E s s a y s..o n..H A !






What is HA!? - a simple story

Actually, i do not know. Cannot know. That is why i came up with the "term." Because knowing by itself does not reach into the fullness of what it is to be creative. How to describe something that is actually grounded in Nothing? But HA! is not empty. To me it is a breath, a feeling that i have each time i perform or create. I could have said "improvisation," but i don't want to. HA! goes deeper still.

Mm.. but there is a story behind it. I was a student at Stellenbosch University and one day coming down the stairs for lunch, something in me snapped, a kind of connection between mind and body, a moment when my thinking turned me towards a concrete awareness of where i was. Feeling. Present. As my thinking at the time was so much about the meaning of life, i decided that this would be the most apt answer to that age-old question: "HA!" Just that. A simple breath. A snapshot of what it is to be alive.

Years later, feeling the need to cloak myself with a stage identity, i went back to that moment. Spontaneous music making is so much about that snap into awareness of the present, of the indelible link between body and mind. And so "HA!Man" kind of slipped in as a stage name, never quite at ease with it, never quite able to cut it loose.


when walking on stage

when walking on stage
in fact, just before that
i often have a feeling of being insecure - i mean, especially with a hall full of school children
i tend then to hold onto, ja, i am the HA!Man
i will do my usual thing
i will go on and show my insecurity
but even these thoughts does not help
and if i hold onto them
something fails
it's almost as if, in order to create in the moment
every conceivable thought needs to meet its opposite
and meeting its opposite, dissolves
so that the mind can relax
and you actually start feeling the moment
becoming aware of being physically present

it helps to draw on one's rebellious side
for instance, for me, this morning, to tell myself:
i will not be the HA!Man today
i will not be the success i was earlier

or - and this is where your irresponsible side needs to kick in -
"i will not be good today"
i will actually show them that i am not so good
will they kill me for that?
what can i loose?
can it really be that bad?

usually, these questions reveal a reality that needs not be feared
i mean, they can even chase me from the hall
or never invite me back again
but will it be the end of (my) world?
it wont
even if it means that i land up in the streets or in prison
will that REALLY be so bad?
i can live through that too

and so this inner dialogue starts to liberate me
from a mind that holds up an image to me
that i need to resemble
the image crumbles
and it is as if i wake up from a dream
i am just here
i feel my breath, i see what is around me
i walk on stage
i don't expect anything from myself
and at that point i start relating to what is in and around me

if i am tense, i relate to that, express it
or act it
if i feel drawn to play something really nice on the piano
i do that, even though this is a "bad beginning" for a hall full of school children

all of this is just another way to allow the unknown
not as a trick or an "idea"
but as a source of creativity

it boils down to this: that the nature of beginning is to be unknown
what is known only comes later
it always starts with the unknown -
well, that is, if you want to be creative

it is also not searching for the known IN the unknown,
like searching for an idea or an inspiration
it is not bringing the unknown into service of the known
no, it is BEING the unknown
being unknown
it is falling, sliding, letting go
it is going mad
it is getting high
it is surprising yourself in doing what you do not expect yourself to be doing

it is also not listening for a higher voice to speak, or something to be channeled through you
that still belongs to the realm of the known
it is simply: the NOT knowing.

it is dark
it is free

it is the moment of dying.


On Our Art (1) in the middle of the movement

On our art ( 1 ) : "in the middle of the movement" by JOKE DEBAERE

Maybe I can best start talking about what the art of me and Francois is like to me and means to me, by describing one big and significant difference to my work of the past. When I performed more scheduled and carefully prepared plays, the piece of art became like a solid train, as the rehearsals and the writing of the play went ahead. A train of which I knew all the compartments, the colors, even the speed and definitely the destination by the time it was performed on the premiere.

Obviously sharing the product in different places, on different evenings for different people, brought along its own specific accents in rhythm, feeling, intonation etc. But our goal, our point of destination was time and time again a very familiar and well known place. Simply because we had been there before.

