Luke Wyatt/Torn Hawk lives and works in Brooklyn, he works with old VHS tapes to make what can only be described as an automaton’s acid-fuelled lucid dream. However, aside from the pleasure gleaned from his trippy visual aesthetics his work also has more immediate and introspective sub currents, touching genteelly on many topics, including navigating modern life, value in spousal relations and the validity of our most basic feelings. According to his official bio, Luke has a longstanding obsession with elevating decay and the thrown-away, this features strongly in his visual work and presents a visually dichotomous paradigm for his style; being at once terminally fractured in it’s singular parts and, as reconstituted material, seamlessly whole.
The current sonic outfit of Wyatt goes by the moniker Torn Hawk, upon listening to his tracks I'm really taken back to the soundtrack of a myriad of nameless 80’s movies my mind has imbibed over the years, it’s something I appreciate mainly for it’s nostalgic value, coming from the era of the late 80’s. His explorations into sound manifest in spliced audio from TV stations, skillfully composed melodies, panning synths, and twanging guitars. Something about it reminds one of teenage years filled with, excitement, angst, confusion given overall momentum by a pervading hope for a better, brighter future.
Although his audio and visual explorations exist independently of each other, Luke also combines these practices to form a cohesive piece. His edits also serve as accompanying visuals for other artists and performances in which he actively distorts the visual output in front of an audience, he has coined this technique ‘Video Mulching’. Rough caught up with Luke for an insight into his fascinating work,
Hey Luke, how are you?
How would you describe your work?
For video, the blurb on my website covers it pretty well:“"I select video to appropriate based on its mood resonance or compositional zing. My VCR gets beat up with a size 13 docksider until it makes errors and the VHS tape spits up on itself. While digitizing the video I induce the computer to make mistakes by not telling it the truth about the data it is ingesting. I isolate the mistakes I like best, outline them, and send them back to my VCR, resuming the docksider attack, repeating this process until things attain an anti-sheen, losing any crisp edge, as if they had always belonged together. I then arrange the images in an order that must appear equally inevitable.
I term the results of this technique Video Mulch ."
What peaked your interest into this unique art form?
Once I figured out how to digitize VHS tapes, and send images from the computer back out to VHS, things really cohered for me. Then I found some freeware programs that enabled me to play with glitch techniques and other sorts of happy accidents.
Where are you from, has this in anyway influenced your work?
I grew up in New Jersey. The suburban playscape of the town I lived in until I was 15, the little backyards up against each other, the pool-hopping, was a great incubator for imagination. And there was a density to the culture of the time, the toys and cartoons and nascent computer and video game world, which was just right to get your head going. These days I think things are overly dense and saturated so kids can’t find their bearings.
And of course one can’t underestimate the effect of growing up close to New York City, with all its arts resources and clashing voices. The detritus that falls through the cracks of activity in a place like New York is as vital as any of the intentional stuff.
What elements (if any) of your childhood and teenage years are present in your work?
Well I used to watch WPIX on rainy Sundays all the time when I was like 9. They’d play Excaliburor the Breakfast Club and I’d always be catching some disconnected section of the movie and never see the whole thing. I would always catch the end credit sequence of the Breakfast Clubwith the Simple Minds song , and Judd Nelson raising his gloved fist into the air right before the credits come on with the lyric “Don’t you forget about me.” That became a very moving and poignant self-contained piece to me, independent of the movie; I’d screen it in my head for motivation before races at swim meets when I was little. Divorcing an effective section of a film from its whole and re-contextualizing it is something I obviously do a lot of today.
Excaliburas seen in bits and pieces on WPIX, cropped by pan and scan, got me hooked on swords, raised straight up in the air, or thrusting straight up through water. The Freudian resonance of this seems pretty transparent, but I think there is more at work here. Namely, the desire to shoot towards the heavens, to project into space, to focus ones thoughts and spirit away from earthly, impermanent, animal things. All my best visual work and music attempts to head skyward like this.
How has your interest in making music inspired your video creations and vice versa?
The music and the video don’t so much influence each other as they support my sensibility from two different directions.
Both are me spitting out mixed up versions of transcendent sequences from my movie-music bank (like Judd’s raised fist) as filtered through the gauze of memory. The product comes out all smeared and hazy with the amniotic fluid of my mnemonic womb.
Why does your work have such a retrograde 'broken gateway pc' feel?
I use freeware programs that aren’t smart enough to compress the video properly, so I can get these “broken”, glitchy effects. If you use the programs enough you can learn to influence and predict how the glitches will appear, so it’s not just throwing spaghetti at the wall.
