Gavin Rayna Russom is a New York based multimedia artist and composer of electronic music. Using the analog and digital synthesizer she has produced a body of extremely influential art and music over the last 15 years. She is perhaps best known as the synthesist in the critically-acclaimed band LCD Soundsystem.
Much of her work is informed by her deep relationship with the analog synthesizer, a tool she has applied herself to not only as a composer and player but also as a designer and builder since 1999. Rayna began DJing while throwing parties in her high school cafeteria, but her first experiences putting creative work out into the world began in punk and hardcore bands followed by performing in nightclubs and underground DIY venues - spaces that were full of the type of cultural interpolation she found so important.
As someone who had never been comfortable in the fixed ideas which surrounded gender and all of the social frameworks that accompanied it, the possibilities of music and specifically analog synth electronic production were a critical way for her to engage with the outside world and still be authentic to her internal world. Part of Rayna’s vision is to combine the rigorousness of academic music and art-and its serious intentions to transform culture through its ability to communicate spiritual ideas-with the world of the club where these connect to real people’s daily lives. In addition to recording and performing music she also creates the visual elements for her work including installations, music videos, record covers, costumes, sets and props. Rayna is a current member of LCD Soundsystem with whom she recently completed a two and a half year world tour in support of their number one album "American Dream", followed up by a DJ tour with bandmate Nancy Whang as The Ladies of LCD Soundsystem. She is one of National Sawdust's Artists in Residence for 2019 and will perform new work there several times throught the season. Rayna came out as a trans woman in 2017, read her exclusive feature with Pitchfork and INTO.
Rayna on synths
"Although analog synthesizers have many singular properties such as their ability to produce rich and warm tones, I was attracted to them, and have continued to be interested in using them for other reasons. I initially encountered them just after graduating from high school when I was discovering the possibilities of timbre as a primary compositional device. This came out of research into Indian classical music and jazz and a passion for the early electronic music that came out of Detroit and Chicago in the early 1980’s. All of this music affirmed that in addition to melody and rhythm, changes in the tone of a sound could also have meaning. Analog synthesizers by design provided access to the timbre of sounds. While they may have initially been designed as flexible studio tools that could recreate the sounds of many different acoustic instruments, the ability to change sounds in real time was why they spoke to me. One of the main reasons was because it was body affirming. The overtone system, for example, which one manipulates via the filter cutoff and resonance parameters or the vco wave shape, as well as with any type of additive synthesis, is a physical phenomenon in the human body and of physical spaces. As an internally functional system, one that could be set up to play by themselves without the interaction of a human operator, they are also a type of body. If a human operator did wish to interact with the system this had to be done by movements of the body, physically turning knobs, patching cables, etc."
"So the synthesizer affirmed the body on many levels. Because of its ability to shape sound the synthesizer proposed an idea that was significant to me as a person dealing with gender dissonance about the fluid nature of everything. Electricity flows in and is shaped as it passes through different modules. The possibilities are infinite and any sound can shape or morph itself into any other one. I was interested in both spirituality and quantum mechanics at the time and that perspective led me to frame this as a metaphor for other kinds of fluidity. I felt and still do feel that these kinds of fluidity, such as the fluidity of gender, are intrinsic to human existence, but are negated by the strictures of capitalist social organization. Once I began to think of it this way, analog synthesis became a type of channeling connected with a tremendous cosmic force, electricity. Just as a trance medium becomes a vessel into which the spirits of ancestors or deities can flow and become animated, the synthesizer is able to channel the elemental force of electricity into human beings via the medium of electroacoustic sound. In playing or even listening to this instrument once, I felt I could tap into a timeless force larger than myself, and thus grow from who I was to who I could be, and perhaps help others to do the same."
Prior to Rayna’s coming out publicly as a trans woman, she spent much of her career exploring her relationship with the fluidity of both her sound and gender. By choosing not to edit past press, Rayna brings awareness to the fact that her career arc has been multifaceted and constantly evolving in order to help shape her trans feminist identity today.