Almost ten years ago this August, musician, instrument maker and by now dear friend Tom Richards played a minimal electronic music set to close ‘Narcissus Trance’ an exhibition I co-curated with Paul Purgas at E:vent Gallery, a since defunct off-space in Bethnal Green, and Spike Island in Bristol. The term Narcissus Trance coined by Marshall McLuhan in the 1970s felt prescient to the unquestioned take-up of digital technology amongst contemporary audiences; letting presets overwhelm any kind of creative, one-on-one engagement with the media. What Richards himself describes as the ‘backwards examination of technological progress’ within his practice, celebrating the more sculptural aspects of its hardware histories (that are nothing to do with AI or code), offers a way out of the trance. And now, continuing on from the structuralist premise of ‘Narcissus Trance’, Flatness joins in an investigation into alternative technological modes and insights; how artists are activating the medium with their messages.
At the time of the original performance Richards was moving away from producing sonic sculptures and installation works to performing more regularly with ‘musical instruments’ of his own design: in this instance a pair of dubplates inscribed with closed loops of sine waves, a pair of turntables and a hand-made sequencer, which simply switched the audio signals on and off rhythmically, creating a sparse, intense sound.
Since 2010 Richards’ practice has moved almost entirely into performing and recording electronic music using his own hand-built sequencers, synthesisers and other sonic accoutrements. His performances are always improvised around the tech which, through a broad choice of knobs and switches privileges chance patterns and feedback as part of this very special human/ machine collaboration. The sounds coaxed out of these austere-looking aluminium boxes can be warm and animate as well as heavy and industrial.
For this web performance for Flatness Richards returns to the same equipment he used during that early performance, and develops from there – utilising more vinyl records and other sounds sources to build the performance into a kind of past/ present hybrid of his musical practice.
Tom Richards is a musician, sound designer, artist, researcher and instrument maker, working in London UK. He has been working between sonic art, sculpture, film and music since graduating with an MA in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art in 2004. Richards has built his own idiosyncratic modular electronic music system, with which he creates slowly evolving and heavily textured polyrhythmic improvisations. He has performed and exhibited widely in the UK, as well as internationally in the US, Brazil, Germany, Peru, Singapore, Hungary, Japan and Sweden.
Selected works and live performances have taken place at Tate Britain, Fabric, Barbican, The Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Science Museum, Spike Island, Cafe Oto, MK Gallery, Focal Point, and Camden Arts Centre.
In 2018 he completed his PhD (Goldsmiths/Science Museum) on the work of Daphne Oram: electronic music pioneer, and founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. This research included the construction of Oram’s unrealised Mini Oramics synthesizer design (Circa 1975), a project that has since gained worldwide attention.
He is represented by Nonclassical.