Visualized: Guillermo Casanova

We speak with Guillermo about his art, his process, and touring Europe with XXYYXX.

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Visualized spotlights visual artists in the music world.

As technology advances, we are seeing more and more electronic laptop acts. With that, it is becoming normal to see VJ’s manipulating visual senses with their video clips mixed and mashed alongside their audio counterparts on stage. Guillermo Casanova is one of these visual transformers. Guillermo’s skill set isn’t only limited to his VJ abilities; he also creates intricate collage work to satisfy his itch for creation. I was fortunate enough to speak with Guillermo about his art, his process, and touring Europe with XXYYXX.

Where are you from originally?

Born in San Juan, raised in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

What got you into visual art?

For as long as I can remember, music, art and making things have been important aspects of my life. First, I started doing visual art outside the computer with the usual drawing and painting classes one takes when they’re young, but around middle school I started leaning towards digital means. The first few things I ever made digitally were really cliché color and visual manipulations of photos my friends would send me. They’d come with a cheesy signature on the bottom and everything. As time went on, I explored different avenues of digital art, including minimalist vector art, a few gig posters here and there, and commercial work. I didn’t do anything remotely close to the pieces I do now until I was out of high school. I discovered the work of digital artists like Sonny Kay, whose work had adorned the vast amount of Omar Rodriguez Lopez records I highly enjoyed. For a while, I was also in a Facebook group composed of musicians and artists from around the world (Mainly the United States) named Sewer Greats. The people in the group were very encouraging and seeing the work of other visual artists helped inspire me into creating my own.

What is your process when making artwork? Do you have archives of saved images or do you go on a hunt once you know what you’re going to be working on?

I have an archive of hundreds of images that I have collected by surfing the web, plus I also have tons of old books and magazines that I have accumulated visiting used book stores and thrift stores. There is specific imagery and themes that I am attracted to. When creating a piece I’ll usually start by putting on music that will help me get in a state of mind, and then proceed to experiment with the images and materials I have. It’s a process of constant experimentation, figuring out what looks good and what doesn’t, until I feel that it’s finally finished.

Along with digital art, you also create live visuals for some electronic acts. How did you get into projection work?

The idea came about when I found out I could trigger different points on the timeline of Youtube videos to the beat of music I was listening to. I thought of how rad it would be to do this in a live setting, so I asked JSHIH if he knew any of software that would enable me to mix video to music, and told him that if this was possible we should incorporate it into his set for future shows. After a few searches I found out about Resolume Avenue, finally made use of my old MPD32, started learning it, and got a projector. My first show on the visuals was for JSHIH at Backbooth on December of last year. XYYXX, Fortune Howl, and GRANT also performed, but at the time I had not met them.

Has music always been a major driving force in your life or is it a more recent interest?

Music has always been a major influence and driving force in my life and it has helped me to express what’s in my head. I got really into music when I was pretty young, and with P2P sharing programs and a 56k modem at my fingertips, my appetite for music was insatiable. Although the music I listen to has definitely changed drastically and evolved through the years, it has always maintained its influence in my life. My interest in music initially stemmed from playing it, so I picked up the bass and joined a few bands (punk and prog rock mainly) for a while. Ultimately, that passion for playing music slowly faded and I began finding other ways of working in music, without having to make music myself. Being a huge fan of the artwork on albums I listened to, and after having worked on commercial work, I figured I could do the same. Pretty much all of my artwork, whether it is for an album, event poster, or a personal piece, is done listening to music. If I’m working on my own pieces I’ll listen to a specific artist which will influence my piece, and when it comes to working with artists I will listen to their album/song repeatedly as I work on the piece so I can get an idea of how to best represent the artists’ work.

After watching you VJ live, it seems like you’re just as into the music as the musicians are. Do you typically practice with musicians in order to get your side of the set down?

I love the music the artists I perform with make, and I listen to their music literally over and over and over again. By listening to a track multiple times, I can get a better idea of how it would be represented visually. I want to know the exact emotion, colors, pace, etc. that the visuals should be for it. After I get the song’s set ready, I listen to it over and over and over again as I practice the set (with the exception of MARBLE, whose visuals I do much differently). A week or so before a show, I just ask the artist for their set list and that puts us on the same page, and if there are any songs on the set list that don’t have visuals I’ll make em. So, I have never actually practiced with the artists, all the practice I get with them is at the shows.

Guillermo VJing at FMLY Fest FL

Did your relationship with the Relief in Abstract crew start after that show?

You could say that, I first met Jered at that show because he needed to use my projector for the other acts. But I didn’t begin doing visuals for them until later when JSHIH played a show with XXYYXX, Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, and Little Ruckus at Stardust, where I officially met Fortune Howl and XXYYXX. I really liked their music so I asked them if they’d be down for me to do visuals for their next shows, they were down and it all grew from there.

You recently went on a euro-trip with XXYYXX. How did that come to fruition?

Going with XXYYXX on tour was not something that we were expecting. Originally Jered Dowden was supposed to go to Europe with XXYYXX and Giraffage, but was unable to after an unfortunate car accident. Thus, Alex Johnson and Jered asked me if I’d be willing to go instead and do visuals for both acts throughout the tour. I said “of course,” and it was set.

What was your most memorable moment?

The Dublin show was insane. It was sold out, and by the time we went up, the venue was packed to capacity. From the beginning of Giraffage’s set to the end of XXYYXX’s set, the crowd’s energy was at a constant high. I don’t think I had ever played a show that wild: people were singing along to a ton of the tracks and moving all over the place, some people were rollin’ hard and licking the monitors, a few people got half-naked in the front-row, a guy came up onstage and got the crowd even wilder during XXYYXX’s set, plus, we were all quite drunk. It was really great to seeing people so receptive to what we were doing. Whether it was a banger or a chilled out tune, they still went along with it, allowing the “energy loop” to continue. Personally, it was the first show in the tour that got me to truly let go and go with the vibe.

What did you notice differently about the scene in Europe as opposed to the scene in the U.S.?

I think the clearest distinction that I noticed between the scenes is that there are more people in Europe that appreciate and are really into music than here in the States. Seeing festival and gig posters everywhere was common in just about every country we played in. The craziest part was seeing that many of the artists on the bill were usually from Canada or the United States. When it came to what we were doing, people were generally much more receptive as well. I think that might have been due to both electronic music’s enduring popularity and long history in Europe. Crowds in most countries were also much more open to wilding out and dancing during shows, which is always a plus.

Also, for the most part, venues in Europe were much more caring of the artists that played in them. In my case, a huge difference was that almost all of the venues we went to (with the exception of one) had a projector and screen set up. It was not at all unusual to have VJs and projections. The fact that their video cables went to the stage was definitely one of my favorite things (I think only two venues didn’t). That gave me a chance to perform side by side with the artists, getting me even more into it, and adding to the live show as a whole. It was definitely an improvement from back home where I had to set up my own screen, projector, and not be even remotely close to the artist. The energy is extremely different.

What can we expect to see in the future?

The European tour has changed my perspective on a few things, so I have been dedicating myself more to creating artwork, both digital and mixed-media pieces. I’ll be working on more artwork for releases as well, especially for artists on Relief In Abstract Records as I have recently become Creative Director at the label. Relief In Abstract is also currently getting revamped, which means a new website is in the horizon. Also, there might be another tour next year but nothing certain.

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