Hermes: Robotic Mobile Phone Romance


“Hello! Hello! Can You Hear me?” is a leitmotif that constantly re-emerges in mobile phone conversations. Such phrases are often associated with rising volume levels in the speaker’s voice and sometimes represent a source of disturbance for nearby listeners extraneous to the exchange. It is also the refrain sung by a chorus of loudspeaker robots in Hermes, a “mobile phone opera” by Karl Heinz Jeron. The media artist has found an entertaining way to diffuse what he describes as the annoying experience of listening to cell phone monologues when travelling on public transportation. Keeping a record of private business that mobile phone users share while commuting, he has filled two notebooks with transcripts of his eavesdropping activity and has used the material as a source for an opera libretto. Hermes is divided in four miniature acts, in which overheard segments of mobile phone conversations are combined along the themes of secrecy, sex, guilt and betrayal, offering a psychoanalytic portrait of the insecurity of lovers that recalls the dialogues published by R.D. Laing in “Do You Love Me?”. A mindless drama in which biological urges subvert the logical structure of language, appropriately enacted here by two robots that process text with a voice synthesizer. During a performance of Hermes two artificial entities assembled with scrap materials recite a hardly comprehensible sprechgesang while sluggishly moving about the stage. The action is just about as enticing as that of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”, giving a good feeling of the extended experience of the former in a condensed duration of approximately 20 minutes. The result is a full-fledged spectacle staged by a single individual on the subject of mobile phone romance. Compared to other performances attempting to sexualize the unsexy, such as Danny Boyle’s mass staging of “the networked age” during the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, Jeron’s absurdist take on the topic provides more of an insight into the perpetual drive to reproduce that generates exponential growth in both carbon and silicon based systems.

Matteo Marangoni