way to where it needs to be, and some of it will expire like a carton of milk in 
a supermarket. This is how it should be.

17. What idea serves as the basis for issuing a limited amount of copies of releases?

It allows a degree of personalization. It allows a real sense of the finiteness of the edition, and this can increase the quality of attention given to the artefact. These are the main reasons for me. Although I am not engaged in producing such things any longer, except to finish off and supply Venjulega, which I really hope will be very soon.

Hafler Trio
18. Has your relationship with the labels Staalplaat and Touch come to an end? If so, what is the reason?

Both ended many, many years ago. Staalplaat went through some changes, relocating to Germany from Holland and developing other interests, and contact just faded away, over time. Touch owe me a substantial amount of money which undoubtedly will never be paid, and they have all but written me out of their history (as has Chris Watson), not even mentioning my founding contribution (and all the rest) in their 30th birthday 'celebrations.

19. Are you a man of principles? If so, what are the principles that you follow?

These have changed over the years, as I have learned that I know less and less, and not more and more. It would be a very long list. "I learn in order to server", perhaps.

20. You fight the illegal distribution of your music which takes a lot of strength and energy. Do you think it can be changed? The internet and distributing your music as is, is it not acceptable for you?  

"Fight" is a bit of a strong word, I think. I simply seek to have versions of the Hafler Trio material removed when it is in a form which destroys the content. As we now have had an announcement from the inventors that mp3 is dead, and was wrongly implemented in the first place, there is even less reason to try to convince me that such formats are viable. I don't say that it is "wrong" but that it destroys what I have done by separating artwork from sound, construction from physicality, and most certainly the alteration of the sound itself. It may be totally suited to others, and with that, I have no issue whatsoever. I think the situation could be changed, and probably will be, but I really couldn't predict what form that will or might take. The effects I would wish to create, and wished to create in the past, are pretty much impossible with the situation the way it is at present, and so I prefer not to take part in it. 
The workshops and one-to-one counselling I do has far greater effect, as far as I'm concerned.

21. Do you have a system of values and ideals that you defend and back up? What is unacceptable for you? What can you not afford to do as an artist and a human?

There is nothing fixed about it. There is what is called "appropriate action," and this depends heavily (if not entirely) on the situation at hand, and how it actually is. This is no easy option, and I dare say that if I {did} have a fixed set of readily identifiable values and ideals, that I would have reached a far wider audience before now, indeed.

22. Could you explain the collaboration Autechre & The Hafler Trio? Could you tell us about how this project was realized? What are your thoughts on it?

Well, I don't think there is a lot to be "explained", but I do hope that it perplexes and challenges people for a long time to come. Some of the reactions towards the whole series of collaborations have been extreme, as expectations have not been met even slightly for so many, as it should be. Sean and Rob have always been a joy to interact with.

Hafler Trio
23. Of all the records you've released, which album has been the most successful one? Which ones are you 100% satisfied with?

Quite honestly, I haven't listened to any of them for a very long time, and so I can't really answer the question.    I would be {greatly} surprised if I was 100% satisfied with any of them.

24. What is the weirdest and unusual musical instrument you've ever worked with and used in producing music? Besides your own mind, of course.

Well, I don't use musical instruments, so....                       

25. You refuse to use computers, digital technologies and software for sound recording, don't you? Do you consider technology to be a trap? Or should we use all that just for communication?

I do, and have, used computers for many things, including sound processing and editing. But probably a great deal less than might be imagined. Technology is equated, by many, it seems to me, with 'human progress' and I simply 
do not see that these go together at all. There is always a price to be paid for any technological development, 
and in our haste to grasp hold of the new, shiny things made available to us, we fail to consider the consequences, until, basically, it is too late. As many commentators have outlined far better than I, technology is an environment, not a "tool," and as such, shapes the way we encounter and experience the world. This has happened with every 
new technology, and not just computers: the telegraph, radio, television, the printing press... the list is long.

26. Could you tell us a little secret: what did you use or apply in making The Hafler Trio's albums? Or is that information classified?

