An Interview with Neo Hülcker Action for the Ears

Neo Hülcker
Photo: Katie Lee Dunbar

Neo Hülcker is a composer of unusual music. Recently, Neo worked with the Chicago ensemble Mocrep in Germany and again during their visit in Chicago in April. They discussed hairbrushes and Pop Rocks with us, and why they're important for their music.

Neo Hülcker is a composer of unusual music. In the summer of 2016, Neo teamed up with Chicago ensemble Mocrep in Darmstadt, Germany. Hülcker and Mocrep continued their collaboration in April 2017 when Hülcker visited Chicago; they also worked with Mocrep member Owen Davis on an ASMR piece and the composer and Mocrep presented “Ear Action”, a piece by Stellan Veloce and Neo Hülcker, plus the premiere of “Good Dog”.

Neo, conventional instruments feature hardly at all in your work, yet “Good Dog” begins with a short canon. What goes through your mind when you are working on a new composition?

Thousands of different things. Normally I spend quite a lot of time researching, coming to grips with a particular theme and collecting material, and then I develop various artistic ideas that can take on very different formats.  

For me, “Ear Action” was a really unique experience, and one that got me quite addicted. I could have spent the entire evening wearing the earmuffs. Can you describe your work a bit for us?

“Ear Action” is a performance that Stellan Veloce and I created in spring 2016. For some time we had been wanting to do a composition involving different modes of hearing, and in particular the physical aspects of hearing. We then came up with the idea of working with safety earmuffs – which are normally used to protect your hearing. We started doing experiments where we applied objects like gloves, Pop Rocks, vibrating items, hairbrushes and such directly to the outside of the earmuffs, taking advantage of the resonant cavity between the earmuffs and the ears. Gradually, we then came up with our one-to-one performance on this basis.

How did you find out about ASMR? (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response refers to a prickling sensation in the head that feels pleasant and calming. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a neologism that was created in cyberculture)

I read a short article about ASMR in a magazine sometime toward the end of 2013 or in spring 2014, and decided it was something I definitely wanted to explore.

To some extent you got to know some of the conditions in which young musicians in Chicago – those outside the “established music scene” – work. Can you highlight one aspect that you found particularly interesting or concerning?

The chronic shortage of funding is very noticeable. All the artists I met in Chicago have several jobs in addition to their art, and work incredibly hard just to pay their rent. Some of them cannot even afford medical insurance. They soldier on nonetheless and with unbelievable motivation and energy manage to get fantastic artistic projects up and running. It is a great shame that their work is not adequately compensed.

The program in Chicago was defined by your interest in the relationship between people and dogs. Even people who were not necessarily crazy about pets followed the events attentively and let themselves be drawn in by the compositions. Was that partly a reaction to ASMR and partly a question of observing the meta levels? Is it your goal to drop the audience off at a particular point?

No, not at all. Everyone is welcome to experience the performances as they wish. 

Would you like to say a few words about your mentors or favorite composers?

I have so many favorite composers that it’s difficult to pick just one. I am generally very interested in what is happening outside the New Music scene, like in dance, theater, and the visual arts.

During the event, I was confounded several times by the sudden change my auditory perceptions. When do you have "AHA"- moments?

In everyday life I suppose, like when I’m bored and just playing around with some object right next to my ear and notice its sound potential – so more by chance, I guess.

Do you have a favorite instrument? Or one that you don’t like at all?

One of my favorite instruments is my tiny Black Death synthesizer. Really there is no instrument I do not like.