Wojciech Rusin: ‘I like to spin clichés around’
Wojciech Rusin is a Polish-born audio-visual artist based in London. He draws inspiration from alchemical and gnostic texts, early Renaissance choral music and Eastern European mythologies. He released The Funnel LP on Akashic Records in April 2019, and Syphon on AD93 in February 2022. He designs and makes 3D-printed reed instruments, reworking ancient designs with contemporary 3D modelling technologies. In 2020, he released Meat for the Guard Dogs on Cafe OTO’s Takuroku digital imprint and the Rufus Orbis cassette for Boomkat Editions/Documenting Sound series. His music has been featured on BBC Four and he has worked for the National Theatre, the Southbank Centre and National Theatre Wales.
Your work is quite opaque, baroque even. It is full of mischief and mystery. You build whole epic worlds around your music and albums. Several years ago, for instance, you were making music under your Katapulto moniker, and one of your albums was devoted to animals. Your latest album under your own name reconstructs medieval and Renaissance music, “imagined as composed in the future”. Can you talk about these sonic worlds that you have been building over the years?
The Animalia release was recorded about 10 years ago. I was trying to create a kind of fake educational recording with imaginary folk music. Years later, I happily realised that Luc Ferrari entertained similar ideas in his recordings. His fictional autobiographies have a very poetic quality.
I like to play with the idea of the ‘authentic’ and the possibility of subverting it by making things up and presenting them as real. It works in recordings and also, for example, in creating instruments and presenting them in the UK as part of a speculative Eastern European tradition. The invention of old musical traditions exercises the imagination and renders history as fluid and not as something static. I think it is useful. Jennifer Walshe talks about remaking one’s heritage through the process of inventing history.
I am not a scholar of Baroque or Renaissance music, but I like using the clichés, spinning them around and deforming them to see what happens. I am intrigued by Baroque and Renaissance music but also by the art of these periods. It proposes a decadent oversaturation, something that is not very popular these days. Imagine you have only stone to work with and you go completely over the top with it.
The Animalia release was recorded about 10 years ago. I was trying to create a kind of fake educational recording with imaginary folk music. Years later I happily realised that Luc Ferrari entertained similar ideas in his recordings. His fictional autobiographies have a very poetic quality.
I like to play with the idea of the ‘authentic’ and the possibility of subverting it by making things up and presenting it as a real thing. It works in recordings but also, for example, creating instruments and proposing them in the UK as part of a speculative Eastern European tradition. The invention of old musical traditions exercises the imagination and renders history as fluid and not as something static. I think it is useful. Jennifer Walshe talks about remaking one’s heritage through the process of inventing history.
I am not a scholar of baroque or renaissance music but I like using the clichés, spinning them around and deforming them and seeing what happens. I am intrigued by baroque and renaissance music but also art. It proposes a decadent oversaturation, something that is not very popular these days. Imagine you have only stone to work with and go completely over the top with it.
Your latest release, Syphon, deconstructs music of the past, while imagining the music of the future. Can you perhaps give us your take on these two big realms?
The idea behind Syphon was to imagine a point in the distant future where somebody would compose music from the past while possessing a very limited amount of information. They would confuse historical periods, juxtaposing Renaissance choral music with noise etc., but somehow find connections between distant genres. Imagine some kind of post-apocalyptic scenario, where there is limited technology, you might only have access to some incomplete manuscripts and a rusty hard drive.
But besides all of that, I seek a kind of sensuality or even beauty that can be embodied in the human voice or articulated in music or even in the structure of an album through a certain ordering of events.
Can you talk about the notion of spectacle in your work – and how your music and performance work with it? How important is the visual and the aesthetic to you?
The visual aspect of the show is very important to me. The projections resonate with the music or sometimes work against it. The 3D-printed pipes are a result of my academic research, but their design is informed by trying things out in a room with musicians or non-musicians and making decisions about their final form. The ultimate goal in making a show is doing something I would like to see, something multidimensional, where the mind is lost and sometimes confused but intrigued, where you intuitively know that there is some kind of logic or order or some poetic association between separate elements.
Besides music-making, you also build instruments incorporating 3D printing. In an interview with The Quietus, you also mentioned the modular hype, and how you sort of went against it in a way. What led you to build instruments?
I think at that point I decided to experiment with acoustic instruments rather than going into the modular world, which I think is still quite an expensive thing. I was gravitating towards simplicity, something tactile, like bowing a string stretched on a drum skin. I saw the gesture of choosing a plumbing pipe and drilling holes in it as something almost ironic, an anti-technological sentiment. But later, I started using 3D printers, which in a way reversed the situation by associating something ancient, primitive, with this very new technology.
Building your own instruments or sound objects allows for different meanings to appear, for example the double reed, which has its origins in antiquity, and the connection of this archetypal reed sound with 3D printing technology. An overlapping of a distant past and a possible future.
Can you talk about your performances? You’ve also worked in theatre quite a bit. How do you feel your performance has developed over the years, and how can electronic artists perform their works without looking as if they’re reading their emails? 🙂
The theatre experience was invaluable for understanding the importance of structure. Now I am lucky enough to sometimes have some musicians with me playing strings or harp or other very attractive objects.
Can you talk about the collaboration that you have at this year’s Unsound with the Spółdzielnia Muzyczna contemporary ensemble?
I am very excited about this collaboration, there will be a string quartet, bass clarinet, flute, soprano and percussion. Improvisation, composition, love and fear, light, darkness, and many things in between. My dream ensemble, I think.
What are your dreams?
Well, the future is too distant to contemplate now but I hope we will manage to get some excitement from the Unsound gig. I am also looking forward to some other gigs in October: solo, duo and other combinations.
Interview: Lucia Udvardyova