THE Brighton-based artist talks about his unique hand-built “machine”, which combines sound, light and movement.

IT sounds slightly odd to hear a man talk about a machine like a long-term partner, but then you probably would form an emotional attachment to something you created and have spent over a decade with. “It’s been in my life forever,” says Felix Thorn of his multi-faceted device, exaggerating for effect. “It can be a pain in the a*** keeping it maintained but when it breaks I rebuild it with improvements.” If only real-life relationships always worked that way.

Thorn, who was raised just outside Brighton and sculpted his art at university in London, brought his project to the Brighton Festival in 2013. He’s also displayed it at the Southbank Centre, British Library and the Barbican. He’s just finished a residency at ACCA in which he used the University of Sussex’s resources to further develop his work (he has to go back and “repair some bits” before he showcases the machine alongside electronic music duo Plaid in ten days). In another life, Thorn worked on an advertising campaign for Moleskin and made a robot for Sky.

The artist admits he is often at a loss to describe his invention, but settles for a “microcosm of an extreme rave but much smaller, with all the lights”. “My influences are quite crazy electronica musicians,” he adds. To break it down, the process of Felix’s machine starts with him programming sounds into the mechanism (after he’s built it, of course – it’s always expanding and morphing). The sounds then run through the device, triggering various switches which are all wired up to motors. Once these motors are activated, the lights start flashing and different parts begin whirring.

“Every sound, no matter how insignificant it is, has a reaction in either visuals or movement,” says Thorn. “It’s all fixed beforehand – even the colours. The only thing that I update is the power of it; it’s nice to see it change from tiny details to a sensory overload.” The process works in two ways; either the appearance of the machine itself informs the music Thorn writes, or he has to create a new part to facilitate the sounds he wants to make. Either way, it’s been getting bigger and bigger over the past ten years.

“I did have a huge harmonium on the machine at one point but I had to burn it because it put other parts out of tune,” says Thorn. The artist has been known to use household items and broken instruments in his invention, partly out of the principle of recycling and partly out of necessity. "I actually find the limitation quite helpful, whereas others have a whole world of sounds at their fingertips on their laptops.”

A description of Felix’s machine on the Tate Modern website – another esteemed venue he’s displayed at – says his project does “not intend to match human potential. Instead, [they] exist to test the advantages of mechanical instruments alone.” That being so, how does Thorn think his project enables simple human connection?

“Because of the physical nature of the instruments, there is an unpredictability and a human element,” he says. “The humidity in the room might tighten a drum skin, for instance.” He adds that audiences can’t help but personify the various components of his invention.

“It’s just a case of people looking at a moving object and saying ‘that would look funny if it had googly eyes on it’.” Going forward Thorn wants to explore other musical avenues but it seems he can’t stop nuturing his beloved creation.

“I actually made a new structure for the machine while I was at ACCA.”

Felix's Machines and Plaid, Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, University of Sussex, Tuesday, September 19. For more information visit