I cannot state such things about performing in an improvised way. There are certainly elements and themes which I have, over the course of time, started relying on. But we create the train, the road, each time again in the very moment. Never does one of us know for sure where we will land. This starting from nothing, this lack of rehearsal, this very minimal level of agreements in advance, is something I have had and still have an inexplicable hunger for. As I am still so much in the phase of embarking on this road, I still find myself in the very middle of so much movement. The movement of discovery. The movement of the newness. The movement of discovering what it is that I am doing, exactly while doing it.

When I improvise on stage, I always find myself in the exact middle of the process of creating. Sometimes it daunts on me: after a good evening, I never hold any insurance policy in my hands that the next performance is going to be as good. Prepared performances are subdued to similar life aspects of course. A pianist performing a concerto of Rachmaninov sure feels similar things. But in his case, there will always be this familiar train ahead, the script, the notes, the point of destination. My point of destination is never an objective topic, or theme, or scene like it used to be in the past. Of course, I do still aim for certain things as a performer. The things I do on stage would become shapeless, endless, limitless if I wouldn't carry strong seeds inside myself of things I would want to do and share on stage. But my direction, my aim, feels broader. Moving the audience by sharing words and sounds created in the moment.

Doing things this way feels to me like walking a tight rope. I find myself trying to keep the balance between loving and hating so much unknown elements ahead. Between feeling very sure of myself and of what I do, and feeling absolutely unsure about what I am going to do, feel and say next on stage. To give you an example: yesterday Francois and I performed in the Kalk Bay Theatre, near Cape Town. This afternoon, I was very fortunate to receive an email from an audience member. She was very moved by what we had done and asked whether she could buy one particular poem from us without the accompaniment. I will have to disappoint her somehow, and explained to her that no single word of yesterday evening is written down or recorded. Neither will I be able to repeat this for her. I can give her something similar, for sure. I can try to recapture that moment, but I have tried to do it before, and it is much harder than it might seem. On such moments, I feel this duality of realizing it might have been moving to her exactly because it was so spontaneous. And on the other hand I so wished I could repeat it a thousand of times all over and over again. Like a singer songwriter proudly sharing the best of his creations.

Yet so far, the positive sides are stronger and growing with much deeper roots inside myself than the negative sides. Even though I must say, or confess, that some people ( friends, acquaintances, fans of Francois ) did question me here and there along the way. Up to the point of even boldly stating I am wasting my time and my talents this way. Hearing such things moves me deeply of course as I am no stone. But something inexplicable inside myself, as I tried to explain earlier, makes me feel very hungry to jump to the full into this way of performing, starting from nothing time and time again. Every now and then, the last few weeks, I do read out loud a poem from my book "my road in your eyes". Sometimes this works very well. But it can never put me on such a high as a well performed improvisation.

Why? Why do I love it? I am observing the people around me on the terrace where I am writing this down, as I ask myself this.

I like the danger of it. That is the first thing that comes to my mind. Apparently, I like taking these kind of risks. And secondly, I get filled with such a deep and special warmth when I create some magic on stage when things go well. The magic of something that is created right in the moment and will never be repeated the same again.

( More in the following edition. As I am getting to know and understand what I do and feel on this path, my htoughts are always evolving as I am walking the road. )


On Our Art (2) waiting for what wants to be revealed


a similar approach at the core
to life and to death
creating : starting from nothing
waiting for what wants to be revealed
from ( the ) inside

creating art as an interplay between
allowing what wants to grow from within
and taking direction yourself
a place where the mind is being silenced
by the flow from within ( or : the flow from the heart - even though heart may sound too mellow here )


they will gush forth
a storm of great upeaval
on a bed of silence


whether expressed through music and sounds
movement and dots
colours or words ...
it all starts from ( within )
a certain ( uncertain ) moveable field ( being )
where the inside finds the outside
and vice versa
where nothing meets all
all or nothing
where people can be invited
to join the streams and the floods
the winters and falls
of what lies at the core of our human existence
something we might as well
call breathing
a moment of Ha!


