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Juno Plus Podcast 65: Torn Hawk

Step into the tape saturated world of Torn Hawk across a mix that spans 100 minutes of mulchy delights.

Torn Hawk is of course the main musical alias of Luke Wyatt, a Brooklyn-based audio-visual artist whose distinctive approach to both mediums is defined by a narrative-driven, trippy and decayed aesthetic that’s been described by the man himself as “mulch”. It’s Wyatt’s work within the field of video where he first made his name, lending his editing skills to the excellent PPU Video Party DVDs released by DC boogie diggers Peoples Potential Unlimited, and he’s since helmed videos for Mi Ami, I:Cube, Mock & Toof and Ex-Vivian.

Wyatt’s obsession with the pop culture that he grew up on has informed his musical projects too, something he’s evidently been working on since his teens but was only exposed to a wider audience last year when the Torn Hawk EP Tarifa was released on the L.I.E.S. white label series. Having subsequently contributed a most appropriate production to the American Noise label compilation late last year, 2013 has seen Wyatt’s music take a more prominent shape with the unveiling of his Lossmaker project, a collection of early recordings for Emotional Response under the Teen Hawk banner, and a 35 minute “suite of deformations” based around Karen Gwyer’s debut album Needs Continuum.

Having been fans of Wyatt’s music and videos for some time, it made perfect sense to invite him to contribute to our podcast series, but we had little idea of how much time and work he would invest in the submitted mix. One hour and forty minutes long, the mix features “unreleased Torn Hawk pieces and deformations of seminal swim team soundtracks like Dire Straits and George Michael” and came accompanied by the below prose poem from Wyatt in place of the traditional tracklisting. Wyatt offers the following explanation for choosing this method: “I feel it is really effective in giving a kind of emotional context for the sounds. I try to do things differently and this text manifestation of my sensibility is one more way of doing that.” In addition, Wyatt was kind enough to answer a selection of questions from us regarding his production process, upcoming releases and his favourite Gene Hackman film.

Hi Luke, how are things?

Cooler, now that I have installed an AC that looks like a set element from a Terry Gilliam movie. You know how the world of Brazil was all adorned with intestinal hoses and baroque duct work? My air-conditioner has a snaking, slinky-like hose hanging off it. We had to punch a hole through a brick wall so it would have a place to exhale. With a hose like that I hope to convince people the machine has a murkier purpose than to just cool my room down.

In an interview last year you claimed you were getting better at cutting your hair, is that still the case?

Improvement has probably plateaued. The back of the head remains a challenge. To effectively view it I have to get 3 or more mirrors in the mix, reflecting into each other. The results remind me of the mystical power and weight mirrors held in past eras: I become a medieval magus specializing in optics. In this way my haircut routine is a mix of the mundane (simple grooming) and the profound (reflections feeding reflections). Every iteration of myself, every echoing reflection is a “me” in another universe where I’ve made different choices and support different sports teams. This “possibility overload” recalls the dizzying decision-tree vertigo of non-destructive editing on a computer. That’s why I often print to tape: to stop the options, seal a mix in concrete, and simply commit.

You played an event with the White Material guys last week, was that a good night?

Quinn Taylor (Young Male) is a real nice guy. His music is one thing I like, but I also enjoy the elements of self-flagellation in the routine surrounding his gigs. He carries around a 40 pound piece of melamine to stage his gear on – it’s got the worst anti-ergonomic handle, too small for anybody’s hand to fit in comfortably. I complimented him on his impressive physical commitment.

It was a live PA correct? How comfortable are you doing these? How fucked up do you take it?

I read an interview with Jim O’ Rourke where he said he’d be happy to never play another show again. Then there’s Morton Subotnick in Art Forum recalling his thoughts from the late ‘50’s where he discovered that “the studio-art process, formerly limited to visual art, was now conceivable for music as well.” That sounds pretty obvious; nonetheless, people are still hung up on the live representation of their work having to support the legitimacy of their studio efforts.

Accept live performance as a different beast and approach it as a parallel pursuit, rather than subservient to the recorded product. Do not try and create a simulacrum of your recordings in a live setting. Build an entirely different attack. People who aren’t subject to these sort of creative conundrums will inevitably be perplexed by the disparity between your recorded self and your “live” self but: Real leaders/bullies/transcendent dorks shape (or create) paradigms; they don’t fearfully limit their expression to the tight curves of settled expectations.

In this way, I try to emphasize engaging performative aspects over purely sonic concerns in my live set. One showbiz element I was pleased with was this: Playing guitar with a small TV, sliding it up and down the neck to make tones. The TV was connected to a VCR which was playing the 1995 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit video. Rebecca Romijn.

The new release you have on Emotional Response demonstrates you’ve been experimenting with electronic composition for a while – did this come before you got into film?

