Australian-based musician and composer Michael Figucio works under the name Vi Res(short for Video Resolution.) Vi Res’ world is a mixture of cold synths, robotic rhythms, and slow-churning ambient soundscapes that feel like the score to some early 80s sci fi flick. There seems to be equal amounts of dread and tempered beauty with albums like Lost Score, Static Interference, Silent Collective, and his newest albums Cold Century and Vi Res. In a relatively short period of time Figucio has released a prolific amount of music. Since 2015 he’s released 6 full-lengths, as well as singles and at least one EP. Each release seems to build from the previous, giving his work a real arc. One of his most recent releases , Cold Century, is a future classic in the heavy synth genre.
I got the opportunity to ask Michael Figucio a few questions about Vi Res, the music-making process, and his influences. He was kind enough to answer those questions.
J. Hubner: So where did you grow up?
Michael Figucio: In two places. In Sydney until the age of thirteen then my family moved to Gosford on the NSW central Coast which is around 70 kilometres north of Sydney.
J. Hubner: What sort of kid were you? Outside playing sports and getting into trouble, or were you inside reading books and comics and creating worlds with your imagination to play in?
Michael Figucio: I was mainly inside listening to music, playing with toys, watching movies, playing an Atari 2600, although was and still am quite bad at playing video games. My character always dies before I learn to use the controls. I don’t even try to play video games anymore.
J. Hubner: When did music become important in your life?
Michael Figucio: For as long as I can remember I have always been fascinated by music. The ages of two to three years old (possibly even earlier) is how far back my memory extends to. I remember dancing to records as a toddler. I remember destroying the first copy of Mickey Mouse Disco that my father had bought for me, by manually trying to play the record by hand with a car charging adapter. I was obsessed with the record player and records and used to watch them spin around on the platter. If we had splatter and coloured vinyl editions back then it might have been quite a psychedelic experience at that age, but it just was anyway. It seemed like there was music everywhere at the time and that the world was a magical place for enjoying entertainment. I had family members that played on local and international chart topping records, they were magical and the magic of music radiated from every direction. Music was important to me back then and it still is somewhat important to me now.
J. Hubner: Can you remember the first album to truly make an impact on you? What was it about that album that affected you so much?
Michael Figucio: Although there are albums that hallmark the journey to this discovery, the first record that spoke to my mind was ‘Red Sails In The Sunset’ by Midnight Oil. This was the first time that I ever took notice of lyrics, instrumentation and production. I learned that music is a story and an important form of communication and a source of information. I received the album as a christmas present after experiencing Midnight Oil live when they performed on an island that I was living on in Sydney Harbour. The cover art is an photograph of Sydney Harbour which had been turned into a post-apocalyptic image of Sydney-where my house was located. So that made me look deeply into the record and its lyrics.
The lyrics contained relevance to an underlying,sinister history of Australia that was in stark contrast to the image of Australia in a time when the country was inflating its own ego along the way to the bicentenary in 1988. It was a gross time. Everything was like “G’day mate! I’m a proud Aussie” and it was getting very nauseating. The public was just so pumped up about living in Australia, by the media,and it was just all frigging kangaroos and Vegemite and crap beer. RSITS raised the flag on some of the issues that weren’t being taught at school or represented in the media (still aren’t). The band did not start or stop with that record and they didn’t just make records about issues , they were seriously actively involved and made significant efforts leading to saving some of Tasmanian forestry etc. And just before the bicentenary they were a huge help in exposing the poor conditions of Aboriginal communities. There is no way that a record like those would get released by Sony records today. Some records were quite deep back then, particularly the ones that had social relevance. Nowadays we have the internet and social media that more directly deals with our social and political awareness (for better or worse). Now I suppose that records can relax and be hedonistic. Fun is important.
And musically it was the most mind expanding sonic experience to date for me. It had incredible guitar work that wasn’t like metal or Hendrix etc It had studio experimentation, there was an instrumental that represents the story and a hit single that intelligently told us all that we were all actively voting the country down the toilet while it raucously, artfully and skilfully rocked on… It has vocals, guitars, basses, drums of all kinds, synths, effects, tape manipulation etc There is a lot going on in it. It was recorded at Sony headquarters in Tokyo and apparently it was an uphill battle with the business suits of Sony. There would be long meetings and threats of torn up contracts over things such as recording the drums in the toilet. Apparently that wasn’t how you were supposed to make a record in the worlds utmost state of the art studios. It is the most interesting sounding work from that studio and the most disappointing record for the bands members.
25 years later I had the opportunity to attend a songwriting workshop MO songwriter and drummer, Rob Hirst. In those few hours I learnt what no other music training has ever taught me and it was simple. I started composing not long after that and started the Vi Res project.
J. Hubner: When did you first start playing music? What was the first instrument you learned to play?
Vi Res: I learned my first chords on guitar at age twelve then I started taking guitar lessons a year later.
J. Hubner: Before you began recording as Vi Res, what other bands did you play in?
Michael Figucio: A number of insignificant, musical abominations. I hated playing in bands and avoided doing so for most of the time. The music was always terrible so I never stuck around for too long and eventually,I just resorted to only playing shows if they paid well. Australia’s taste in music is abysmal and I don’t partake in it anymore. I spent nearly twenty five years working in live production and had to hold onto my stomach the entire time.
