Marklund never talked with Rauschenberg while he was alive, but the Moderna Museet preserves documentation related to the piece, including conversations about it with the artist, who felt it was important to maintain it with minimal upgrades to its mechanical or electronic parts. “We’ll try to keep it working as long as there are tape recorders,” Marklund observes. Occasionally during installation he experiments with different music to activate the bubbling (in New York recently, ABBA). And we know that Rauschenberg also imagined different audio stimuli for it, including traffic noises, police sirens, and, most ambitiously, real-time sounds made by visitors that would be picked up by microphones hanging over the work (an impossible idea at that time, he found out, due to limitations of microphone technology). In the end, he decided that Mud Muse, when officially displayed for the public, would “play itself” in a sort of recursive loop — the audio a recording of the noise the bubbling makes.
Marklund has developed an affection of sorts for the work over the years: “When I started at the Moderna Museet in 1999, there was another man doing my job with Mud Muse. He passed away on a trip to Singapore before he had the chance to tell me how to manage it. So the next time we installed, I had to study the archival papers to learn how it works. It took a long time to get to know the piece. Personally I think it has to do with the space race of the 1960s, the competition between the United States and the USSR to invade the moon, since the bubbling mud looks like a moonscape.
“With every new installation, I learned more and more about it. Today I know it very well, and fully understand what Rauschenberg had in mind for it. I think San Francisco will be the last time I install it. I am too old to go on with this! But before I retire, I’ll of course train another technician.”