Would I be right in saying the brunt of this material is taken from the 80's/90's?
Yeah, most of it, probably just because I grew up during that period and so it resonates for me. But I use stuff from all eras.
I know of a few other sonic and video artists who source and reconstitute recalled media from the 80's/90's in their work, degrading the final output in this way. Why do you think this era is so prolific in terms of it's content being reassigned into a mêlée of obscure audio and visual sequences?
I think most the people who are making that kind of work grew into creative consciousness in the 80's and 90's; even if they were just little kids in the mid-eighties, like me. So they have an attachment to the vibe of that time. But I think it gets boring to exclusively explore one era; I get inspiration from all eras and find surprising common motifs and ideas running through different time periods.
Do you have a nostalgic place in your heart for obscure production?
I am not sure what “obscure” means in this context. But I can say that in the world of music, I am not drawn to anything willfully obscure, stuff that people make to purposefully fuck with people or that is difficult just to be difficult. There is no question, however, that much of the music I like is obscure simply because of the mechanics of the marketplace. But I also love the great mainstream pop achievements of the last 40 years that everybody else with a brain likes.
To put it another way, I personally feel your work creates a certain obscure feeling of nostalgia; a memory of a memory of a better and more wondrous time/place, is this intentional?
I don't intend to invoke nostalgia, but since the work sources media from the past this is inevitable. But I am trying to take these things out of time, not look back. I want to create a perfect present, not an idealized future or past. Recently, I have been using a lot of stuff from the 2000's, because it just feels right. And besides I think the 80's thing is getting pretty played out. I don't want to get stuck in any era. VHS is a medium like oil paint- it is a tool that is timeless. People associate it with the 80's, of course, but I can put media from any era to VHS and play with it to achieve imagery; I’ll never stop using VHS, but I may move away from increasingly hackneyed 80's images.
How do you source your video material? Are these artifacts taken from your life or do you trawl the web for every project you undertake?
I almost never use the web for video; I didn’t even know how to capture video off the web until a month ago. There are some local video stores that sell VHS tapes, and of course I go to thrift stores and find junk on the street. I order stuff that is hard to find. And I am constantly taking forever to get my Netflix rentals back in the mail because I will see something in the middle of an otherwise crap movie like “Bridget Jones Diary” that I will have to capture.
I do use the web for image search however, and use a lot of (usually heavily altered) stills in my work.
I saw one of your latest vids,'Tarifa' last night. It's like the virtual dream of some bizarre acid fuelled automaton… With a VHS motif. Describe what's going on here…
Well that video, and it’s companion piece “Mark of the Hound” take the hurt of a current personal struggle and try to turn it into underground entertainment.
While attempting to not overshare and impinge on people’s privacy, I will just say “Tarifa” explores some of the realizations I’ve had about how to build an adult life and how to protect and value a partner.
One authorial voice makes fun of myself for falling into heartbreak clichés, and the other side answers that the clichés have become clichés because they are universal conditions, there is only one kind of heartbreak, and the feelings are lofty and worthy of reverence.
The irreverent voice that derides clichés is the one that attempts to undercut sappiness with clips like the Sting-with-lute bit. The reverent voice counters with Audrey Hepburn gazing at Sean Connery as he shoots an arrow into the afterlife.
It’s like when you are crying about something and at the same time self-consciously analyzing your grief and questioning its veracity.
The goal, also, is to be both beautiful and “funny” at the same time. The clip of the QVC crystal castle at the beginning of “Tarifa” does this. I find a sense of humor to be as important as anything else in life (as applied to individuals or art). A beautiful or melancholy piece of art without a note of humor rings false as an analog for real life.
The companion piece to “Tarifa”, “Mark of the Hound, ” is all about the brutal drives and anxieties that cause some people to sabotage their chance at securing the kind of adult life I mentioned. But even (or especially) here, the brutality is entangled with humor.
Any artists of renown you wouldn't mind dropping a track with?
I’d love to just kind of play session guitar on stuff and have no other responsibilities, just have that narrow focus, and then a producer could take bits and pieces of my best gestures and patch something together.
I have a lot of good friends in Brooklyn that I would like to make music with. That is the most exciting stuff I hear these days, the music people in my community are making. I don’t have a lot of time to pay attention to who qualifies as being “of renown” but I could imagine some of these people getting there soon.
Aims for the future?
Make good work that reaches more people. Get bigger, better, stronger, kinder. Get married and build a home, make babies I can watch “Ghostbusters” with.
ROUGH thanks Luke for his time and wishes him the very best for the future, you can stream ‘Raptor Array’ above, listen to more of his sounds here, and see some of his combined visual and audio work here.