Mircea Florian, a Rebel Ahead of His Time

Written By:

Laura Marin

Published:

August 16, 2017

1. The need of a timber color

Mircea Florian, also known as Florian din Transilvania, M. A. N. Florian or FloriMAN, is a Romanian multi-instrumentalist musician, multimedia artist and computer scientist. Here's an interview on how the communist regime influenced creation, what ‘underground’ meant back then ('70s and '80s) and what were the drugs, how you could find synths and how performances were happening.

What did electronic music mean for your youth?

As it started, not just here, but everywhere in the world, this music did not resemble much with what is today called electronic music – first of all because in the beginning there wasn’t any electronic music for wide consumption. There’s also a problem with labeling – many terms used to name new technologies or artistic orientations are changing their coverage area. Look, even folk music – it meant and it was something completely different than what you can hear today. But getting back – when I started dealing with electronic music (more seriously from 1968-69), it didn’t have anything to do with, let’s say, the beat, I mean it wasn’t necessarily danceable. Of course, it had it’s inherent rhythms – there is no music without rhythm, but these didn’t make the centre of gravity. Electronic music was by definition experimental, the research was towards formality, an esthetic adapted to the new media; but the timbre zone was explored also: an endeavor made with instruments that had just been born, with musicians and composers that were invited to experiment on them, to search, to see what can be done. The instruments of electronic music looked like the technology of those times.

It was like when the piano was invented, piano forte, a hyper-revolutionary instrument at that time, a peak of technology, with a history spanning over centuries: tensely stretched strings, metal frames – made of bronze or later, cast iron, sounding boards very precisely calculated, the whole keyboard was like jewelry: you had to adjust it, each key had to have the same balance, it was really a masterpiece, a phenomenal peak of technology. And on that instrument the artists added talent and creativity and made it sound ”natural”, absolutely indispensable in the composers environment. The same happened with electronic music.

What opened the way for this kind of sound for you?

In the beginning, the first attempts were with generators that didn’t even have keyboard. It was an engineer’s idea – I was involved in this story too, I glued some diodes and transistors together and we created – I was 15-16 at that time - a sound generator that was not controlled by a keyboard. You could only control sounds with potentiometers. Later, I also made a small keyboard, but it turned out to be just a pentatonic instrument. I was using, among others, the drawing I had found in magazines and popular science books of the 60’s, that would teach you how to make devices like this in your own small skillful hands - electrician lab; it was tempting: the instruments sounded very different and like now, I was very interested in sonorities and timbres. I’ll draw another parallel like the one earlier between music history and organology, but this time with visual arts: at one point, in the arts certain new colors have emerged ( resulted through the efforts of researchers in chemical laboratories), like the tempera, or later the acrylics, that would open new perspectives in the possibilities of classic paint techniques, like oils. This is what electronic instruments do, first of all they bring color. This is actually what determined me to get closer to electronic: the need of a timbre color. And that’s how it all started.

Society has many aspects. Even the relationship between two people sitting under a tree loving each other or feeling good or talking, is a subject for me; but many themes come from the great sadness of this moment.

2. Computers vs Instruments

What’s the difference between computer music then and now?

Computer music was also something different than what is understood today. Today you say computer music but it’s really nothing else than using some software that helps you more or less to assemble, to edit music. Back then it was something else, everybody was trying to discover and simulate the mechanisms of creation – and this with the help of computing. What is called today `computer music` has little in common with the initial concepts, for instance with those defined by the researchers of the time –an example is a piece known as Suita Illiacă, made by Lejaren Hiller, using a main-frame computer at the Illinois University, that was nothing else than a string quartet that was supposed to be played by acoustic instruments, and obviously, it sounded very natural, acoustic…

The experiments and studies of the beginning are still being continued, there still are beautiful freaks out there that do this in various research centers, at IRCAM Paris (Institute for Music/Acoustic Research & Coordination) or at HfM-ES Koln, for example. To me, this path seems smarter than the present one. The works of today should be named, in the best case, computer assisted music production. This would be the correct title, because otherwise it is understood that the computer would do something - but it doesn’t do anything. It is a tool, a pen like all the others. Well, maybe a bit more sophisticated…

What came out of the computer the first time?

At that time it was a thing written on paper – the computer didn’t have any audio output, neither audio speakers – there was something beeping there from time to time, but only if there was some damage or trouble. There wasn’t any computer hardware that had to do with music. What I produced back then was really a very long print-out, about 70 centimeters wide and 10 to 12 meters long, that I had to copy to a musical staff because on the print there were elements that defined musical value. They had to be written on score. I made about 14 works of this kind, over several years, between 1972 and 1980.

