Multidisciplinary artist Russo is the latest visionary to come out of the Valcrond Video fold led by synaesthetic video mulch musician Luke Wyatt (aka Torn Hawk). While Torn Hawk makes hypnotic bleary, hypnotic compositions set to tape and collages of long-forgotten VHS footage, Russo produces tracks that feel a little more sharp-focussed, but work firmly on the sensory borderline between texture and sound. In particular, his new Wild Metals EP creates lush soundscapes that capture the sensation of the ubiquitous black plastic that forms the basis of so many electronics of the not-so-distant past (walkmen, remote controls, car interiors) as well as fetishes of the present.
More than simply the sheen of these objects, Russo’s music captures the human interface between manmade textures and bodily life; think of a firmly sealed lid being lifted, headphones being plugged into ears, plastic running along skin. His video for “Purple Earth” uses reclaimed VHS clips full of awkwardness - like pixellated faces, lovers gazing into the distance full of boredom and hands hitting black plastic keys out of time with the music - to build a creeping sense of that uncanny, not-quite-human distance created by the objects around us, and the humanity that breaks through them. On the whole it’s an aesthetic that runs along the boundary between two worlds, captured stunningly in the artwork for the Wild Metals EP (where green lustre blooms around a metal grid) and that breathes through the spacious swirl of the production, as emotionally gripping as it is texturally weird.
Stream the whole EP exclusively on Dazed, and read on to dig deeper into Russo’s world, including his relationship with Torn Hawk and his VHS hoarding.
Dazed: How did you first meet Torn Hawk and get involved with Valcrond Video?
Russo: Luke and I share a pretty tight knit circle of friends. A few years ago, I began spending more time with them and eventually Luke and I found ourselves maniacally bouncing ideas like a couple execs on the racquetball court. As far as VV goes: Wild Metals began taking shape around the same time Luke began thinking about extending the label beyond his own work.
Wild Metals is said to evoke a particular black plastic texture that resonates with your childhood memories. Could you go into any more detail about this - where would you find it and what does it evoke?
Russo: With regard to the childhood thing - today as a society we're moving to miniaturize everything. I feel there's a kind of alienation from physical objects beginning to form. As a child, I remember storing things in little Panton-era plastic containers as a kid and the sound that they made opening and closing was elemental, substantial. As we progress more into the digital world there's less and less of this. That's not to naysay progress, but I think by having these sounds influence my music I'm creating some sort of artifact of that beauty, or maybe an artifact of the alienation itself. The black plastic in particular came very into fashion at some point starting in the late 1980s-- stereo components, synthesizers, the Discman, remote controls. Even car dashboards. The black shade represents the pinnacle of the era when production was full tilt. There's of course an association between black plastic and sex too, which provides something even deeper to the texture of this idea if you want to go there.
Where you find the abandoned media you work with?
Russo: I've been collecting VHS tapes since I was in high school in the mid/late 1990s. Over the years, I've acquired tapes from various sources such as video rental liquidation, thrift shops, the sidewalk, corporate/university archives, and the internet. Recently I've expanded a bit into institutional Laserdiscs as well. In terms of the music videos, there's certain material that just seems to resonate with the right balance of intent and humour.
How does your experience in programming feed into your music; what’s the relationship between the two?
Russo: They're both primary creative outlets for me and there's a few ways they feed together. The first thing that comes to mind is that there's a sort of yin and yang effect that helps prevent burnout. I can work for weeks on end 12-16 hours a day if I'm switching back and forth between music and programming, but I would never be able to do that with only one or the other. That's an extreme example but it helps regardless of the pace.
What’s next on the horizon?
Russo: I've got a lot of things cookin'. Most immediately, I've been doing live video performance for Torn Hawk music shows using custom software that I've developed. Luke and I are working on the evolution of that show concept, and we have some ideas for releases and things in the works that are closely related to that. Music-wise, something that's just begun to surface is that I'm compiling some of my older music for potential release. The first result of that is the remastered version of a CDr I made in 2002/3. You can listen to the entire thing here. Further down the line I have some new tracks well into progress, and I've been toying with a live set as well. Don't want to give away too much in these early stages but it's something I'm quietly keeping on the front burner.
Follow Aimee Cliff on Twitter here @aimeecliff