Building odd musical sculptures entitled 'Felix’s Machines', Felix Thorn has created wholly interactive pieces that respond to live music. Existing as compositional devices, Felix’s Machines, for one night only this April will working with Plaid, where the live event will be an experiment of 'live amplification and processing', combining the acoustic with the digital to create a surprising performance, whilst support comes from Leafcutter John and Missaw 7th April at London's Village Underground.
Dazed Digital: What was your first experience with music?
Felix Thorn: [The] sound I would have been exposed to as a kid was mainly music on TV/films etc. I can’t remember following many artists and at school studying music was more of a chore. I hadn’t learnt to enjoy listening as much as I do now. Instead my time was mainly spent painting and drawing. Only through my early teens music became significant when I was learning jazz piano and then gained interest in electronica. I think everybody learns how and when to listen. From pop music to everyday noises around you it's good to know that how you listen to music can always change.
DD: How has your relationship with music changed since then?
Felix Thorn: Rather than music itself, I’m more concerned with how I can design a full multi sensory performance, and one without the need for a human performer. The process involved in creating music is important to me. It’s good for composers to use their hands. Witnessing someone who’s mastered an instrument or piece of software/hardware is impressive for an audience, but it also satisfies the performer, and this helps maintain the flow of music ideas. I get my satisfaction from preparation. For me the equivalent of a musician performing/improvising live on stage is building an instrument in the workshop. As hand-built objects distinctive changes are made for each performance. I don’t want to perform, I want to work in a tactile environment and prepare things to perform for me. A computer screen and a mixing desk isn’t enough. I prefer high voltages, the smell of wood and the sound of high-speed steel drills.
DD: I read that you focused for some time on Synaesthesia. When did it first make an impact on you and in what ways has it affected you/your work?
Felix Thorn: What I’m trying to do is find a way to manufacture synaesthesia in order to enhance the experience I want an audience to have. In college I looked at ways I could extract images from a piano. A mechanical instrument is ideal inspiration for exploring how something visual and something sonic can coexist. I was obsessed with mechanical musical instruments and it affected the way I experienced music. When I listened to electronic music it triggered pretty convincing hallucinations: I couldn’t help visualising every synth noise and artificially designed space as more tangible objects of greater physical size – in reality, the computer chips and programs actually generating the sounds had no substance. I had to see it all functioning in an inhabitable space. It made me want to build machines and develop a way of composing that would ignore the use of traditional speakers and power amplifiers and focus on the self-amplifying potential of acoustic mechanics.
DD: Like with your music and artwork do you see most things as interconnected?
Felix Thorn: Working on my machines has turned into a strict set of processes such as choosing the right materials, using a lathe, mixing recordings etc. For me, artwork is meant to connect things that are normally apart. My work is a way of combining technology from a range of eras. Sometimes it’s easy to see too many ‘things’ as interconnected. There are so many things I want to make. I find I have to be very selective with what I choose to ‘connect’. Ultimately, the machines need to be two things: complex and accessible. It’s nice to witness people enjoying them from a technical point of view, but I’d also like you to enjoy them without wanting to think.
DD: What’s the next step for Felix's Machines?
Felix Thorn: At this stage my machines and the compositions are made to suit specific spaces. They typically sound best in small-medium sized rooms. For larger audiences I have to mic them up which rarely sounds as good. I’m improving ways of amplifying, but it never matches the clarity of acoustic sound. However, with constant rebuilding and upgraded robotics, their natural sound is getting louder and more powerful, so hopefully the dream of large-scale natural amplification is not far away.
Felix's Machines vs Plaid featuring Felix's Machines (live) Leafcutter John (live) Plaid (DJ set) Missaw (DJ set); 7th April 2011; Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, London, EC 2A 3PQ; Doors 7pm; Tickets £7(adv), £5 (student)