Gavin Russom was born in 1974 in Providence, Rhode Island, HP Lovecraft’s
‘universal haven of the odd, the free, and the dissenting’. As an artist and musician he has pursued a singularly focussed set of visionary aesthetics, goals and states across a wide range of media.
Through music, sculpture and drawing Russom explores the boundaries between the world that surrounds us and the worlds that lie within. In his work of the past two decades he has sought to hone his awareness of the ways in which sound, vision and space can transform consciousness and reveal the pliable, malleable nature of personal reality. Underlying this is a fascination with ritual and repetition, and with spiritual practices that combine them to achieve trance and other ecstatic states of mind.
Russom has always taken a practical, DIY approach to creativity. If the object, tool or instrument that he needs for a project doesn’t exist, he will build it. This combination of artfulness and pragmatism has led him to design everything from stage sets to synthesisers. This notion of creating something from nothing, of transforming empty space into complex matter, recurs as both a metaphysical and a material theme in Russom’s art.
The drive towards music has been a constant in Russom’s life. He began building musical instruments in childhood, converting his mother’s treasured coffee-maker into a makeshift trumpet, much to her frustration. As a teenager, Russom started recording at home, exploring drone and feedback using tape loops and mixers to make music that he ‘could live inside’. Between 1992 and 1994 he launched two groundbreaking Providence psychedelic noise bands: Soma (with his cousin Michael Kelley of Kelley Polar) and Corybantes (with Brian Chippendale of Lightning Bolt, Mindflayer, and Black Pus).
From 1994 to 1996 Russom studied computer music, theory, composition and improvisation with Benjamin Boretz at Bard College in upstate New York. During this time he began designing and building acoustic instruments to extend the range of compositional options available to him. He also worked on large-scale sculptural sound installations â€“ ‘listening spaces’ â€“ through which he sought to integrate visual art, music and writing as a means of expressing his interests in magic and ritual practice. This urge to create art that immerses the mind and fully engages the senses of both artist and audience lead Russom to the understanding that sound is a physical medium to be shaped and sculpted like any other.
A gradual disillusionment with traditional modes of art and academic composition steered Russom towards more direct forms of creative and musical expression. A move to New York City in 1997 led to the development of an eight piece dance-rock band, Sweet Thunder, and The Mystic Satin, a persona through which he performed stage illusions informed by shamanism, ritual magic and avant-garde theatre. Russom designed and illustrated the backdrops for these performances.
Between 1998 and 2005, Russom formed an intense creative and personal partnership with Delia Gonzalez. The duo built installations and listening spaces that continued to blur the lines between art, ritual and entertainment. From these emerged a series of electronic musical works, leading to two releases on New York’s celebrated DFA record label, El Monte and The Days of Mars. Their collaborative works in both disciplines gained an international following through gallery and museum exhibitions and live performances in music venues all over the world.
Central to the duo’s music were a number of electronic instruments designed and built by Russom, who also worked for a period repairing synthesisers for other musicians. This desire to get inside The Magician’s cabinet, to understand the workings of the machine â€“ whether it be human or mechanical â€“ is central to Russom’s practice and is a further reflection of his drive towards the total integration and synthesis of action, artist and materials. As well as developing innovative sound modules for himself and Gonzalez, Russom built instruments for the likes of James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem), Tim Goldsworthy (UNKLE, The Loving Hand) and Bjorn Copeland (Black Dice).
After a move to Berlin in 2004, Russom became inspired by the use of trance-inducing repetition in European disco, early electronic dance music, and psychedelic rock. To further explore these sounds he launched a solo musical project, Black Meteoric Star, named after a celestial object and god figure from Pawnee Indian mythology that is embodied in one of the tribe’s medicine bundles. In recorded form the project comprises a series of three narratively-conjoined 12" singles to be released by DFA in 2009. The series creates a dense, rich and propulsive soundtrack for a journey through night. The vinyl version of this recording will be accompanied by posters designed by Russom as visualisation aids to the musical journey.
In 2008 Russom performed as Black Meteoric Star in nightclubs in Berlin, London, and Glasgow, at the SUPER Festival in Paris and at the 28th Biennial of Contemporary Art in Sao Paulo, Brazil, these last two appearances incorporating a visual stage environment comprising balloons, ritual dancers and mesmeric projections designed by artists Assume Vivid Astro Focus. Russom also produced remixes for other musicians, including Musicman artist Petar Dundov, and worked on a solo album to be released under his own name featuring guitar, voice and self-designed electronics. The guitar, specifically a 1950 Gibson hollow-body given to him by his father on his 33rd birthday, is taking an increasingly central place in Russom’s continuing musical development, and has encouraged him to return to songs he began writing in the early 1990s.
In 2009, following the release of â€œBlack Meteoric Starâ€, he continued to perform live under this guise at clubs, festivals and institutions. Perhaps most notable was a 3 hour live set accompanied again by Assume Vivid Astro Focusâ€™ visual installation, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Russom also produced two 12â€ singles as The Crystal Ark, featuring New York based singer, performer and filmmaker Viva Ruiz. This project, along with his continued electronics design work with Jeff Blenkinsopp of EARS NYC brought a move from Berlin to New York, which will serve as Russomâ€™s base in 2010.
In 2010 DFA will release both The Crytsal Ark 12â€s, the first of which is entitled â€œThe City Never Sleepsâ€ and is slated for March 16th. The Crystal Ark will perform live throughout Europe and the US. Continuing what has become a significant output as a producer, Russom will also release several remixes and (again on DFA) the long overdue â€œTrack 5â€ 12â€, recorded with Delia Gonzalez during the â€œDays of Marsâ€ sessions and finished in Berlin. Many other projects are in the works.