I have been recording music since I was a little kid, using caveman multitracking technique s- I won’t claim to be unique in this as I’ve talked to other people of my generation who would record things in this same way, using cassette boomboxes. Basically, after you record a part on one boombox, you play it back into another while recording on that one, pressing the speakers of the playback source into the other one. Like two boomboxes making out, their speakers smooching – tweeter to tweeter liplock. But at the same time you add another element on top, like another guitar part or vocals or whatever.

I used to make these fake radio shows for my grandparents where I would intercut music and soundscapes with commentary and made-up commercials. All this unabashedly influenced by “Prairie Home Companion”, which my grandparents would listen to every weekend while I lay on the carpet. Houses of wholesome influence should have good carpets. Clean, not too shaggy, the nap/pile height a functional buzzcut. You don’t want tootsie rolls getting lost in it. I took in a lot from my horizontal receiving pose on the carpet. Charles Kuralt, 60 minutes – the whole middlebrow canon. Kuralt in particular used music, image, and words in a way that I am spitting back up in my own way today. I am trying to move more and more towards merging audio with text/prose narrative.

What’s the particular process involved in the way you piece together visuals for a video. To expand, when I watch one of your videos and there’s a particular edit of a film or a still, it works within the overall context because it’s a Luke Wyatt video. But is this the end product of countless hours of piecing together footage, or is the process much looser and intuitive?

The process generally takes way too long, but not as long as it used to. At this point I have a large archive of digitized video clips on hard drives as well as way too many tapes lying around, and it is all cataloged in my head, so when I start putting a video together and start building a story, and it calls for a certain emotion, I kind of scroll through the clips in my head and then I go find the piece that fits, the one that keeps the goosebumps going.

It’s like telling a story by any other means, searching for the right phrase. Then the textural work takes forever- creating transitions that aren’t preset / goopy, have a ragged elegance, and make all the images sit in this haze that glues everything together. I think people misunderstand my video expression as existing in the context of this facile 1980’s nostalgia movement, which by now is probably over for the kids anyway. I approach VHS as just a useful medium for generating compositions and mushing footage together; it’s like acrylic or oil paint, just different tools for different tasks.

Do you adopt a similar approach to making music?

Music is less thought and more gut. Making music is a terribly emotional prospect for me; in the same way I can’t listen to certain songs anymore, I can’t make stuff that’s too transporting until I can guess how my story is going to end.

When did the Torn Hawk sound begin to take shape? There’s certainly a distinct difference between the Teen Hawk material and your recent remixes of Karen Gwyer.

A couple years ago. More of just stepping away from the way I’d been working, and trying to be less detailed and obsessive. Trying to express in smears instead of pointillist pinpricks. But Torn Hawk can and will sound like anything.

I noticed that you recently started to compose novellas based on Instagram shots, what was the intention behind that?

Well there is really just one serial novella, built around a trip to Cape Cod with friends, where a lot of jokes were made and code words invented. # hawktales. Just another bubbling up of my prose urge. However, Instagram really does make the most sense as what it was made for- instant image. To continue my novella I would have to do a lot more “latergramming” and maybe the time has passed for that. I may need to find another outlet for continuing that narrative. But anyone who follows my instagram can count on some bloated captions, for sure.

Thanks for doing this mix, it’s very representative of your work. How long did it take it piece together?

It took a while. As always I tried to build a story with the sequence. Almost all the tracks are my own; some were made specifically for this mix. There are a handful of tracks by other people, but these are heavily compromised by mulch editing/ stonewash distress techniques.

You’ve presented the tracklisting in a rather unique way, can you offer some words on it?

I’d like to let the text speak for itself as much as possible. It’s a kind of story that follows and amplifies the arc of the mix. My intent was for people to read the words as they listen to the sounds. Track names contained in the text mass are in bold font.

Aside from the Karen Gwyer remixes and the Teen Hawk release what other stuff do you have on the horizon over the coming months?

I just finished a cassette for Beer on the Rug called “FIST”. When I was in LA I recorded some things with Eddie Ruscha (Secret Circuit) and Will Burnett (Willie Burns); these tracks will come out soon under the name Circuit, Burns, & Hawk.

For LIES, I’ve got a 15 minute guitar track, a flamethrower spewing slow Pinot Grigio: maybe the best thing I’ve ever recorded in terms of cinematic sweep. This will be one side of a split white label. A four or 5 song EP for LIES should also emerge soon. Xosar and I have been sending stems back and forth over the internet and I am starting to get really excited about the results. Stuffed white tigers cuddle with raptors, their talons all covered in duct tape. I have been working on tracks with my voice on top. I have found a sincere crooner sound beyond the stranglehold of irony. Singing feels good inside my chest and stretches my emotional wingspan.

Finally whats your favorite Gene Hackman film? Mine is Prime Cut with Lee Marvin.

It is an adage that Hackman can’t give a bad performance, but he’s been in some lousy movies. The guy didn’t become a star until after 40, so you can’t blame him for pulling in paychecks. Who in our current crop of male actors had his kind of life, and stuck it out through such a slow climb? Today’s pictures are full of twits and ab-candy manboys. I like The Conversation, of course, but also love him in Unforgiven and most of all The Firm (one of my favorite movies).

