Crystal Ark interview: “Body affirming.”

09.03.10, Words by: Ruth Saxelby

It’s difficult to think of anyone with a touch as cathartic as that of New York producer GAVIN RUSSOM, specialist in ten minute-plus synthesizer epics honed on a homemade analog processor, which, above various knobs, is appropriately scripted with the phrase “Relax and Enjoy the Ride.” In the past, his name has been associated with longform kosmische soundscapes (in tandem with Delia Gonzalez, with whom he’ll release a reworked Track 5 originally meant for The Days Of Mars later this year), exhibitionist sleaze disco (on the cult Black Leotard Front 12”), and raw, trancelike acid house (as BLACK METEORIC STAR and as a remixer), and while these projects bear their own nuances, they’re all markedly physical; full-body rollercoasters. You ride them.

It’s unsurprising, then, that Russom is cognizant of the corporeal influence on THE CRYSTAL ARK, his new collaborative project with vocalist Viva Ruiz, named “as a tribute to Sun Ra and Lee Perry.” It’s a logical next step in his catalog, and he describes it as a “confluence of ideas…lush where Black Meteoric Star was raw, but beat heavy where The Days of Mars was ambient.” If his prior projects respectively hinted at Trax Records and Tangerine Dream, the key undertones here are those of thick Brazilian percussion (inspired by a recent trip to that country) and Belgian dance act Phantasia.

This seems like a strange combination, but not necessarily an incongruous one; on The City Never Sleeps (listen above), the duo’s debut single, it’s evident that these influences are more about feelings than definable, borrowed sounds. “I don’t particularly incorporate styles of music into my own productions, in terms of taking specific things and using them,” Russom says. “I listen to a lot of music and try to expose myself to as much music as I can and it ends up filtering in there. I suppose that for me, working with multiple influences is a process of figuring out deep threads that seemingly disparate musics share and then creating a context that allows these things to surface.”

When viewed more as melting pot than overt homage, THE CRYSTAL ARK’s juxtaposition of influences starts to make more sense – if there’s anything binding Brazilian drum workouts and Belgian rave, it’s the emphasis on the corporeal. “What struck me about all the music I heard in Brazil was that it was extremely body affirming,” he notes. “It made me very happy to be in a body.” The dense layering and loose, live drumming on The City Never Sleeps definitely feels like feeling it in a room full of people, a sacred intermingling of outer and inner spaces.

What really pushes things over the top, though, is Viva Ruiz’s Spanish monologue, which runs through the heart of the track before merging with a tried-and-true DFA-style chant, “Open the door/Don’t you want some more?,” climaxing in a heady vapor of voice and electronics above a stiff, earthy thump and clattering supplementary percussion. Although dreamier in tone and perhaps less camp, more 21st century urbane, Ruiz infuses the track with a sense of drama that recalls Phantasia’s records.

“I invited Viva Ruiz to work with me on the vocal part of this album because I liked the sound of her voice and her presence and she reminded me of a Latina Jade4u [of Phantasia, among other projects],” says Russom on the collaboration. “I played her the Phantasia tracks and they became a jumping off point for what she wrote and her delivery. There is a similar incantation-like quality in the result.”

Along with a possible full-length, the project has plans to tour in the near future, promising, “four people onstage and a whole new idea about visuals…less about technology and more about nature.”

The Crystal Ark’s debut 12” The City Never Sleeps is out next week on DFA.

The Crystal Ark on DFA’s site

You should definitely check out Charlie’s interview with Ewan Pearson too.