What were they played on ?

One was called “Nicodim and the hidden semantron“, a piece for percussion - it came out really good. I wrote other pieces for harmonium (afterwards transcribed for organ), for string quartets, for different sets of acoustic instruments and later synthetics.

What synthesizer were you using and how much did it cost at that time?

One of them was 1800 Deutsche Marks. It was an analog synth that I still use today, a very, very, very good Korg MS20. I also had a MS10, a Korg VCF-subtractive/filterbox, a Wasp, a Korg Poly800, I had some Rolands and Crumer, a very special chords synthesizer, and many others yet. I also had a big organ, a Yamaha with pedalboard and rotating speakers type Leslie, a huge monster that we could hardly move. I think we only took it twice to the Palace Hall for concerts and it raised big problems when it came to moving it. I’ve also had a set of sound processors, especially from Electroharmonix

At one point I used a synthesizer to produce a drum sound, of synthetic snare drum, I needed that sound of an electric snare-drum. So I put a microphone into a synthesizer that acted as a trigger. It was somehow using the microphone, but it was filtered. I managed to do this with a lot of dexterity and engineering. If you saw how it looked, you’d freeze. The drummer, Doru Istudor, had besides the normal drum kit, a book with big thick covers next to him, on a chair. Inside it was the microphone, and he would kick the book’s covers: tam-taram, tam-dum-du-du, ciii-ci… Doru Istudor is a very good drummer, he is now playing with his own band, MS. He lives in Canada, but comes here quite often. So this is how it was with the equipment and improvisation, there was room for a lot of technical improvisation.

Did you have problems with the instruments?

There were problems when we would get some money and want to change them. I wanted to avoid potential troubles and I asked an acquaintance, a foreign student, to do it. It was a lot of money, I remember for one of the synths I paid the price of a car. I gave him the money, and he went and changed them at the foreign students in the Grozăvești Hostels…When he came back with the money I didn’t even touch it, I gave it straight to my friend that was bringing the equipment. It was known that there were instruments in the country, that they would somehow circulate, there was even a market for that kind of equipment. The situation was tolerated. There were musicians that were playing abroad, on ships for instance – they would bring musical instruments – some of them ordered – when they returned home. It wasn’t all so tightly closed. It couldn’t even be done because there was always a constant traffic, a trade of instruments. My guitarist bought his guitar from another guitarist…Actually, in the same time, a guileful thing was happening – they would make you feel guilty so that they could hook you: this was their strongest weapon - making you understand that if you open your mouth to someone, they will come and tell you: we know you’ve exchanged money, that you have these instruments you couldn’t have purchased without communicating with foreigners. You weren’t convicted, you didn’t have to do anything, but you were culpable and they could harm you if they wanted to. They would keep you under pressure, in a miserable frenzy.

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3. Psychedelic folk

How did the communist regime influence you?

The regime was repressive, and I was opposing it. Even more, I’ll go as far as saying that if it wasn’t for our songs, the rattle of the overthrow in December would have definitely sounded different. Maybe some songs would not have been so poetic. It’s a paradox. You had to hide, to make the meaning understandable through a recoil – for this you would idealize, poetize, introduce metaphors and many other methods as well.

What reached in from the hippie zone?

It was reaching quite a lot. It was a paradox, because the country was living pretty much in isolation, but it wasn’t completely impenetrable. Many things were getting in, brought in the most various ways. Actually, commerce, circulation was everything. I remember that if a disc had come out, fresh on the West market – no more than a week would have passed until it had gotten to Romania too, brought by a sailor or an acquaintance returning from “abroad”, or who knows how…The disc was copied crazy fast, with no pause, many times…It was like…a shivering thing and the people were hearing very fast about the new releases – be it books, ideas, fashion, art or music. They were copied on magnetic tape recorders and that’s it, you’d have them. Others were hand-copying all the texts on the covers. There was a system in which the people that were interested were very rooted in this line of business and they knew what it was about. Of course, there were many others that didn’t know what all this was about and this is where the most unpleasantly surprising thing was hidden: the repressive system of the Miliția Police, the propaganda system had succeeded in making regular people, the “unenlightened” as I would call them, turn very eagerly against appearances. If, for example, they would see you on the street with long hair, it was ruthless. Many friends of mine had their hair cut in broad daylight on the street. Even if it was a minor thing, you were literary chased and hunt down. The Miliția at one point had obtained the right to chop, on the street, ladies skirts if they were too short, or trousers, if they were flared. This was happening around mid 70s, right after our “beloved ruler’s” return from China and Korea, where he learned only nonsense.