“Track names contained in this text mass are in bold font. Most tracks are by Torn Hawk or Luke Wyatt; there are a handful of edits or smears of other peoples’ music. It would be emotionally effective to read the words while you listen to the sounds. The text surrounding each phrase in bold corresponds to the named track.

Mankiller(Cropped) “The simplest stunt can hurt a guy.” The stunt of “soul error” (Proust’s complaint) “the incapacity to give full value or status to one’s own life and experience.” This thing where you don’t know what’s going on till it’s history. So we attempt a Recovery (Keys) – trying to mend this tennis elbow of the heart. When your head sounds like this, it’s tough to remember there are A Million Open Doors. “I know this is hard for you.” Sawzall – a buzzsaw over a grid that reminds me of the angle grinder of Messmaker, by Preteen Hawk. It’s an assault from the skies with a shrill glass hammer and corrugated cardboard shield. I guess her core came cased in a sleeve of 60 grade sandpaper. Same material I found on the inside of someone else’s thighs.  Got yelled at for Instagramming the resulting wound; house arrest in Her Favorite Cave.

Guy I am locked up with likes Jazz, Poker, he’s Canadian.  Played spades and ate Utz listening to this tough greased jam Lee Slowjack.  Around the second hand  Brophy stuffed Malkumus in a burlap sack, then the sack burst. “It just exploded, so freaky.” We shut everybody up with Howie, then me and Charlie concurred that we Don’t want to hurt you I just want to love you (Spacer woman mess).  Nobody gives a shit; we are left to cut through mud on motorcycles in the Black Rain with the guy now playing Liberace on HBO.

Son of Kirk and I kibbutz about sex addiction, and both agree reconciliation with those wounded is Hard to Find. Loss is outlined with feedback that shrieks like birds, and is shaped like birds- the mirror broke into many dove shapes. Like from the mirror shatter scene in “Conan the Destroyer”. Destroy to get free. Freedom (torn and frayed), freedom sought to live on the island Arnold lived on in the movie “Twins,” where he was free to perfect himself before he got bored, rowboated away, and got mixed up with DeVito. I also rowboat away, attempt to reinvent myself, just like when George Michael burned all his leather jackets. A tougher character than Banderas, who “was fortunate to have the love of the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Unfortunately she was the King’s wife.” Other guys’ girls. Le Baron(For Olga) who also had a husband. Her crew rolled around Chinatown in a cloud that smelled like money, powdered and bejeweled, porcelain and Pernod. “Maybe the Russian girls weren’t Mets fans or something…” Oh, these daughters of oligarchs. They really demand to be Put on the Cover.

The walk home after that one was a Long Tough Take (Truncated). Put me back on my heels, back to first principles, Principles of Geometry- A Mountain for President (sludge haus).  Bucked up and turned my Grief into Gold (Return to the Diamond District), then found a new lagoon with Tim of the Lake (Slow).  The canoe turned up a Fragment (from So Far) in a bottle that offered dibs on a Soapstone Countach (shaved down version) but we weren’t out of the water yet, as 40 year old gossip about Walken and Wood hanging with the Wrongcrowd led to the question “What really happened on that boat?” Poor Wagner and Walken. They deserve a Touching Kinko’s Encounter. “I know this is hard for you.” Well, try the salve of Ennio Morricone’s “Piume di Cristallo” (thickened) “They died saving my life.” Dire Straits/David Mamet/Tony Hopkins “It’s your face I’m looking for on every street.” Nobody believes you now remind me of Betty Draper. Love is blind, is a kind of perceptual plastic surgery that fixes faces. But I try to listen to Don – “Get out of here. And move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened.”

Used to listen to this surf expanse when writing sprawling, Clearasil-smeared odes to Mike Cahn and other heroes of the Weed Team. Tucked away at the camp known as the Center for Talented Youth. Last place I woke up happy. I’ve lost one best friend and seen another restored (don’t know why I can’t have all of them in my quiver at once). The restored one and I used to play pranks, Vienna sausages stuffed in an unlucky mailbox, while something like The Happening (mono slurred) crunched in the tape deck of a Dodge wagon. And there might be a post-prank Slevin Slushy and pack of Parliaments.

The grace of our loitering, our lazy quips as yet unacclaimed; sitting on warm hoods of cars making immortal jokes about Jeffrey Gordon. Aluminum fence woven with green ghetto ivy, enclosing the scene of my first forced exit. Attained student council president with a staged assassination till I purposely misspoke the pledge of allegiance over the PA more than once. Hoping the character sludge of 7-11 slushy youth yields to Blue Thunder focus and chopper pilot mettle. Like Scheider.  As long as my skin never attains his kind of leather. He had the most natural banter with his movie-wife in “Jaws”. That’s my desired end point: screen porch with a tough smart lady who says “Let’s get drunk and fool around.”

Luke Wyatt

May 2013.”