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Lisa Brandt Heckman 19 March 2008

Lisa Brandt Heckman

Musician, Actor, Linguist, Linux User, Insomniac

Lisa Brandt Heckman was born Rosalie Scroggin in Chicago, Illinois. She grew up with her adoptive family in the small town of Morris, Illinois (population 8,900). She fled to the suburbs of Chicago at 18, and to the city proper at 21.

At 3-1/2 years old, Lisa saw Liberace performing on TV. She knew instantly that A) she had to play the piano, and B) she had to be on TV. Her indulgent parents bought her the piano, but were unable to find a teacher who would accept her until she was five years old. During those difficult early teenage years, she quit lessons (and just about everything else), but at 17 she secretly started taking lessons again, paying for them with her own pocket money.

When she lost her first tooth, Lisa was informed that the Tooth Fairy would pay a visit to purchase the lost tooth, which she found to be a bizarre scheme. She wrote a questionnaire for this strange creature and left it under her pillow to get to the bottom of it all. She discovered that the Tooth Fairy was male, and had handwriting exactly like Grandpa Kenny’s.

At 16, Lisa began playing keyboards and singing backup in various bands, starting with bar/wedding band Apyron in Streator, Illinois. She later focused on lead vocals, and is ashamed of how much her keyboard-playing skills have deteriorated. She currently sings and composes with electronic band The Unlikely Event and noise band Schizoprestige (with whom she is also filming a mockumentary as her alter-ego, the delightfully uncouth Lisa Dresden).

In 2001, Lisa and her boyfriend (now husband) Andrew Heckman moved to the promised land of Portland, lured by bike culture, public transportation, and mild winters. Lisa was charmed in particular by the MAX, though she can most often be found on the 14 Hawthorne bus.

Lisa studied (and performed Monty Python skits in German) in Heidelberg, Germany in the summer of 2005, and received B.A.s in Linguistics and German from Portland State University in June 2007. She has also dabbled in Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Scots Gaelic, Esperanto, and other languages to varying degrees, but does not wish to perpetuate the myth that linguists are people who are adept at learning a bunch of languages, like Hoshi on Star Trek. She does, however, wish to perpetuate Hoshi’s stereotype of the sexy linguist.

What are you up to?

Well, the plan had been to take a year or two to relax a bit, do some fun projects, study for the GRE, and apply to graduate programs in linguistics and/or cognitive science. I thought that I would go stark raving mad without a structured daily schedule, and I did a little bit at first. But I’ve adjusted somewhat, and I’m _really_ having a lot of fun with both music and acting. I’m having crazy thoughts about going back to being a full-time creative instead of voluntarily jumping into the meat grinder that is grad school.

I like to make myself useful in addition to having self-indulgent fun, so I’m volunteering for the Center For Inquiry (CFI) They are an international secular humanist organization promoting science, reason, and secular ethics, and I’m very excited to say that they are bringing a center to Portland within the next year. I’m serving on a couple of committees concerning websites, social networking, and digital video.

I am also really pleased with myself for managing to go to the gym regularly for three months now, which is something that’s much more difficult when you have a real job or spend the whole day on campus.

I’m not too worried about making a big decision right now, because Andrew is starting the M.A. TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program at PSU this month, which means that I have two years for sure to screw around while he finishes that up. I think it’s very likely that I will in fact get to grad school sooner or later, but who knows what will happen between now and then?

What are you into?

- Artificial Intelligence
- Cognitive Science
- Constant physical contact with other humans (I get complaints)
- Gadgets, tinkering, configuring
- Gender Identity
- Human-Computer Interaction
- Humanoid Robots (the first time I saw footage of the Honda robot walking, it kept me awake all night, in a good way)
- Music Cognition
- Philosophy of Science
- Science Fiction
- Vegan Eating (note that I do not say “cooking,” which I cannot do)
- Vulgar and/or stupid humor (I really love bad puns)

Questions on my mind:
What kinds of judgments do people make about others’ sexual orientation and masculinity/femininity based on how they speak, and why?
How does music provoke an emotional response from us? What is happening in the brain?
Can we find phonetic/phonological correlates (e.g., pitch, speed, vowel quality) in voices considered pleasant/attractive?
How do those ideals vary cross-culturally/by gender/by sexual orientation/by social group?
Do those ideals change when the voice belongs to a computer/robot (e.g., something pleasant in human speech is creepy/disturbing in computer speech)?

What do you like most about Portland?

I’m not weird in Portland! I am so ridiculously average in Portland. I never have to explain to someone why I don’t eat meat or don’t have a car or don’t go to church or don’t work a 9-to-5 clerical job. Of course, this doesn’t apply on those rare and unhappy occasions when I’m forced to go to the suburbs, where I get the glassy-eyed goldfish stare that indicates an utter lack of comprehension.

Sometimes after a margarita or two, I will pull a carefully guarded secret part of my identity from the depths of my being and expose it to the scrutiny of my comrades. And the response is invariably, “Oh, yeah, my grandma did that last week, and my little brother is the chairman of the committee.” I’m going to have to try much harder if I want to be a freak here.

I’ve eaten in countless Ethiopian restaurants around the country (not to mention Canada and Germany) but the best I’ve found is right here in Portland, at Queen of Sheba. Dalo’s Kitchen and Blue Nile are also great.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I tend to identify very strongly with whatever thing I’m into at a given moment. “Musician” was so central to my sense of self from such a young age; I felt bitter and heartbroken when it seemed my window of opportunity was closing. Before I moved to Portland, I cried almost on a daily basis because I thought my singing days were over. Now I can hardly keep up with all of the projects that come my way, and I am overjoyed to have that part of myself back. (This is not to say that I don’t want more projects. Bring ‘em on!)

The Schizoprestige mockumentary is the first chance I’ve had to act in a couple of years. My character is a foul-mouthed, ill-mannered, lascivious pig, and I just love to play her. I hope to do as many no-budget films and/or theater pieces as I can get my hands on in the next couple of years.

Oh, and that making a living thing. I’ve strongly considered going into computer science or software engineering, but I think it would be healthy to get away from the computer more often. So I’ll probably wind up doing linguistics research and teaching. Or video editing. Or…

What do you want?

I want to extract all of the juicy bits, even though many of them will be quite bitter.
I want a gender-neutral third-person pronoun to be accepted as standard English.
I want to all of my data to be consolidated, organized, and synced.
I want to live in the moment and soak up all possible sensory information, but I have a hard time not ruminating about the future while doing so.
I want to build a robot.
I want to confuse and frighten people on occasion.
I want to learn ALL of the languages, and then sing in them.
I want people to talk freely and openly about those things that everyone knows, but they’re not allowed to talk about.
I want a manned mission to Mars.
I want to break free of the labels applied to me by myself and others.
I want to play the accordion.
I want people to pay attention to the $%#!@! road when driving.
I want to live in Germany again! Or maybe the Netherlands.
I want American Apparel to size their clothing for actual human beings, dammit.
I want to have a house where everything folds up into the walls.
I want people to NOT add “for your age” when they tell someone “you look good.”
I want to be bathed in sound that tickles my solar plexus.


Email, Website, The Unlikely Event, Facebook, Mugshot, Oregon Media Network

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