Photos by Matthijs Diederiks
A musician and visual artist in equal measure, TCF’s work cannot be meaningfully divided across mediums. His experiments in sound and vision are part and parcel of the same aesthetic enterprise, but it’s one which teems with creative diversity. The majority of his work centres on complex systems and the question of what constitutes ‘us’ in relation to technology. Rather than providing a clear demarcation, TCF illustrates the impossibility of disentangling the two. He employs novel production techniques (spectrograms, algorithms, coding) to exhibit personal details to his audience: passport details, credit card information and, in his latest project, his own genome. Even his musical biography is somewhat peculiar — early productions can be traced back to Craxxxmurf: an abandoned moniker under which he produced twisted R’n’B mash-ups.
When we meet he has just finished his soundcheck at TodaysArt festival in The Hague. He’s told the sound engineers that he’ll need to be given time warnings for when his set is supposed to finish. “I’ll be fully in the zone. I probably won’t notice the time’’. It doesn’t take long to realise this is how he approaches most things: he has an obsessive personality. At his hotel room, he takes out a travelling tea kit and advised me that drinking tea that is too hot can lead to cancer. “I just read a report on it”, he tells me. “I’m obsessed with facts. I spend all my time reading science reports. I don’t watch films, they don’t give me enough information.” Holdhus seems to have one of those minds that simply can’t sit still. “I’ve tried taking a holiday”, he explains, “but I just got out my computer before too long”.
The acronymised alias TCF stands for a paradoxical mantra: The Contemporary Future. It’s difficult to refer to TCF’s ‘real name’ since it is frequently altered on legal documents. In an interview with Fader, he revealed that the name on his passport was an anagram of Lars ‘the contemporary future’ Holdhus: Aedrhlsomrs Othryutupt Lauecehrofn. Perhaps unsurprising then, that TCF is not much of a public figure. Even the marketing of his own work is seemingly anti-public. Take a look, for example, at any one of his titles, spelled out in incomprehensible streams of code. These sequences might mean something intimate and personal, but we cannot say. This is the ambiguity that makes TCF’s work compelling. There is a perpetual feeling that something immensely private is being communicated, but in a language impossible to decipher. He even designed a chat-bot that responds to commands in mystifying numerical code and images. Yet despite a resistance to the public eye, today TCF seems to be looking for some kind of spiritual reset. “I’m trying a new approach” he tells us, “that’s why I said yes to this…”
You were speaking earlier today about decentralising data and power distribution. How does that feed into your work and interests?
A lot of my artistic and musical based practice is about the relation between chaotic structures and centralised power. I’m interested in how they interact and where one can place oneself within it. Cryptology has obvious connection to power. It is about power, the essence of it is power, or protection against power, a negation of power… I always consider my use of encryption as a sort of shield against power, but it’s also a kind of gaining power. I create my own world and place it in the public realm, but no one can get full access to it apart from me. You create this kind of container that’s existing in society, but it’s not fully integrated. I guess my interest is in creating states with more distributed power. I mean, I think that’s one of the contributions that one tries to achieve. The more you get into it though, the less you believe it, I think.
Are you still into it?
I don’t know anymore.
Do you think at the start you were trying to gain power?
No, it was more research; how you can move around society and build this world that sometimes interacts with society. A coping mechanism. Most of my interests are so narrow, so niche, so I don’t expect people to have the same passion for it. Like tea. I think it’s nice to serve people tea but I don’t expect them to be like ‘Oh, OK!’ and then go home and read five books about it.
Would it be fair to say you’re more interested in things at the periphery of music?
Maybe I’m not a musician. Maybe I finally have to realise I’m not a musician. I’m someone who learned the system of music and I found it interesting for a while, but I don’t really see it developing, I’ve lost interest in it. I struggle with my interest with music, it’s probably the reason why I’ve considered quitting music so many times and still consider quitting everyday because I just don’t see the point.
Why is that?
There’s not much technological development in music, since the computer arrived, I would argue. But people would say I’m wrong. You can record this in that way and then it’s just a question of how you compose it together, which doesn’t really interest me because the potential was in the computer already. I think my interest is computers, not the music that comes out of them. I started by generating these funny algorithms which would generate thousands of possibilities. I set it for a whole night, for example, and it would generate 14,000 kick drums. What do I do with 14,000 kick drums?
What’s your interest in data? You use a lot of personal data in your work.
My relationship to data is a very strange one I think, but I don’t know if you can really have a ‘relation’ to data. In my latest project I went to Hong Kong to sequence my DNA and I will publish the entire reading of it so everyone can download it and do what you want with it. You know how every composer’s dream is to think ‘oh now I made some really great music’, but this is something that I cannot really control. I can control the publishing of it, but I cannot control what people will find in it. I like it as the self portrait that nobody can control, not even myself. If science developed further they might find more in my DNA that I didn’t know was there and that would change your idea of me. I like that it might affect my life in way that I’m not aware of. It’s not music, but my interest is not music in that way. My interest I think is in the feedback you get in this world, by strategically placing things in the world. So I place this DNA here for you, and you choose your actions.
Do you ever think about how you can make a performance or presentation more in line with your work?
These things always have to be very staged, and then I don’t like them anymore. Early on, I started to get into whether I could get a virus and just play music on people’s computers but it would be imaginary, you couldn’t measure it — you wouldn’t know their reaction or feedback — which is part of the fun. Like when I invoice people, my PDFs have sound, but I’ve never heard anything back, so I don’t know if it’s ever really happened.
It’s interesting because your work is very niche. Is it ever problematic when people are not informed about your practice?
