Dragging You to Hell: An Interview with Noise Musician and Video Collagist Walter Gross
The parting shot from "Dopamine" by Walter Gross. Boy finna drown.
The audio-visual work of L.A. resident Walter Gross isn't something you should expect to love immediately. It's not water cooler fodder, or something to sneak a glimpse at while the boss is in the other room. (Though it's decidedly NSFW.) It's better than that.
The Baltimore transplant's inimitable mixture of chopped and screwed cassette samples, pummeling feedback, ambient beauty and fuzzed-up found footage is the kind of thing you curl up with at night when no one's around. It's a fever dream on your screen, and if you try to fight it, it may very well Freddy you. Let it seep into the dusty corners of your psyche, however, and it'll curl up with you -- even spoon you, keep you from the cold.
Below, we share five Walter Gross creations, and speak to the man himself about his process, his motives and -- just a little -- his soul.
"Come Wander with Me":
Where do these images come from? Do you use any footage you've shot personally? Are copyrights an issue?
Walter Gross: Everything is recycled, minus a few shots here and there. It's all archive and public domain. I haven't really read the fine print, but if one of the guys who shot those home videos from the '60s contacts me, I'll take it as a sign from God. My goal originally was to shoot everything from scratch but then my DV camera broke the week I was about to film. I was sitting on my couch, pissed off, staring at a wall -- as all good ideas seem to come to me -- and decided to make videos the same way I make music: find and steal.
You have a known love for all things analog. Do you edit these together using analog technology? What's your process, more or less?
WG: I really don't stick to specific rules like I did when I first started making music. I just use whatever's available and within my financial means. In this case I've just been using my friend's Mac and cutting it on iMovie. As far as my process, I just try and find as much interesting material to work with and let everything else fall into place. I'll get an hour-long educational film on science just to get that one good frame if I have to.
"I Ain't Got No Home":
You've been making music for quite awhile, but these videos only started popping up on Vimeo in the last couple of months. Is this a new thing for you? When did you start? Why?
WG: Well, I've been shooting weirdo "noise" shows in Baltimore for awhile and then recently I went on tour with Skrapez and wanted to make a little showcase video of them from our tour. That kinda jolted me. Ever since I was a little kid I always knew I'd do something with film. I'm a big movie nerd. I got real sick in high school, so I taught myself screenwriting and thought if I just work hard enough and skip college, something will eventually give. (I don't recommend it.) When I got into collecting records and mixing when I was 16, it was a vicarious way for me to make films. It's pretty cliche actually, you know, visual music, but I wanted to take on the challenge of making music so interesting, you could just sit by your stereo, listen and take it. Like they used to do before television was invented. I like making music that requires a surrendering of the senses and their inhibition. The real issue was finally getting the resources to execute my long-awaited vision, which is to say the Internet and a working computer.
In "Draggin," it looks as if we're peering through a hole in a piece of cardboard. Is that actually what's happening? Do you often look for ways to modify the footage you're using?
WG: It's actually a plastic bag with a hole. I shot that whole thing in my bedroom with my little TV/VCR. I like to utilize whatever I can in order to shape the imagery in a new way according to my aesthetic. Re-contextualize it. The bag gives you the feeling that you're spying in on the mayhem, and the whole concept of the song is that someone is literally being dragged into hell, so it's as if that person is being held captive, forced to watch this crazy rock 'n' roll. It's so abrasive and has such a primal energy to it, you could film just about anything and it would come out twisted.
"Draggin You to Hell":
Do you have a narrative in mind while you're assembling the video? What, to you, bridges these images to the music that we're hearing?
WG: I definitely try to keep things conceptual so that it works on different levels. I want to create dimensional art, something original that's impregnated with an infinitude of ideas. Anything goes. I love the idea of juxtaposing images or sounds to create a certain kind of surrealism or new meaning. Like in "I Ain't Got No Home" [below], which combines an old gospel sample with footage from a Southern black church and the Civil Rights Movement. I wanted to construct it so that you could see how faith and spiritual support transcended such immense oppression.
Does the music always come first, or can the footage inspire the music?
WG: Well, for the collaged videos, the music always came first, but that's just because I was in a music-making frenzy at the time -- I'd just finished this solo noise tape and two different split cassettes, so I had all this material to choose from. For an upcoming video though, I'll be constructing it out of single frames that I'm getting from my neighborhood and abroad, and I have some images/sequences already, so I'll use that to inspire me, meditate on it and see what happens.
"Endure Your Road":
Your music also utilizes samples, albeit in a much different way. How much of it is sample-sourced? What else do you use?
WG: It depends. I've always liked trying new things, so sometimes I'll make a song with no samples -- just me with a microphone in a concrete closet with some cheap broke shit and effects. I'll record it and then never do it the same way again. I've used a lot of mixer feedback or circuit-bent toys to get my sounds. I'll do an improvised jam alone or with a friend, then sample that. I try to be as resourceful as possible. My first solo album, The Death of a Samplesman was made entirely out of 25-cent tapes I bought at Amoeba or Poo-Bah Records because I was so poor. I've put out a dozen or more releases the past few years and each one has its own little back-story.
Mubi's article on your work referred to "crudely edited sound-scapes." Any objection to that description?
WG: No way. It's completely intentional. I like "pause mix tapes" -- that start-and-stop chop. To me its very visual like jump cuts in a movie, or how things change suddenly in dreams, or how scenery passes by when you're looking out of a moving car. The past three videos come from a hyper-collaged noise tape that works more as an album then a collection of songs. I like the sort of stumbling flow that you can only achieve with a tape player. It's haunting. I embrace crude in all it's prettiness.
Terrifying? Or beautiful?
WG: True beauty is often a moment away from pain or fear. My whole endeavor in making art was to create a spiritual medium for myself. And if we are all essentially one anyway, what helps my spirit and imagination should help someone else's too. I've always felt compelled to plunge into the depths in order to properly comprehend its equal counterpart -- beauty, transcendence, light, freedom. Making things that are "terrifying" is a way for me to face the darker side of things, mock it if I want to.
The Vimeo notes mention as VHS release. Tell us the details.
WG: I got the opportunity to make a limited cassette release with my friend/roommate Andy Ben. So it'll be released through a brand new imprint out of Australia called Now...This! Records with the help of my friend's cassette label back in Maryland called I Had An Accident. The VHS will be limited to only 15 to 20 copies. Though if I get another VCR to make my own dubs I'll get some in Vacation Vinyl. I've got to figure out a way to press up DVDs because I've got a lot more to make. Maybe Blu-rays by 2012?
WATCH MORE WALTER GROSS SHORTS ON VIMEO.
LISTEN TO WALTER GROSS TUNES ON SOUNDCLOUD.
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