If you were persecuted on the street, where could you go?

At parties. Only there you could enjoy yourself. The parties were only in apartments. All the neighbors had young children themselves, and they felt it was hard – every youngster wants to communicate, to socialize. I don’t remember having any scandals. The Miliția would usually come if it was called, but hardly anyone did. I don’t have memories of problems at a party. Surely, there were problems if you got drunk. Let’s not forget that the strongest, most common drug in Romania was and still is alcohol. Nobody finds it responsible for anything.

What inspires you now?

As always, society inspires me. Actually, I think this is the only source that can inspire an artist. But society has many aspects. Even the relationship between two people sitting under a tree loving each other or feeling good or talking, is a subject for me; but many themes come from the great sadness of this moment.

What is psychedelic folk ?

I don’t know exactly, I just have a assumption…Labeling various branches was and remains a problem. Not a day goes by that a new thing doesn’t appear, born from the combination of other two, or three or four older things. Once in a while a new revolutionary idea appears. We will always confront the problem of naming, labeling and with the question: What should we call this thing?

To the earlier question I can only answer this: I didn’t like the name folk because it was borrowed from a culture I appreciated very much, and still do, but this is not the point. From the beginning I tried to connect archaic elements with innovative layers, some of them even technical. I was trying to distinguish underground layers that existed in our culture - Thank God, they existed because we have a millenary culture.

I was trying to combine poetry with music. And so it is that, still, I once wanted to break “the beauty” and I said: I want to make something that will be called Melopoia. To me it seemed like an appropriate name, like it had age, it made you think of Ancient Greece. I thought that what was born in the classic Ancient Greek world, especially the concepts described by Plato, are still very important nowadays. I was reading a pseudo-Plutarch and I realized that if I was to connect to something it would rather be the ancient Greek world, the world of Melopoia, instead of this, let’s say, history devoid formula, that was the American folk. Again, I enormously like American folk-music, for me it remains the path that drawn me towards sung poetry. It’s absolutely fine, but it’s something else.

As far as the psychedelic term goes: it also comes from the ancient Greek language, and is the combination between ψυχή (psyche) which means “soul” and δήλος (delos) which means “manifest”.

A psychedelic experience is characterized by perceiving some aspects, previously unknown, of the own mind, or by exuberant creative states that came out of perceiving a real liberation from ordinary chains. Psychedelic states are a series of experiences born out of sensory deprivation, as well as the consumption of psychedelic substances. These experiences include hallucinations, changes in perception, synesthesia, mystical states, and other things.

From this combination of terms the phrase “psychedelic folk” was born – I think it refers to a music (and a kind of poetry) that induced similar psychedelic states to the listeners – especially during the hippie movement. The cultural and sociological movement also brought this “touristic” formula of psychedelia, influenced, of course, by drugs and a very revolutionary tendency of the youngsters of that time. Timothy Leary, who was largely responsible for making the term psychedelic popular, was a well-known supporter of hallucinogen drug use. My song “The one (who) controls the one (who) abandons” is about him.

4. An illusion

Photo credits: Camil Dumitrescu
Photo credits: Camil Dumitrescu

What does performance mean?

For me it’s a representation in which you try to play roles. The most normal singer, for example, Leonard Cohen, plays a role too. He plays the role of Leonard Cohen. More important is to keep adding roles, to make them theatrical. We are all playing ourselves, but I like to add the dramatic touch to the presence. From that moment we can’t only talk about delivering a song, but about a performance.

You have projects with many artists. Is it more difficult to work alone?

I can still do most of the things by myself but working with people is a challenge. Truth is I rarely dislike going down through the audience members, so that I can grab them into the howls of creation, so that they’re not simple receivers. I very much like the concept of interactivity, interaction, where everybody is saying something, and that gives birth to something distinct and beautiful.

Do you think you were born too soon?

That’s an illusion, it would be a much too big ego. I was born at the right time. The bad thing is that the world isn’t that simple (in fact, that’s the charm), you can’t get along well with everybody…but that’s the way it should be! I can’t complain. I was born at the right time.

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This article is published under Creative Commons license, on Fresh Good Minimal blog..
Translated from Romanian by Laura Marin
Photo credits: Camil Dumitrescu Photography

About the Author

Laura Marin

The Attic Editor, caretaker of Outernation Days festival in Bucharest

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