(Not Not Fun, 2014)
“Video mulching” is what Brooklyn artist Luke Wyatt is best known for, and while you can learn a lot about him and his work through his website, here’s his process how he describes it, and it’s worth the read:
“I select video to appropriate based on its mood resonance or compositional zing. My VCR gets beat up with a size 13 docksider until it makes errors and the VHS tape spits up on itself. While digitizing the video I induce the computer to make mistakes by not telling it the truth about the data it is ingesting. I isolate the mistakes I like best, outline them, and send them back to my VCR, resuming the docksider attack, repeating this process until things attain an anti-sheen, losing any crisp edge, as if they had always belonged together. I then arrange the images in an order that must appear equally inevitable. I term the results of this technique Video Mulch.”
If that’s not fascinating, I don’t know what is. His idealization and artistic rendering of the idea of decay – especially the decay of relics from the 1980s and 1990s, the decades in which he grew up – masks a level of nostalgic fondness for a period that’s not only slipping farther into the past, but is also proving to have pushed a mindset of disposability upon an entire generation. There’s a struggle there – on one hand, there’s often a distinct happiness associated with growing up (and I grew up at the same time so I know what Wyatt’s doing) and all its attendant artifacts and associations, but on the other it becomes clearer and clearer with hindsight that what you may have loved then was as fleeting as the youthful exuberance for it. Wyatt has identified this dichotomy, and this recent P____fork interview offers a better glimpse into the creator’s mind than I can guess at.
“THROUGH FORCE OF WILL TEASER VIDEO”
That he treats his artistic endeavors and his subjects with respect and admiration instead of standoffishness and irony is refreshing. Thus, Wyatt’s video work achieves a seriousness and beauty even though the source material is markedly “uncool.” And this process spills over into his work in music as Torn Hawk. Through Force of Will exhibits a similar association through tones and process, and the result often sounds like a VHS tape of music videos being played through a twenty-five-year-old Magnavox. It’s a remarkable achievement in pinpoint approximation, and the record exhibits a surprising pleasantness where it has little right to. The “uncool” becomes “cool” upon a laid-back foundation of exotica, dance, pop, and electronic, and a vibrant familiarity seeps through the music even though it sounds fresh and distinct. (See also James Ferraro’s 2011 album Far Side Virtual for a likeminded reimagining of nostalgic sound – the results and processes are somewhat different, but the spirit is quite similar.) I’m hoping this is what Wyatt’s going for as Torn Hawk, because he’s achieving it.
Through Force of Will has no shortage of highlights, from the science documentary soundtrackishness of opener “I Am Returning” to the midnight dancekraut territory of “A November Mission.” “To Overthrow” adds cop show guitar flashiness to give it a sunglassed sheen. “Streets on Fire” belongs in any number of 1980s culture-moment films, making the album’s cover choice of a pixel-scribbled Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club, fist held high, perfect in every way. The album’s title track is Torn Hawk’s “With or Without You” (although it lasts almost twice as long) – I’m pretty sure I’ve said that about someone else recently in another review. Is everybody just really kicking out that same vibe? I’m not complaining, it’s an extraordinarily good thing. It’s followed by “Blindsided,” perhaps the best chill-out closer of any album in recent memory. It’s coated in blue hues of guitar and synthesizer, a brilliant aerial California patio zoom-out as evening descends.
It’s no mistake that Torn Hawk’s music evokes intense visuals. Anyone who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s is indebted to television and film as being a crucial part of his or her upbringing, mental health and/or educational stuntedness be damned. Luke Wyatt is just as indebted, and his paean to the era – and reimagining of it – deserves your undivided attention. I’m 100 percent totally blissed out as the closing guitar strains of “Blindsided” are washing over me right now. Wyatt may lean heavy on the term “mulch” in the description of his work, but as Torn Hawk, he’s allowing it to enrich all that blooms from his repurposing.
RIYL: James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual, Speculator, Punks on Mars, Bookworms