Belgian electronic composer, field recorder, tape manipulator and visual artist Floris Vanhoof made an ambitious book and record with a title that could sound like a contradiction: ‘The Fluid Computer’.
Why is your new album called ‘The Fluid Computer’? Because a computer is not fluid, is it.
The word ‘computer’ usually refers to an electronic digital device. In the book ‘The Pattern on the Stone’ by inventor W. Daniel Hillis, I learned about the existence of computers through which water flows instead of electrons. This ‘fluid computer’ serves as a source of inspiration for me to destroy the fixed idea of what a computer is.
When I think of ‘computer music’, I think of things like Mark Fell or Russell Haswell, laptop music. But that’s not what you see as ‘computer music’, I guess.
When I think of ‘computer music’ I automatically think of the League of Automatic Music Composers. Often I wake up with their music in my head and know it’s going to be a gorgeous day.
Why did you edit it into two side long tracks?
20 minutes is a really nice attention span. It allows the mind to wander off, which is an interesting exercise in the smartphone era. This is the timing for all my pieces on records and for a lot of my concerts. My next record, which I’m finishing in the summer, will have shorter “songs” though.
On previous LPs (the one on Kraak and the one on Ultra Eczema), you had one side with electronic music and one side with electronics and field recordings. Why did you mix things up on this record?
There’s less contrast indeed between both tracks than on previous records. But side A and side B are still different pieces. Side A is the lighter side, with a field-recorded orchestra, laughter, organ sounds, and electronics. Side B has more tension, with tape-processed recordings of a flipped-over grand piano, huge orchestral gong, and electronic circuits going over the edge.
Why did you work for four years on this album?
This may sound weird, but for a while I thought I had said everything I could say on the previous records. After the last record, I plunged into the exciting new world of making exhibitions, which didn’t help to get a mix ready. Since I play music almost every day, I have hours and hours of recordings that take longer and longer to listen to and edit. Processing some recordings through four stereo 1/4 inch tape machines and being able to take a few months in my studio set the whole thing in movement and the pieces fell together.
“I do hear echoes of whirring and buzzing sounds when rewinding and fast-forwarding in my head.”
I remember seeing you live for the first time: you were hanging upside-down on a trapezium, playing an amplified tennis racket. Can you compare Floris from then with the Floris from now?
That must be over ten years ago. The Electric Tennis Racket was simpler than the musical circuits I play now, but it was also a homemade instrument. I would still call my electronics primitive, since most are based on seventies technology.
I lived in Brussels back then, experimenting with sound and expanded cinema performances. After moving to Ghent and Antwerp, I started spending more time making installations. The records I made could be the best time capsules for comparing the two. And even though “the human memory that operates as a tape recorder” is a popular myth, I do hear echoes of whirring and buzzing sounds when rewinding and fast-forwarding in my head.
Like someone like Frank Hurricane, during your concerts, you talk as much as you play, which I like. But why do you do that, explaining yourself, telling what you do, how you it?
People who know me know that after one strong coffee, I just cannot stop talking. I’m doing these introductions partly to grab everyone’s attention and to inform the crowd that the show is starting, but mostly I do them for my own focus. If I don’t do them, I only notice halfway through the show that I’m actually performing. That’s an awkward feeling. And since I often experiment, it helps to talk about the concept. Trying to do a funny introduction before serious music or vise versa is also worthwhile.
A few years ago, I tuned in on a Dutch night radio station. The announcer said “Welcome to our program, for the next seven hours we’re going to listen to a piece by Roland Kayn”. It was a mind-blowing piece, and an introduction I adapted a few times during my New-Zealand tour.
Today, I’m practising for Friday’s concert at Les Ateliers Claus, and it’s always fun to do an introduction about the driving force of that venue in one of Brussels’ many languages: “Mein name ist Frans Claus, ich bin Kein Katze un auch kein Maus” and “Frans zei Frans tegen Frans in ‘t Frans is Frans in ‘t Frans ook Frans? Nee zei Frans tegen Frans in ‘t Frans, Frans is in ‘t Frans François”.
Why do you want to combine the audio with the visual?
It’s a joy to move freely between any number of forms. “A composer is a dead man unless he composes for all the media and for his world”, fluxus artist Dick Higgins wrote in his Statement on Intermedia. And there’s a lot of waves in the world to compose with: see here.
Why did the record need a photo book?
I wanted to make a multi-media edition, an alternative to the computer most of us are staring at right now.
One can see my new release as a record with a photo book or as a photo book with a record. How the pictures in the book and the music on the vinyl are connected is left to the imagination of the audience.
The book and record do have their size in common. It’s pretty thin but the imagery is lush and the 30cm by 30cm size is large compared to other photo books.
I used to project these double-exposed slides at my concerts. After switching to mostly 16mm film projections at shows, I kept making slides but only showed them at my birthday parties. I have the greatest times making these pictures like an imaginary journey.
Other than with electronic sound, slide film is my favorite way to mix colors.
– Joeri Bruyninckx
Headline photo: © Floris Vanhoof live (Les Urbaines, Lausanne)