Felix’s Machines   

Felix’s machines are born from the domestic. They come from his bedroom, in much the same way that a lot of dance music does. The music is generated by a laptop linked to an intricately built music machine, a set of keys of a glockenspiel, piano hammers, drums, animated by springs, solenoids and motors playing Thorn’s own compositions, an elaborate structure that has become his own composition. LED lights follow intermittently the rhythm of the music played. For this particular exhibition the parts of this machine are placed in the corner of the gallery, stacked on the floor and with the help of small emulsion-painted white shelves, stacked one on top of another until roughly head height. The gallery is darkened to enhance the rhythmical effects of the LEDs, which themselves give us intermittent glimpses of the more frantic mechanical activities of the keys. It is quite beautiful in a dark fairy tale kind of way. And funny too.

In an interview Thorn states that he started making these machines out of frustration that people did not appreciate his music. This could be understood as the Bergsonian comic moment, the cuckoo clock, the mechanical collapse of the human, when his own aspirations for his music – as music – and his own frustration at the lack of response, turns the music itself into the mechanical version of what music is to the listener. He implicates the viewer, or audience, who was initially this listener, and presents him/her with their own contemporary demands personified, simplified, mechanicised, exhausted and on the edge of collapse, those same demands that were previously unappreciative. The audience hears something of contemporary avant garde electronic music, picking out this and that subtle sub-division, its aspirations and ambitions, but those aspirations go nowhere, they are physically trapped, ever-circling, absurd and on display. Flickering quite beautifully in the darkness. Buzzing like trapped little fireflies, scuttling like little musical mice on a wheel in the corner of the gallery, or there on the stair right there. A Chaplin, or Laurel and Hardy, choreographed to the sound of the piano in a darkened room.

The comic is also in the effort of work involved in constructing this machine, contrasted with a daintiness akin to Oliver Hardy’s fat little fingers as they tip and tap, up and down the construction. It is the daintiness that evokes the music box – a stand-alone box that is what it is. This construction is elaborate and bird-like in its lightness. It is a balsawood-like set designed to be precarious. But the effort is present and deliberate, like the ineptitude signalled by fat little fingers twiddling in thin air before a potential collapse of a building held apart by very little at all. However, it is not a music box, whose dainty tune is reassuringly played from a solid construction. Here the very composition threatens the physical structure, as it builds to little shrill crescendos, rattles, vibrations and speedy staccatos.

In its precariousness it harks back to a time many, many years ago. A time when people would gather at the mother of all parties, gather at venues, drink bootleg liquor, and dance round the fire pulling their arms and legs off. A time when houses were made to be knocked over. It harks back to a time when the stock market crashed in America and sales for such machines as the player piano ceased, what with the coming of the gramophone and what-not. It was a time you could hardly get one of those machines up a long flight of stairs somewhere in LA, without it being axed to pieces by it’s ungrateful recipient in a precise dance to the sound of its own playing. A time when music boxes remained elegant like fine snuff and gentlemen flickered before their starched white shirts sprang open in their own faces.

While Gasworks Gallery is a slightly odd affair, with doors leading off to various residencies and a slight draft in the hallway where the work is shown, they have attempted, with a nod to Beaconsfield up the road, to curate the broader background of this work via a night of experimental DJ sets presented by Lumin, and a separate DJ set by Eileen Simpson and Ben White, followed by a performance of a new composition made in collaboration with Thorn. It is a tribute to Thorn that he can move seamlessly back and forth between various contexts of presentation and performance, and be of interest to all parties, but there is no doubt that the machine is doing something very particular on its own here, in the corner of this darkened space, something more akin to his bedroom and the initial impetus that led Thorn to build the work there. It is smart work that compresses and traps both his own music and contemporary expectations of sound in galleries, in an act of near silver-screen choreography. A matter of timing that displaces both category and aspiration, and even, one might say, curatorial aspiration, in subtle and sophisticated comic style.