Notes for Jerry Hunt Lattice" CD on CRI (c) 1995 Paul DeMarinis
In the 1970's electronic music practitioners constituted a rare and marginal population on the frontiers of interactive media and performance. Audio, with it's modest bandwidth requirements, led video by at least a decade in every major discovery. Early artists were able to experiment, construct, interconnect and perform with electronic systems that were consciously digital, realtime and interactive long before those buzzwords were mentioned in other artistic contexts. The multimedia malls we now see rising upon that same landscape bear little resemblance to the regions surveyed by the pioneers. It's just like in the westerns.
Among the pioneers, Jerry Hunt was the rarest, most marginal explorer of a terrain whose remoteness is conjured by the titles of his works - smalltown placenames in Texas intermingled with Elizabethan magick invocations - Cantegral Segment, Transphalba, Haramand Plane, Bitom.
As his musical activities moved from the electronic soundpieces of the 1970's into the legendary performances of the 1980's, Hunt brought along with him a curiously rich and viable ecosystem of pieces, structuring principles, performative gestures and theatrical personae. Above all he is remembered for his physical presence - a lanky, jointed body, animated by an almost awkward extraworldly energy, a bony face across which played expressions of cryptic dismay, wicked laughter and dead seriousness. In performance the image of his shamanistic rattling and tapping predominated, and the tangle of wires and dripping of electrons from homebuilt hybrid audio and video systems receded into darkness.
The kynical disruptive power of the shaman, long attributed to the street musician, is frequently invoked to describe Jerry Hunt's performances. Our civilization makes us uncomfortable with this lanky figure from west Texas. Is he following any score? Are the electronics really doing anything? Clearly, this man is playing. Most probably, he is playing with us. The question then becomes, are we playing too?
Physicality remains at the margins of serious music in our culture: Gould's humming, Pratt's low slouching posture at the piano, even Pavarotti's paunch, are elements we are taught to politely disregard by closing our eyes. Jerry Hunt made his physical being central to the experience of his music.
The act of listening to music, eyes closed, disregarding the accompaniments of the physical actions of the player, a rare experience before the invention of sound recording, has become the prevalent experience of serious music in our century. Sound recordings allow us to focus on only one culturally correct dimension of musical experience. Keenly aware of this rupture, Jerry Hunt began attaching bells to his wrists in the 1970's - they provide a companion track to the piano performances that constantly serve to remind us of the physical presence of the performer. As recorded sounds, as heard on Lattice (1979) they have become preserved encodings of his highly individual movement patterns. Hearing their jingling now, we are constantly reminded of Jerry Hunt's performative gestures, his physicality as it extended into his performances and his personal presence.
The depth of Jerry's work does not end here, however. His means and motivations require mention. Jerry was an avid inventor of electronic circuitry, computer software and cybernetic systems and, like many electronic music composers of his era, self taught. He was involved in the design of semiconductor integrated circuits and helped design one of the first musical integrated circuits - the top-octave organ chip produced by Mostek in Carrolton Texas. His deep involvement in technical fields allowed him to freely combine off-the-shelf components with homemade circuits, and gave him access to cutting edge technologies well in advance of others in the field, as exemplified by the very early digital speech synthesis heard in Transform (Stream) (1977).
Artists experimenting with digital modes of representation have frequently discovered associations between their work and earlier systems of secret coding. For Jerry Hunt, the Elizabethan magickal works of John Dee provided a map for certain relations among nature and physicality on one hand, and machine encoding with it's ability to record and decipher while simultaneously obscure, on the other. It is no accident that John Dee's work on translating angelic dictation and his job as court cryptologist to Queen Elizabeth I both found expression in elaborate matrices of alphabetic characters. The score of Cantegral Segment 18 (1976) bears a resemblance to these tables - a matrix of phonetic symbols describing a soundspace through which Hunt incants his way along winding trajectories. The intense and intimate interior physicality of Hunt's vocal tract miked up close mingles with the symbolic and abstract, transporting us to an imaginary geographical place where speaking winds blow across a landscape marked with symbols.
The present recordings provide us with both an artifact and a trace of Jerry Hunt. The artifact stands alone to be listened to, evaluated, used and incorporated into our lives and experiences. The trace, on the other hand, is an added dimension, not present in many recordings. It offers us a point of departure, a pointer to somewhere else. A trail to follow, to where?
(c) 1995 Paul DeMarinis