descicions made in advance
never ( or hardly ) determine ( dominere ) over the outcome
as what they create
is being created
along the way of not knowing exactly
what the next moment will bring


an openess which carries limits too
as we carry the bounderies of our flesh, to begin with
yet within this point of coming and going
all seems possible

a rythm of feeling
the rythm of being
a certain depth in feeling
all there is to be felt

tragedy / sadness
and rough

all to be seen
but mainly experienced
in a concert
a workshop
a time of gathering
and of sharing


Something to reflect on..

Is there order and structure in the free-flow of HA! ?

There is no set programme. Improvisations starts with silence, or with a minimal theme. There is no rational definition for HA!. Always open to the future, always a dimension of not knowing. Is that scary or what? Or is it just normal, the way life unfolds anyway?

Does it mean that "anything just goes," "there are no rules," "you cannot make any mistakes..?" Or is there hidden somewhere, a basic structure, a skeleton that could be revealed once the flesh is torn away?

There is. But it is not in the usual sense of a structure that determines the outcome. Not in the usual sense of a plan that is followed, or a "trick" hidden in your head, that "works," only needs conscious application. No. It still starts with silence. There is still no conscious planning going on beforehand. But like a tree that grows from a seed, it grows freely, yet with the structure of it as an intrinsic part of the growth and the flow.

Our culture has a huge problem with anything that cannot be consciously controlled. Yet the most natural way of finding structure is not to control it. Simply to allow it. Even deeper: to trust it. Yes, in HA! it means to start in silence and to trust that it will present itself with structure included.

But what structure? Can it be analyzed and understood? Indeed it can. To start in silence is already a structural departure. Music that emerges from silence cannot be contrary to it. It remains close to silence, perhaps soft, slow, perhaps spiritual, perhaps suspended with little direction, perhaps like it is swimming under water, perhaps like it is being born, like a child, with a central consciousness of one-ness. And what happens next? What happens when silence is left behind? At some point, self-consciousness sets in. The eternity is broken, and a tension appears. The music moves, it grows, it becomes aware of an open field of possibilities. It explores, experiments, it gathers energy onto itself to the point of explosion. And then? Before it disintegrates, it remembers its beginnings, it seeks to find the whole within the host of details, it seeks form, it seeks and finds flow, containing both the silence and the movement within itself. Thus three broad structural parts can be distinguished, parts that are no rule, but only a map, no prescription but only an orientation. The structure never objectifies itself. It remains part of the living whole. A three-part structure: 1. child/one-ness/inward/instinctive 2. adolescent/growth/outward/sensational 3. maturity/stable flow/homecoming/emotive. A structure that naturally follows.

Much of what happens in this performance - the programme flow in itself and many of the improvised and recorded pieces - reveals this underlying structure. The HA!Man web site is organized on the basis of it. And the understanding of humanity as an adolescent species still searching for maturity flows from it.

It is both the invitation and challenge of HA! - to find and nurture this spontaneous meeting point between chaos and order, between mind and body, between "anything goes" and the highest craftsmanship.


why are you the "HA!" -man?

"when i was at varsity in Stellenbosch in the late '80's, i went through an intensive inner transformation,
mainly taking a more relative view of language to make space for more feeling..

that is when i landed on the expression "HA!" as an answer to the question:
"what is the meaning of life (for you)?"

so wHA!t now?