No, it's not classified, but it is not something that can be explained or outlined in just a few sentences. I am in the process of writing detailed notes about certain records, detailing exhaustively what went into their making, and this will, I am fairly sure, be surprising to many people, as to just how involved their construction was, and how many layers of meaning and references are packed into (most of) them. At present, I'm not sure what outlet these writings will find.

27. Could you tell us about your favorite writers and books? If you have those, of course. What pertains to the areas of your interests in general? Photography, painting, radio, TV, psychology, occultism, science - do any of those intrigue you?

I think that everything, if looked at with the right attitude, can be a pivotal point in the expansion of awareness. Although in practice one has preferences which come from all sorts of influences, but I do strive every day to encounter what arises with what I hope, earnestly, to be equanimity. It is, of course, a never-ending practice, and I certainly would not claim any special talent for it.

28. Could you tell us about the project The Hafler Trio and Simply Superior present Brion Gysin's Dreamachine (DVD+book)? Were you experimenting with Dreamachine? 

I met Brion Gysin in 1982, and promised him I would release the Dreamachine commercially, as he had not been successful in that regard, ever. This proved very hard, but eventually happened in 1989. The Soleilmoon re-release 
is unauthorised, and is not as I wished it to be. Unfortunately, I cannot prevent it from being sold. I have not seen a copy.

The Hafler Trio
29. Brion Gysin, William Seward Burroughs, cut-up technique. Are you interested in those personalities? What about their experiments?

Their personalities, not at all. Years ago, there was serious talk of me writing Gysin's biography, but that dissolved in a barrage of letters from old "friends" of his who considered that I would be able to give them money that Gysin owed them, according to them. Gysin and Burroughs opened up interesting areas, but I consider their experiments to be outdated and have tried, in my own way, to develop whatever I found that was of worth, much further, to the point that what they did was unrecognisable. There are many people still ploughing the same ground as WSB and BG, and although I wish them well, I see it as part of a world that no longer exists. The world has changed.

30. Words are a machine language. Words have too many meanings, definitions and associations. What could replace the language in your opinion?

I am intrigued as to how you come to the statement that words are a "machine language". I cannot see this at all. First of all, it depends on what language. Sanskrit, for example, is considered to have come from the Gods ('Devas'), and other languages seem to be derived from visual sources, and not sounds. It is apparent, to me, that communication happens in spite of language. And yet without it, we would be in a very unknown place. I would not replace it with anything; I would add to it. But this means a very different approach to more or less everything, and one that I have tried to suggest throughout my life, in my own way, at least a little.

31. Why was the creation of Dr. Edward Moolenbeek's image necessary? What is going on with Doctor now?

This is a very misunderstood piece of Hafler Trio history, and will require, perhaps, full explanation at some point in the future. Edward Moolenbeek {was} a real person, and is now deceased. However, his manifestation was carried on by others, foreshadowing "antiorp/Netochka Nezvanova"'s extensive experiments in this area many years later, with which I was also involved.

32. What did you and Zbigniew Karkowski use to produce sparkles while touching heads on the video? What material was that? Weren't you afraid of the sparkles possibly going into your eyes?

This was not Zbigniew Karkowski and myself, but Phauss - C.M.Von Hausswolf and Erik Pauser. I had nothing to do with their performance, other than mixing the live sound on the US tour. They were using car batteries linked to the metal plates they were standing on, and through their costumes, when they touched, the power was discharged.
I don't recall their being any physical damage to either of them.

33. What is the most insane thing you've ever done in your life?

Not sure how to answer this. I suppose, from one point of view, pretty much all my life has been a form of mild insanity. After all, to actually try to achieve anything is quite possibly the authentic mark of an insane person, even 
if I am trying to wean myself off it continually. Another way of looking at it is that it was pretty insane to be born, really.

34. Is there anything you would like to draw people's attention to? Make them notice something?

I think if I say this, it will destroy it. So I prefer to leave that to be answered by the records, even though they are nowadays mostly unavailable.

The Hafler Trio

35. What does the name The Hafler Trio mean?

Here you can find the info.

Although the article doesn't actually mention it, there was a Hafler three-speaker system. It works wonderfully, easy to make. 

Simply Superior

Questions: Ilya Kudrin/Krib/Alexander Kazakov/Eugene Voronovsky
Design: Konstantin Oathere