Interview iii resident Yuri Landman
A summary of Yuri Landmans activities in the past 10 years:
“Before I started building instruments I worked with so called string preparation techniques, connecting toothpicks and other objects with strings to create altered sounds… but I got fed up. This method was too chaotic or messy to reproduce the same tone over and over again. In 2000 (at a relatively old age, 26) I started building my own instruments for myself and after 5 years I got to work with several bands, including Sonic Youth. Then I became known as a sound artist and instrument builder.”
You actually donated your instruments to the bands, that’s remarkable?
Well, it was a good publicity stunt.
When I saw a conversation between you and Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), I also saw a guy meeting his idol.
Ooh yes, the first 10 minutes were very hard and quite painful. Moore is definitely my hero and in real life he is also 6 foot 4 (2 meter) so in the beginning I was nervous and too aware of the situation. But he is a great guy.
But about the publicity stunt part, I grew up in the 80s and “branding” was a major, new thing (for instance Michael Jordan and Nike) so I knew that donating an instrument to Sonic Youth, the biggest American noise band at the time, would have an effect. But off course, giving my instrument to Sonic Youth, the inspiration and foundation of my artwork, was also my hymn to the master himself. Like writers used to write poems to express their admiration for painters.
Like the famous painter Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935)? I watched your presentation at Tedx in which you told about your foldable “lotus-instrument” and how the Sovjet avant-garde artist Malevich inspired you?
Well, I wanted to work with crossing strings in an instrument so that they are connected between eachother. The proto-instrument was foldable, because I have no car or driver’s license and the instrument must fit in a guitar bag. The next step, after experimenting with the foldable instrument, I wanted to string a square model according to the harmonic principles similar to most of my instruments.
You can see a chord as a line, and crossed strings as a field. Developing and understanding the harmonic series in normal strings took me 4 years. I had calculated that applying that same mathematical theory to string fields on an instrument (what I find very interesting, also from my background as a physicist) would take me 16 years. Time I did not have so I had to abandon my rational approach.
In the early 19th century there were Piet Mondriaan and Malevich. Both worked abstract and, above all, Mondriaan painted with mathematical principles. Malevich seemed to do that too, but I am not buying it, there is a “mathematically sauce” poured over it. According to me (and I am filling this in now for Malevich, maybe I am way off) Malevich worked more intuitive, for example placing a square across a circle as a nice contra. Because Malevich worked more intuitive, I decided to use a similar approach. But this Malevich approach was also a form of market-based thinking …
Market-based thinking, in what way?
I gave workshops in art academies. And I got criticism about my teaching, that the pupils might be not creative in my workshops. They must listen to what I do and do what I say, for example where to drill, soldering, sawing etc. They did have a point. I am still very strict in teaching the basic techniques, but the Malevich approach also provides the Art Academy students freedom in the design of the construction, they can be creative in that phase.
‘I want them to they learn that technique’, a statement that seems to contradict with how you began as an instrument builder. You said it yourself: you were a lab technician and very clumsy and you can’t keep time with percussions and don’t play the guitar. So why did you decide to become an instrument builder?
Because the deformed and broken guitars were a problem for me that I had to fix. My first instrument sounded beautiful, but tuning it was impossible and there were still some shortcomings in it. But after 5 years I was getting quite handy in building an instrument.
Did you find it frustrating that you could not play the guitar?
No, not at all. Nowadays I perform with percussion and sometimes I don’t keep time and that can be annoying. I love the sound (timbre) of a string, that’s my main focus. And since my teenage years I have the so called “punk mentality”. Punk is simple, DIY, it’s main goal is to express feeling so you don’t have to be a virtuoso. For example, how Jean-Michel Basquiat painted, that kind of approach, is very appealing to me.
