Copenhagen, Denmark, 21st June, 2011.
MG: ...So could you tell me something more about the graphic work outside of sleeve design and do on that you have done?
AMM: Well, I was obsessed with all things Japanese when I was in my late 'teens, and that of course meant the calligraphy, as well as everything else. What was so frustrating and yet riveting about it was the "one chance, one encounter" side of things: you couldn't 'touch up' the results later if you made a mistake or wanted to improve what you'd done; it was all or nothing. And I never got it right first time! But you (hopefully) learn from such things, and lots of very expensive paper and ink later, this crystallised in me something quite important for subsequent visual work. Really, a whole range of things. Not the least part, in fact the most important part, being the less visible side of it.
MG: What do you mean by that?
AMM: The chief thing, it seems, is the intention. The cliché is of course of the Japanese calligrapher that spends time in meditation after having ground his ink and made his paper, and then suddenly acts. And yet this is really how it is. It seems quite evident that we can read in the result all that went into it, including intent. If there are disturbances in the calligrapher, we will see them, or at least pick up on them. If there are strivings to impress, we will 'get' that too. So making things - and not just on paper - is an act of revelation to the self and of the self - or perhaps whatever is behind that. The direct engagement of ink on paper with a pen or a brush is a precise analogy of the coming into being from 'nothing,' and you're really dealing very directly with what we call "manifestation." What people normally call "creative" is simply the re-arrangement of already existing items into different patterns. Nothing wrong in that, per se, but if you want to realise (and I'm using that word in a very precise way) The Creative Force, then it comes from a place of hazard and unpredictability.
MG: So we're talking about preparation, then?
AMM: Well, yes. that is, being prepared, available, willing and capable of handling what actually arises without interfering. It is, to me, anyway, very much like translation, in that you cannot help be influencing the outcome; there's no such thing as a completely transparent translation!
MG: So were you designing before you had a computer?
AMM: Oh, yes, and I also think that what happened in the times in which I was starting to do graphic work was the lack of access to facilities. By that, I mean, the restrictions in terms of materials and technology made it so that I tried just about anything I could get my hands on, with the result that later I was very familiar with materials and techniques and so on even if I didn't have a use for them (or even like them) at the time. When I first got access to a computer, more than one that could just do text, I was fortunate enough to be working and later living with Willem De Ridder in Holland, and that man showed me more about graphic design than all other Western graphic artists put together - and many, many other things. That was my real baptism of fire, as I was operating a computer which basically was almost NOT a typesetting machine, and Willem would be maniacally ripping the printed pages out of my hands and cackling as he cut them up with a scalpel and pasted them into layouts for books, magazines, posters, and other things. Willem had done some incredibly important and influential publication work on the '60's and '70's, and again, he learned it all by doing. And yet again, it was also the attitude which shone though, which really I only saw clearly after a long time of being involved. The pace and production was so furious that perhaps it's not entirely surprising.
MG: So you used a computer, but not for everything?
AMM: The computer I had access to wasn't actually capable of doing everything, and in fact, it took an ocean of time and effort to get it to do anything at all! So it was a hybrid situation, and what that showed was the flaws and limitations more clearly and nakedly than if everything had been possible with just that one machine. Typography, for example; the corners that early computers had to cut in order to even approximate typesetting showed clearly how expediency leads to corruption. You can see the results of that cumulative process today, if you look.
MG: So what remains, in your opinion?
AMM: Well, just as with Willem, he would always draw the borders on the pages and columns of text on publications by hand, and that resulted in a very powerful humanly-made effect when contrasted with the typesetting. The hand was obvious, even though you probably registered it subliminally. I would do these things later on for Hafler Trio covers as well. Ironically, most of the best efforts were after trying to do these things with machines, and realising that it was impossible then to do it that way, and giving up and going back to pen and paper, or whatever. So what you can see is a combination of approaches and techniques all the way through, long after it became entirely possible to do everything in a computer. Sometimes the best effects are obtained in that way. Just like with the audio; people say, "What plug-in did you use for that?" and you can then laugh, smirking in the knowledge that very often what sounds or looks like digital is actually analog, and vice versa. Sometimes it's two tin cans and a piece of string!
MG: At a certain moment, then, reproduction is not that important?
AMM: You can say that. Very often, the concept of "the original" does actually make sense, and that's getting harder and harder to remember. I think you know very well that you can know an image, for example, for years, and then if you see the original in an art gallery or a museum, you realise you actually never saw it before at all. Yves Klein's paintings are one example. Utterly impossible to reproduce, I would say. And of course, you can also say, I think, that 'transmission' of a certain something or set of somethings is effected by handing over or having contact with a part of "the original" - it can be imbued (I don't think that it's necessarily a given, or that it happens automatically) with essential qualities which are entirely local.
AMM: Rather like a candle lighting another candle, if you like. Not the same wick, or the same wax, or maybe not even the same flame, in a way. And yet, still something is consistent, and something has been passed on which is very, very real. [hide]