HA! is not an explanation, nor a definition
it is an expression, an affirmation of being alive
it is open to interpretations of many kinds
yet never without meaning

to me as an artist, HA! means that i am not out to master anything in the first place,
but to express my inside creatively.
i am therefore not a specialist, but a generator, a breather, of the now and the new

..and HA! "Man?"

because I am a.. man
because i felt myself singular in embarking on this way
and because it's a fun identity, a handy characterization

but i also feel it's a tad presumptuous to call yourself any kind of "man" ..ha!
also, I think there's more time needed for the meaning of the HA!Man to find shape

however i question it and find it unclear, the name stuck nevertheless.
so there.


a HA! philosophy

1. On the meaning of HA!

HA! came about through a personal quest for a life orientation
that at once find its meaning in more original states of being human
as well as providing a sound perspective on the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century

it is a move towards a more FEELING way of being
it seeks a better relationship between left and right brain,
between instinct and intellect

in music and art, it stresses spontaneity as a realm of truer creativity,
spiritually it emphasizes that which is common to all of humanity
- especially our African roots -
and it cannot but love to be healthy, recognizing the implications of us being organic creatures

HA! is living with a full breath and dying with the very last one.
it strives to contribute to an alleviation of the cancerous situation we have arrived at,
threatening to shortchange the life of our species - and many, many others - on planet earth.

it is nothing new, yet fresh
not a bestseller, yet addresses a universal need

there is no creed, yet direction. HA! is open-ended, yet meaningful.
you find and be your own HA! and see how we arrive at similar ends.


2. Some short definitions of HA!

"in your face and out of mine!"
" Life!"
"From the soul"
"Exuberance Unlimited"
"a breath of creative vitality"
"creativity in action"
"As jy iets doen, doen dit met gevoel."


3. The three-dimensional structure of HA!

in being spontaneous (ha!), there is still form and structure, but of a more general kind
i distinguish three generic parts in most progressions, forms and expressions
- the first is Subjective
- the second Objective
- and the third Relative

there are many different ways to give meaning to this
Subjective refers to the inside, Objective to the outside and Relative to the relationship between in- and outside.
In the progression of life, one can apply this analysis as follows:
- the subjective stage of life is the life of the child
- the objective stage is that of the adollescent
- and the relative stage that of the adult

the child lives mainly from its inside and are kept inside the womb, the family circle
the adollescent lives for the outside as it grows and reaches away from the protection of the family. it discovers the outside world and establishes a polarity with the child stage. it rebels against the subjectivity of being a child.
when it is satisfied that the outside world is known and inhabitable without its former protective mould, it now rediscovers the child within and seeks to balance the inner life of the child, of care and love and innocence, with the external world.
it becomes an adult not by staying at the peak of growth, but by entering the dynamic middle ground between the inner freedom of the child and the external freedom of the adolescent. it develops communication between these polarities, and in this way establishes a third dimension which is the fruit of polairities interacting in a mutually sustaining way.

the three stages can be given various symbolic parallels of which the following are but a few:
- Vertical dimensions: low - high - middle
- Three dimensional dimensions: vertical - horizontal - lateral
- Time: past - future - present
- Colour: red - blue - yellow
- Basic emotions: sad - angry - happy
- Speed: slow - fast - leisurely
- Musical dimensions: harmony - rhythm - melody

Notes on progression:
Naturally, most developments, growth procesess and cycles follow this broad pattern. Things do not start on high, but low and slow and minimal. From there it goes into a growing, searching, analyzing or experimental phase after which it stabelizes into a recognizable form, identity or pattern.

Some applications:

Life-cycle of humanity: i reckon that we are still broadly adollescent. Still growing, searching, experimenting and polarizing. The limits of the planet and our own abilities are slowly nudging us towards maturity.. perhaps too slow for our survival?
HA!Man show: i prefer not to start on a high note, but to allow the show to creep from a deep subjectivity into an exhuberance and challenging energy, to finally veer towards the more embracing stuff. Communication with the audince therefore is minimal initially, then more informative and questioning and finally connecting. If it matures well, humour results.
Giving systematic order to all basic areas of social activity:
Subjective: 11 healing, 12 arts, 13 spirituality
Objective: 21 philosophy, 22 sciences, 23 technology
Relative: 31 morality, 32 business, 33 politics