There was only ever one musically satisfying and rewarding experience that I had playing in a band. That time is when I played drums for Ernest Baidoo (aka Afro Moses) who was a Ghanaian pop star who moved to Australia. He rather forcefully fixed my drumming and helped steer my mind away from relying on western music theory. I learned that technical music can be simple. The music was African Highlife and it was fast, funky and had a lot of changes. I wasn’t ready for it either and found the African approach abrupt but then I started to improve and now I actually prefer to make music that way.
J. Hubner: When did your interest in electronic music and synthesizers begin?
Michael Figucio: Through the films of the 70’s and 80’s. Also from sharing a room with my big brother Daniel who was into tech and collected CD’s. He would regularly play Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre, Mike Oldfield and all of this stuff that no-one was listening to. Those records made a huge impact on me even though I didn’t revisit them until around ten years ago,I never forgot them. In the late 90’s there was Radiohead, Doves, Portishead et al that were using electronica in an appealing way to me. After that I would notice electronic music incorporated into other styles of records. I would listen to those parts of the records and ignore the rest.
J. Hubner: Let’s talk Vi Res. When did you first start making music under the name Vi Res? What was the concept behind the project?
Michael Figucio: I did try to play in a band in 2014 that I didn’t mind the music of. we had one rehearsal which was excellent but it fell over after that. I had finished up in a job that was taking my time away and wanted to spend time making music. A friend had given me a licence for Logic 9 so I started to record with that. I noticed that it had a drum machine so I started to program drums for my demos. I didn’t have a bass guitar but noticed that Logic had synths so I started to play bass lines. Then i just put the guitar down and made The First People.
J. Hubner: Do you have a collection of hardware you like to use?
Michael Figucio: I have been learning about synthesisers whilst using them. I have bought and sold a few synths but software sounds good so I just use that. I don’t play live shows so I don’t need to sync multiple synths together. I don’t use sequencers so my music isn’t quantised which suits me- means that I can play around with timing which has a massive effect on how my music sounds. There is a lot of behind the beat or ‘lateness’ if you will in my weird little pieces of music.
J. Hubner: ‘Vi Res’. Is that short for video resolution?
Michael Figucio: Yeah it is Video Resolution. I was considering ‘Virus” as a name as in computer virus but when I was patching my Blu Ray player into the television, video resolution appeared on the screen so that sealed it.
J. Hubner: With the Vi Res releases there’s a heavy horror/sci fi soundtrack vibe. How influential are horror/science fiction films to your work? Who are some cinematic influences on Vi Res’ sound/style?
Michael Figucio: It’s actually unintentional to a degree. Using synthesisers automatically makes it sound that way. To be honest, I’m just trying to make a piece of music with an all synth production. The end result is that it sounds cinematic. I don’t mean to be…(drum roll)…Carpenteresque. I love Carpenter’s films and music but there has only ever been one time that I have thought of him when producing and all that I did was put an 808 cowbell on quavers.
Seriously, I am just desperately trying to get any finished result that I possibly can. I’m not trying to be 80’s. Apart from the films, I hated the 80’s. I do listen to a fair amount of film score records, so from there must be influence.
J. Hubner: Can you tell me a little about one of your most recent releases ‘Cold Century’? How did the writing process come about? Is there a concept behind the record?
Michael Figucio: I wanted to revive Vi Res this year so…Cold Century just came about from me entertaining thought about the 80’s revival. The concept is: In the Twenty First Century. Humankind has grown to be so frustrated by the lack of analogue sound and the disappearance of feel good films, that they have invented time machines to go back to the 1980’s and party like it’s 1999 and pretend that its fatal yet fixable future doesn’t exist. Leaving 2018 cold, desolate and neglected.
The title came first. I wanted the music to be just short of a complete mess. I wanted to get a vintage sound. I wanted first takes in any condition. Mistakes had to stay in and they have. The tracks on Cold Century are the demo versions that I decided should be the final versions. It sounded the way that I wanted it to so I used the demos.
J. Hubner: How does your songwriting process work? What do you start out with generally; a chord progression, melody, or a narrative you want to write around?
Michael Figucio: Usually starts with the main melody line then I constantly struggle to find other sections to fit it.
J. Hubner: Besides Vi Res, you also started Disco Cinematic(home of the first SNDTRK compilation.) What was the idea behind Disco Cinematic?
Michael Figucio: Disco Cinematic was the working title for The First People so I used that. DCR is not a label it’s a production. People think that it’s a label but it isn’t. I published Bryce Miller’s Operator on cassette because I liked it.
The real idea was to just publish my own projects and people want things to be on a label. It hasn’t really made any difference so I don’t really bother with it anymore. This is all just a hobby at the end of the day.
J. Hubner: Can we talk a little about the SNDTRK compilation. How did the idea come about to get these artists together?
Michael Figucio: I just wanted to do my bit to look after the genre that I thought that Vi Res existed in. I just wanted to bring people together.
J. Hubner: I’d heard there was a second SNDTRK compilation happening. What’s going on with that?
Michael Figucio: I have handed the recorded to another label to take care of so I’m not entirely sure what will happen. I may be mastering it but it’s too early to say. It’s a communal project and it is someone else’s turn to produce it. I’ve had my turn.
J. Hubner: You’ve had a very productive 2018 so far. What’s in store for the rest of 2018? Any more releases lined up for Vi Res?
Michael Figucio: I hope to make another full length or two. If I can raise the money to buy the synth that I’m looking at then I can take the current Vi Res sound further. I’d like to find more people that might enjoy this music. I think that it could service more people, it’s just matter of finding them.