There are a lot of people, mostly non-artists, who look up to an artist, because they’re skilled. Those skills make it harder for someone to take that first, important step….just to begin. Ask anyone to doodle a tree and they feel embarrassed to do so, that’s a bad reaction in my opinion. I am a strong supporter of the punk philosophy so I don’t practise on instruments and most of the time I just tried stuff. But I am doing that for 15 years, so now I am good at what I do. (Dutch: ik doe maar wat en omdat ik dat al 15 jaar doe, kan ik ook wat.)
How is this critique related to you as a teacher?
I work top down as a teacher, very traditional. There appears to be no basis knowledge, for instance the difference between a speed drill or metal drill. I didn’t get that at high school and it seems that it isn’t taught at any art academy either. Maybe it’s because the contemporary (postmodern) spirit of the times. Maybe it’s because the art students are learning to work from a concept – I’m all for that by the way– but there’s nothing wrong with explaining how a saw or drill works, how you should handle it. It’s ok to have the knowhow.
At the age of 26 I realized that I was quite handy, and I could have known this at the age of 17 if I got these basic skills at high school.
But at the same time I don’t see a great role for the painter in this century. Oil painting hasn’t got any purpose nowadays. What Thierry Baudet (Dutch politician) wants is complete bunkum. Oil painting takes too many time and effort to earn a living and the big innovations in this medium were already made in the 17th century. The prime of this medium is over.
Now is the time of sound art, light art or computer art. Those are the tools of this century and of contemporary art. So there’s still craftsmanship, but in other working fields. I contradict myself with the statement – that craftsmanship is gone – because it’s still there, but it moves with the times.
What are your plans for this residency?
In the past I did strings, steel percussion, and workshops. Since 2015 I started to work with engines/motors, one of the reasons was that I wanted to make installations, with automatic or kinetic music. But I wanted it to have a clear rythmic musical structure in the first place, not just ‘sound’. I can’t help it, I feel the urge to work with this structure, blame my “obsessive compulsive lab technician blood”. And with all these projects and my family I realized I didn’t had the time to elaborate this further. That’s why I’m doing this residency, the first in which I’m making autonomous work for myself.
I’m going to make 6 round (helicopter like) instruments. I’ve bought a bunch of ‘geared motors’ and worked out 6 basic ideas. Hopefully I’m making an entire floor of that bunch spinning instruments/motors, with their own speed and features. There’s one with strings, one with a magnet that moves over a pick-up, a kind of “beat machine”.
One other instrument, my most important one actually, is going to be a “spinning carrousel slide projector” with 60 slides. Hopefully, this instrument creates a cross-fertilisation. I’ve met artists from Berlin and Milan, and they are making images for the slideprojector. It’s my goal to make different expositions with this instrument, so more artists can make art for the slide projector and I think the result will be so much better than if I did this alone.
You always seem to think about how your work can be used by another musician or artist?
I’ve never had any grant before this, so maybe that’s why. In the past I owned a comic bookstore in Veenendaal and I did graphic design for a while so I got accustomed with a commercial way of thinking and used different strategies to sell my work. In the art world “commerce” is a sensitive subject. But to me it’s necessary, it’s just the way I am: an entrepreneur, a businessman. Making an autonomous work is step 1, but step 2 is thinking about how to put it on the market.
You don’t have a problem with people duplicating/replicating your work?
Well, I wish them all the best ;). First of all, if I publish something, it’s mine. And if someone wants to be a copycat… then he or she is already doomed. Patent is something for the capitalists and in the arts it doesn’t make any sense. I like to think in terms of community art. 500 people can do the same, but if you are the first then you are the pioneer and stay the most important one. They are so many bands who copy Nirvana – and actually some bands came very close sound wise – but eventually you just want to hear Nevermind (album Nirvana).
But sometimes, the next generation of replicates is just as (or even better) good. A guy in Australia, he owns this company called New Complexity, builds similar “guitarhybrids” as I did in 2008. His instruments are actually more accurate, so I’m glad he’s developing new niche instruments. I bought a part from him and I consider him as totally equal and likeminded. Eventually art is mere evolution.