Steev Hise Interview


Spooky thing about sunrise on a Tasmanian mountaintop, isn’t that you’re viewing the same rugged coastline that faced the boat people round 1788. Nor is it the swarms of electronic insects, or the absence of tassie tiger DNA. Tis that the mountains here have voices, that whirl around the sleep deprived with otherwordly tales. To the bone cut the groans, the echoes still here fresh, from 200 brutal years. And tis spooky to wonder where we’ve come in that time. Thanks to email, Steev Hise was somewhere completely different (San Francisco) and thinking about something completely different (burritos).

((Interview previously posted on the now defunct, in May 2002 ))

The low-down on your ‘recycled culture’ site, exists to document, preserve, support, and shelter the kind of cultural activity that uses pre-existing cultural artefacts as raw material. We offer help to artists doing that sort of work, who need internet resources. We make available works that’ve been made rare because of copyright litigation. We provide bibliographic references to works of cultural recycling, and a place for people to discuss related issues and current events.

Key inspirations that lead you to sound collage and creative sampling?
I was a DJ and engineer at a student radio station and had access to the production studio and learned how to make tape loops on the reel-to-reel tape machines. Discovering that it sounded interesting to play 2 or 3 records at the same time. Some artists got me interested early on: The Tape-beatles, John Oswald, Negativland. Burroughs, Cage, Christian Marclay.

What’s your attraction to sampling?
Sampling can be a tool for revealing the hidden, secret meanings, or potential meanings, of texts. The power to take an utterance, of any kind, and show it has interpretations or consequences that were not made clear by those who originally uttered it.

As a copyright explorer, how do u see artists getting an income?
By selling their time and skill and knowledge and related atom-based products rather than bit-based products. This can include live performances, teaching, consulting, commissions, apparel and other souvenirs, and more. The open source software movement basically says don’t sell the software, give it away and sell technical support, consulting, custom configurations, and t-shirts.

I think ideally everyone would be an artist but would also do other things to support themselves. Why should artists get special treatment? Why is it that just because you have some great idea and you execute it, once, you get paid for it till you die? A plumber fixes your sink, you pay him, he goes away. You don’t pay him every time you use the sink for 25 years. Why should art be any different?

What do you think about ‘ogg vorbis’, the open source audio compression format trying to replace mp3s?
The tools to encode and decode them seem to be still not quite mature, so I’ve been holding off on switching over, but eventually I’d like to offer all my mp3s as ogg files. Projects like that are essential to the survival of grassroots digital culture. People need to make these things and use them, we can’t just sit back and wait for Sony and Micro$oft to give us our culture in little locked boxes.

Tell us about your Syntagm engine?
The Syntagm Engine is the software that I use as a live instrument when I perform. Basically it’s a search engine that can query a database of samples based on various criteria.

I’m always interested in how performance can be improvisational, because it’s what I believe makes performance truly live. But as a collage artist I’m also focused on doing work that is critical, that has meaning and makes intelligent comments on things. The Syntagm Engine is a way to try to do both. With the search parameters I can sort of choose an intelligent relationship between sounds. I’m doing this in realtime so it’s still a very loose, fluid process, not like pressing ‘start’ on a sequencer.

Had any dreams that’ve used sampling techniques?
I often think how similar all dreams are to collages, filled with samples of your recent experiences. A few years ago I was having dreams about huge mixing boards. They were so big that each fader was larger than I was, and I was running around the board desperately trying to push the faders with my body. I don’t remember the resulting music.

What are the exciting areas of net (culture) 4U at the moment?
Alternative, grassroots information distribution (like the Independent Media Centres), and distributed, collaboratory “open source” development – which I mean in a wider sense, not just software but art as well.

3 pieces of technology you’d like to use or invent?
1. A handheld device that scan product codes and tells you where the product was made and by whom; what’s in it; the chain of ownership? An original idea of capitalism is that both sides in a transaction are well-informed. But we now live in a time when the real facts about the things we consume are largely hidden from us. Consumer activism could really take off with a gadget like this.

2. Reputation Servers – What if your status and power in society was based not on how much money you had, but on stored “ratings” that others have given your previous actions? Bruce Sterling explored this in his novel “Distraction” and I think it’s a great idea, though immensely complicated to actually achieve.

3. Some kind of force field that makes nuclear explosions impossible all over the world.
Park at this recycled culture depot, for a wide range of links, movies, mp3s, references…
and home to a range of recycling artists such as Steev Hise and People Like Us.
Ogg Vorbis hopes to outdo the mp3 format with better compression, sound quality and open source developed code.
Largest collection of open-publishing online. Awesome project, though suffers a lack of diversity. Maybe you need to publish a few articles there, it’s free for anyone to publish on.

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