Centripedal Sound installation by Matt Heckert

All of my work ends up sounding like a train somehow. — Matt Heckert

I first became acquainted with Matt Heckert‘s work through issue #8 of Andy Jenkins’ Bend zine. There was a picture of Survival Research Laboratories‘ “Walk-Peck” machine and it was credited to one Matt Heckert. This was the Summer of 1986. Matt has long since departed from SRL with his work and his work’s aims.

Matt HeckertMatt makes kinetic sound machines. Some are noisy as all hell. Some click, pop and convulse like mechanical, prehistoric creatures. All are fascinating both visually and sonically (See his Birds for one example).

The installation he built for SDSU involved tilting hoops that cause long poles to rotate in circles. The sound they generate is an ambient metal symphony of sorts. The six machines are connected to a G4 where a MAX/MPS MIDI program controls their motion. The programming was done by Matt’s friend William Tsun-yuk Tsu and it’s set to randomize said motion so that the machines are all doing their own thing. Also programmed into the controls (at random intervals) is a sequence during which the machines all drop to their lowest speed, and one where they all go freaking-ape-shit-fast. Watching them all fall into sync at low gear after an hour or so of chaos is a calming, serene experience.

The installation was originally titled “Martian Cocktail Party” after an old composition (circa 1981) that Matt did prior to forming his Mechanical Sound Orchestra (an old sound machine project). I suggested “Stirring Machines” due to the stirring motion of the poles and as a play on Alan Turing. With a smirk, Matt said he’d add my suggestion to the list. He told me recently via email, “It seems I have a propensity to pursue sounds from the roterior (sound from the process of rotating) and build things which allow for rotification of sound, so I would just as soon call these things ‘rotifiers.'”

Having spent many hours in the room with this installation, I can say that it was a thing of amazingly odd beauty. Having dismantled the machines for their trip back to the Bay Area, I can say that their elegance betrays the complex inner workings of Matt’s design. Having known about Matt Heckert and his work for some seventeen years, I was not disappointed with either once I met them face to face.

Matt’s Centripedal Sound installation was up in Stucio C of the Communication building at San Diego State University March 17th through 20th, 2003. For more information about future shows, check out Matt’s site.


Many thanks to Kim Stringfellow, Claire Putney, Amy, Dina, and Sara at SDSU, and especially to Matt Heckert for making this happen [photos by Roy Christopher].