Gavin Russom Shares the S&M-Inspired Stories Behind His Black Meteoric Star LP

July 27, 2009 Free Association

If there’s one DFA album we always return to beyond the usual suspects (Hot Chip’s The Warning, LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver), it’s Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom‘s first and last full-length, Days of Mars. A trance-inducing cult favorite that generated one of the greatest Carl Craig remixes of all time, it’s what the self-titled office listens to when we want to descend into a dream world populated by little fluffy clouds and planetarium light shows. (Like the fifth grade field trip that blew our goddamn mind.)

While it’s just as trippy as Days of Mars, Russom’s latest project–the synth-slinging, cassette deck-captured solo vehicle Black Meteoric Star–doesn’t bother pausing to breathe or carefully build its tracks. Instead, every single one seems to hit the (dance)floor running, with visions of vintage acid techno tracks dancing in Russom’s demented little head. That, and such cheery things as unleashing our inner animal, driving through Russia’s ice-coated “death tunnel,” and recording music in the midst of a black out…

“DEATH TUNNEL”
As some people have noticed, there is a nod to the Knight Rider theme here; but even more so to “Fire It Up” by Busta Rhymes, which samples the [same song]. I wanted to capture how it feels when you’re driving so fast that everything starts to get really slow again. You feel like you’re in total control even though one false move could kill you–tense and relaxed at the same time.

My favorite thing about the track is how the hi-hat, snare and white noise hit at the same time, saturating the tape into pure static for a second. It’s like that moment in between sleep and waking. I also like the phantom melody that comes from the harmonics ringing in the filters in the beginning. It becomes a call and response with the main line. This fits with the theme of being at the border between day–when things are clearly defined–and night, when things are more shadowy and you’re not sure if the things you see and hear are really there at all. “Death Tunnel” became the album’s opener when I started to view it as a narrative about going into darkness. The title was inspired by a YouTube video of the Lefortovo Tunnel in Russia. It’s 3,150 meters long and sometimes freezes over, causing spectacular accidents.

“WORLD EATER”
I know what equipment I used on this track, but I don’t understand how I got it to sound this way. I can only guess that I set up a patch using both filters on my home built processor, so that the harmonic content of both the percussion and the melody line would keep changing over the length of the track. I recorded it in my bedroom. I got into this idea of making the kind of music I fantasized about making as a teenager. The title comes from X-Men comics: Galactus‘ “Devourer of Worlds” was one of the recurring enemies of the X-Men. In terms of the story of the record, this track is about the moment when the animal inside you comes alive. It’s about the power that comes from darkness and how that can seriously create chaos if you don’t know how to work with it. It’s about gathering strength.

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“DOMINATRON”
This is the first track that I did as Black Meteoric Star. I had set up some machines based on photos I had seen of bedroom studios where early acid and techno were made, basically as an experiment to see what I could do with the tools. Then I went out with some friends after sharing a bottle of Czech black Absinthe. We ended up at Panorama Bar and things spun completely out of control. I only know this because people told me later on.

Someone asked me, “What are you going to do after this?”, and I said, “I’m going to make a track!” I went home that morning, turned on the machines and recorded “Dominatron,” basically in a blackout. As I get more perspective on the track, I really liked how it blends a classic rock sound in the solos and a classic house sound in the programmed sequences. I was really inspired by S&M at the time and although that’s a thread that underlies most of the Black Meteoric Star record it’s at its most overt here. The record is meant to chart an inner journey, even though the metaphor is a night out. This chapter is about the “Destructive Feminine.”

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“ANTHEM”
At a certain point in making these tracks, it became a game with myself about how hard I could push them. Like, ‘How punishing and relentless of a track can I make with these tools?’ “Anthem” is the peak of that game. The title comes from the novel by Ayn Rand, which is about rediscovering individuality and the triumph of the ego and the self, but it’s also a nod to the track being a ‘rave anthem’, which is what I was going for. On a technical level, it represents something that I tried to achieve for a while.

One of the reasons I started designing my own electronic instruments was because I was obsessed with this idea of music being able control itself. This is at least theoretically possible with modular synths, but it’s not the way they’re normally used so you have to bend them to do it. In “Anthem,” the rhythm of the bass line is triggering the way the percussion gets filtered and also chopping up the lead line. It really is like a living organism. I basically just interacted with it by adjusting the volumes of the different instruments while it ran to give it some shape over time. The tape is getting so completely saturated that all of the lines are gating each other, so a change in volume of one of the parts changes the rhythm as well. It’s one of my favorite effects and a large part of why I chose to use a cassette deck to record the project.

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“DREAM CATCHER”
About two years passed between when I recorded the first four Black Meteoric Star tracks and when I went back to record the last two. Lots of things had changed. I had passed through a period of being basically unable to work. I had given up, and much to my surprise it was the act of giving up that allowed me to pass through what I was dealing with and begin to work again. I had already decided that the first four tracks formed an unfinished story and I knew that the last two tracks would be the comedown. It was a tough project to approach finishing, though, because much of the fury and angst that motivated the early tracks had subsided. I really hear that difference in the transition from “Anthem” to “Dream Catcher.” There was an idea floating around in the ’90s that the parties people were throwing were like modern day rituals. I always liked this idea in theory but also found the reality ridiculous, because there are some glaring differences between the two. I think of “Dream Catcher” as a very spiritual piece of music and tried to maintain that feeling while still evoking the more glowing moments of rave culture.

“DAWN”
“Dawn” came out of nowhere. I had the title in mind, but thought it was almost too literal, since in the story of the album “Dawn” is the track where the sun comes up. I had finished “Dream Catcher” and was preparing for the first live Black Meteoric Star gig. Just before I left town, I wrote in the bass line and the drumbeat for “Dawn,” and I kept slowing it down more and more until it sounded right. I was shocked when it finally clocked in at around 100 BPM. An idea that I’d always had on the back burner was of making a track where basically all that happened was that a chord faded in and then slowly got gated to the rhythm. “Dawn” seemed like the right place to test this out.

I was listening to Augustus Pablo and the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the time and was especially into the way the solos on both of those artists’ recordings sound. They drift and float in and out of the rhythm, but are also somehow dead-on all the time. So all these ideas came together in my head and then I just turned on the machines and pressed record. The version of “Dawn” that is on the recordings is the first and only take. I finished and was sure I wouldn’t ever be able to play it better. When I went back to do the edits for the CD version, I discovered that “Dawn” was impossible to cut down in length because there is a fader moving on one or more of the sounds throughout the entire track. When I would make a cut there would be an abrupt jump that would totally interfere with the movement of it. It’s never still for a moment, always changing and shifting like the sun going across the sky.