Matthew Waldman is a New York based artist and designer most prominently known for creating Nooka Inc., a lab dedicated to exploring universal communication via form, language and fashion. Founded in 2004 and best known for its patented timepieces, Nooka continues to provoke deeper thought on fashion and everyday objects.
Alert readers may have already noticed my near-obsession with Nooka from the first moment I saw their stuff at the Class Hollywood Trade Show, where I posited that Pac Mac had been put into a blender as part of their signature look. This made me both sad and happy. (I also explained, briefly, time travel.)
Like I said: obsessed.
IFDaily: Your watches remind me mainly of a cipher: a puzzle with an open-ended solution. Do you like puzzles in general? Do you see time (or physics) as a puzzle, and is that reflected in the design?
MW: Physics is quite the puzzle, even the specialists can’t agree or find unifying principals yet. Time, to me, is not a puzzle, it’s just the side effect of living in a 4-dimensional universe. Also, I’m not terribly interested in puzzles like sudoku or crosswords; I’m far too impatient a person to get into any.
IFDaily: As a musician, I’m a bit obsessed with the future of music. The far future. What will music sound like in 500 years, if the human race still exists? 10,000 years? 5 million years? If you grew up in the 16th century, the music of John Coltrane would seem unthinkable, just pure noise. But obviously such a thing is appreciable by the human mind, once it’s found and the context is established. So it stands to reason there are more, “unthinkable” forms of music and art that exist, in a sense, all around us, but we can’t see them. Or maybe they truly haven’t been created yet (the intuitive explanation), but I guess the point is that some new ideas seem obvious, and some take acclimation and context (certain delicacies; jazz), but the evolution of new ideas is not only possible, it’s inevitable. What possibilities do you think exist for the future of art? How can we get there? And: do you see (or hope for) any specifics?
MW: I think no matter how far in the future [or past for that matter] you go, we will maintain the ability to appreciate all musical forms as harmonics will not change. I think the main areas to be explored are within the mind itself. Manipulating how music is experienced in the brain itself will create new technologies and ways to enjoy music. Synesthesia is now treated as a medical disorder, but I can foresee a world where one can choose which set or senses to engage for any experience. It will open up a multitude of new art forms and ways to interpret and enjoy audio and visual stimuli. Even on a simpler level, genetically altering the human to hear a wider range of frequency will expand the palette for aural expression, and this too is exciting.
IFDaily: According to General Relativity all time has already happened. We’re more like an eye, roving over a swirling pattern in wood. Time seems to move, but in fact it’s already etched, beginning to end, with parts revealed to us incrementally. As a result — because each part of the pattern is, in fact, shaped by the whole — we experience echoes from the future as well as the past. Our future, in a sense, is always shaping our present. I wonder how you could make a watch that suggests echoes from the future. But as a broader (or really separate) question, how do concepts of physics and time shape your designs artistically in general (not just with watches).
MW: If I had access to the technology I would certainly be right on it! I guess Nooka really does look like a bigger company than the reality! I am intrigued with the idea as an art project, so give me some time on that. I am quite obsessed with physics as a subject, but my designs are more informed by a search for a universal language. For example, the time pieces are the product of an exercise to find a universal interface that transcends the language and the math. For example, the fact that time is expressed in base-12 while one’s banking etc. is done in base-10 is lost on most people. Instead of trying to be pedantic with math, I chose visual language as my tool. So though higher-based math is used in physics, it is way beyond my brain’s abilities.
IFDaily: In The Future Perfect, Walter Abish wrote: “The immediate future, the immediate, immaculate future, lies mapped out in the brain cells.” In Future Shock, Alvin Toffler wrote: “Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” Which is it, do you think? Are human brains capable of creating an ever-better future using technology / our imaginations, or are we doomed to become more and more alienated from our own humanity? Should be become more alienated from what we’ve considered “humanity” so far, and strive to be something even less animal? Or do we then risk becoming machines ourselves? Is there a middle ground?
MW: I do agree that the future is mapped out already in our brains. Have you ever read The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin? It’s a story about a man whose dreams alter reality and he becomes a speed addict to avoid sleep when he sees the imperfections of his dreams negatively affecting mankind. And what happens when his psychiatrist actually believes this phenomenon is actually occurring.
I believe that it is the collective dream states that drive all human advancement whether artistic, biological or technological, and it is the imperfections in the collective dreams and personalities that cause all the problems in the world. On the other points, I don’t think we are any more alienated from our humanity than people were in any other point in history; there are always optimists and pessimists, people who experience connection as normal, those who see it as spiritual and those alienated by it. To me, technology is part of nature. How is a skyscraper any less “natural” than a beehive? Humans source the materials for the skyscraper from the earth just as bees do for their hives. Really, we are already machines. The carbohydrates in our food are much like the hydrocarbons in our machines fuel. I don’t make a clean cut distinction. Also, not to over-complicate the discussion, but I believe this potentiality exists in the very molecules of matter itself and not just the human mind.
IFDaily: I haven’t read that particular Le Guin, but I’ll check it out. I recommend Ubik by Philip K. Dick (if you haven’t already read it). Any new product announcements or news, or anything else you’d like to mention? (Fun personal plans, for example?)
MW: We recently expanded our glow-in-the-dark range to include sunglasses and our redesigned AO (asset organizer), which is fun. I’d love to remind everyone that we produced a fragrance that very much follows the themes above, mainly as a challenge to see if I could tell the nookafesto story of optimistic futurism in a sexy scent. So support a crazy independent design entrepreneur and buy one of everything on nooka.com! I may launch a kickstarter page to raise money to hire an assistant and team to develop a truly global language [Esperanto 4.0!] As universal communication is an obvious obsession of mine. Always lots of “noo” stuff to talk about!