Marta Heberle is an artist and theorist fascinated by transhumanism and the idea of transgressing and transcending the human. Doing very different things at a time and disregarding disciplinary confines as well as those of genres, she focuses on electro sounds with a club vibe while at the same time producing another label with weird unbearable noise frequencies. Her experiments can be located at the intersection of sound and performance. For SHAPE she will bring these two different types of expression together. One can expect a wall of noise broken apart by naive synth melodies and danceable beats.
Where are you right now?
I’m in Lodz in the centre of Poland, finishing my doctoral thesis.
Can you talk about your thesis?
I’m writing about living media art from the perspective of classical aesthetic principles like form, beauty and truth. Living media art is a narrow part of bioart. The artefacts that are presented must obey a chosen definition of life. So far what I’ve deduced in my thesis is that life is a phenomenon of a very relative character.
Can you explain this relativism?
When you start researching the phenomenon of life it turns out that there are multiple definitions, which are all considered to be true. They are often contradictory. A biochemical definition considers DNA molecules in a laboratory glass as living, a metabolic definition says that life exchanges energy with the surroundings without altering its general properties. Right now, some researchers say that due to the dominance of the metabolic definition in the 70’s, it was considered that there was no life on Mars. If you use a different definition, the Mars discoveries can be considered as life. It’s very difficult to define life. All these definitions have been dominant at some point, but it’s like fashion, it changes. You can consider a car a living entity, because it’s exhaling and consuming energy. From another standpoint it’s not, because it’s not reproducing. And when you take this into consideration, you can think of a computer virus as living because it is multiplying itself.
How does technology come into the equation in this respect?
I’m mostly talking about living media art. Living media art is life – life according to a given definition of life – but it’s a life mediated by some kind of technology. It can be genetic engineering, computer software, etc.
Do you view it from a dystopian or utopian perspective?
I’m not judgemental. When you think of the transhumanist perspectives, they are usually very optimistic and utopian. On the other hand, there is the idea of technological singularity, also associated with transhumanism. It perceives the idea of artificial intelligence as the greatest achievement in the history of humankind, but this achievement will inevitably destroy the human race. I think if it’s going to be the greatest invention, then we should just welcome the change, even if it brings an end to human affairs.
In terms of your own music and performance, you also work with technologies in a certain way. The aesthetic of your music uses atonality, noise and beats. Do you see any parallels to your academic work?
You could say that my interests are bipolar. On one hand I’m interested in the idea of life, on the other I’m interested in the idea of transhumanism, but from the perspective of inevitable annihilation. So I’m working between these two polarities. I’m not using very advanced technologies in my performances. It is just a simple open source technology, but I’m also working with analogue synthesizers and sound generators. What I’m striving to present is a situation which is incomprehensible. I want to create an experience of singularity in which the human cognitive apparatus feels lost and tries to find its way in the maze of symbols and meanings. You could say that my performances are very chaotic because they are composed of very different things. As a theorist, I have to name things all the time. But as a musician, I’m not really keen on naming what I’m doing. I say that I make music for people with hearing impairments.
So the reception of your music is important?
Absolutely. During my performances, I use very high and low frequencies. Even if you’re deaf, you can enjoy my performance because you can feel the substantial value of sound going through you. It can for instance make you vomit. I’m also focusing on the bodily reception of sound.
Is physicality important to you?
It is. I’m not a trained dancer, but I’m trying to include some elements of movement in my performances. I’m using custom made devices that are wearable. I’m trying to invent non-human movements. I’m wearing technology on my body, and it is imposing certain limitations on my movements and making my body move in a certain way. The human body is then presented as an instrument or a medium that is necessary for the operation of the instrument.
In your opinion, how will music and music technology develop in the future?
I think that in pop music, real artists will be completely replaced with avatars. The machines will do the job entirely, like in William Gibson’s Idoru. The general public will just need a hologram, and the music will be played by machines. Pop music uses very simple algorithms. When it comes to music I’m making, I’m hoping to become an infinitely multiplied uploaded mind: a ghost in a machine making music.
What are you working on right now?
I’m wondering if there is beauty in living media art and creating some very naïve music.
I come from the very centre of Poland, which was once considered to be the second Manchester. I was born in the 80’s so I was probably listening to sewing machines in Lodz as well as Kajagoogoo and Depeche Mode in my mother’s womb. These are my inspirations. This is the kind of music I’m making right now. It’s very danceable, sweet noise music, which is very affirmative. Except that in my music production, it’s always disco that goes wrong. It always gets detuned. It’s error-prone music.
photo: Jill Kuno
Interview by Lucia Udvardyova