In general, lots of people comment on the quality of the sound being not so good. Lo-fi digital is something that people can’t handle. Like ‘ah, this sounds bad, 192kbps, why don’t you give me a wav?’ I’ve always been fascinated by that. That’s how the world looks to me, it doesn’t look like a shiny wav or flac. So for me it never made sense to present the world in that way. I imagined my own death (I have a weird relation to death, I spend a lot of time imagining it in funny ways) and one thing I imagined was that people would remember me as a low quality mp3 file. It would be all kind of crackly and ugly. That’s what you would remember me as, and I think that’s beautiful. That sort of weird vision is something that I’ve brought into my music and exploited to the max, because I think it’s interesting, but people completely misunderstand that idea. If you’re this hi-fi guy or technophile who just bought these really expensive speakers, then to you it just sounds crap. If you look a little deeper at my practice, it’s about that side of the world: digital artefacts crashing. Not in the usual harsh brutal way, but in strange ways. It adds to sound but maybe not in ways people want to listen to. Another communication problem.
You’ve been advocating for a user centric system when it comes to music archiving, sharing etc. Is the future of music via the blockchain?
I see the need for those things but I’ve already given up on the idea. I feel as though music is stuck in technology. I think we need to either alter ourselves or we have to allow other things the capacity to listen to music, like machines. If we alter ourselves I think music would take a drastic turn, because so much is built on our ears and brains, and the limitations of our bodies. We could also start to make music for machines, or for other species. Imagine: clubs would be built differently, everything in society would be different, it’s just these parameters that we’ve exhausted.
Computers interpret music very different from us and so do animals. There is this prevailing notion that since we are humans and we have emotions, we should only care about that. I think it’s very anthropocentric. I understand that humans make music for humans, but I still think it’s limited in its scope and its scale. If we were to explore music in the fullest sense, I don’t know if we would still call it music. I mean, maybe it is just ‘sound’. For me, it doesn’t really matter if it’s sound or music. It’s one thing. I think our brains are constructed to create these narratives all the time, which I think is really boring. If sound is physical, why do we focus on listening to it? Why don’t we look at it, feel it. What I am doing, and people like me are doing, there’s not really much economy for this, so there won’t be so many people involved in developing it, so recently I’ve been looking into other businesses.
What sort of other business?
Like finance. It’s way more interesting! People might call me a douchebag for saying that, but I really don’t care anymore. When I look on Facebook and there’s some event referring to spectral music as a new trend… a ‘new’ trend? I just think, well, what am I doing? And that’s really sad. Sad for me. It’s not like I look down on all the musicians out there, I’m nothing better! What I created was very personal, and maybe that made it unique, but I don’t think it had much technological advancement. I used what was there and I just tried to find things that hadn’t been fully explored yet. That’s what I’m currently working on, bringing those things together with art.
Is that how you got interested in A.I?
I think we are so far away from A.I. in terms of music. Recently, someone published this new song which was like a Beatles rip-off, made by an A.I. It was like the first song made by an A.I. but because it was just a pop-song sung by humans, it just sounded like a bad Beatles song. I mean, seriously? An A.I. could create very interesting art, but no one would be interested, we want human. It’s just mimicking, why do you need computers to do that? It’s not utilising their potential at all. You create really complex systems to mimic things like this? Why? No one would really have an interest in the other results, which is why it’s not happening.
So do you seriously consider dropping music forever?
That’s my current struggle, which is sad because I love what I’m doing, but I don’t see the economical sense. You either compromise and do things people will appreciate, or you do things you like to do, or you quit. I’m seriously trying here, but nothing is working. I feel really lost. Now I’ve said I will do a bunch of stuff, like this series for PAN, if that doesn’t work, then I’ll do something else. Why expend so much time and money? Do you know how much money it costs to sequence your DNA? In Europe, 10’000€. And I’m publishing this for free. This sort of project is a money drain. I could choose to not do this sort of project, but it’s my interest, it’s really my passion, but now I can’t see that it can come to anything.
What about outside of music and work?
I’m not a very social person. I can spend lots of time on my own just doing stuff that I like. I have a lot of friends, and I meet with people once in awhile. But I could spend my whole time working, I wish I could, and one day I will. I tell myself ‘you just need to keep working’. But we’re in the worst time in history to do that, so then I’m like, no I should just find some other thing and just do this as a hobby. But I wouldn’t. I would just go straight into this other thing and disappear into it.
I think for people around me it can be difficult. I know it is. I mean my friends know me and can appreciate this, but I think I am just not corresponding much with that side of society. I would just rather spend time with people and talk about specific subjects. If I meet with people it’s for a reason. I don’t ‘hang out’. I drink tea. I try and hang out, but I always fail. It’s a constant struggle because you do have to adapt to your surroundings. I could adapt if I could see the purpose, but I don’t see one there.
You’re not wearing blue trousers… and I had it in my head you only wore blue?
Yeah, but then I went shopping with my mother. I’m not a functional person in many ways. She got me to try these on and I was like, come on, I’m not going to wear these… and then I tried them on, and I was like, “hmmm… pretty good”. I think a lot of people deal with that sort of scenario but not many people are open about it. The problem is that someone has to take care of you at some point. I don’t want to rely on other people taking care of me.
I think similar people to me are often drawn together, or they end up back at home with their parents. Which is OK. I would be fine if someone would just pay my bills. I wouldn’t have a problem being maintained by others to just do what I do now. Maybe I should just get a normal job and then get a hobby. Music wouldn’t be a hobby. I think I want to do Niwaki, which is where you trim Japanese garden trees to look like large scale bonsai. I want to move to the countryside somewhere, but I would need a living. That’s my biggest problem at the moment. If I find that, I will move, but again I would get stuck there working my whole life on this garden. It would probably be beautiful, but it won’t generate any income. I wouldn’t recommend this life.
TCF will be performing a new project on DNA and identity at the ICA on October 5th. Tickets can be bought here.