Friday, April 27, 2007

political versus you

I've spent two and a half hours this afternoon editing the first 15 seconds of my most recent video, so that its sticky subtext would change (perversely, the more I dilute its undesirable meaning, the less coherent sense it makes). I would say that ideally there would be no referent, if not for the fact that pure abstraction is boring. It seems magical, and frustrating, once your footage--sampled from reality--has been cut up and rearranged into a sequence; then, the newfound order and timing and relationships of the images give them new meaning. I find it difficult to foresee this meaning. The work is no longer a simple trace of what was there before you, of what you saw and how you saw it; it's no longer as simple. So how do you ensure that the work remains a) true to your feelings and b) completely intuitive? Is it impossible?

Some solutions: Do not film loaded images! Or, address the content without making yourself beholden to it. Or, decontextualize the images so radically that they speak only to you, and to nothing else (while also being legible to others). Or, don't look outwards for extraordinary content; make it from scratch. Or, turn inwards completely; film only the mundane: then, everything special that comes must come directly from you.

To a degree, music seems like the ideal artform because it is entirely abstract, and in a sense, pure of complicating factors. But this purity ends with sampling (not to mention words). Aaron Spectre's ragga- and metal-breakcore mashups aren't mashups per se, where the stars merely happen to align--they sound wise, carefully considered, artfully wrought, refined. They do transcend ragga and metal cliches; yet they're authentic, or at least faithful. And, it turns out, they result from good old-fashioned (because timeless) introspection, reflection, cultivation. Spectre left New York for Berlin because:

it was time to move on. New York was (and still is) an awful place to be creative, for certain kinds of people. It's a great place to learn, to see crazy high-end awesome stuff, but not a good place to focus, too distracting and too expensive. In Berlin, now that I wasn't spending mad cash on living expenses, I was able to invest in proper music gear... sit down and develop, figure out how to make that sound I'd been hearing in my head for years.

It could be ironic that Spectre and Drumcorps records, which are as loud and confrontational as they come, are the product of such an internal process. But it's not, because of course the records are only going to make the impact that they have if they're as close to perfectly formed as can be: consistently rude, incisively loud. Spectre's live & improvised Ableton sets have a precise shape: as if they're imprinted directly from his subconscious. So they play out a bit like a slightly self-conscious stream of consciousness--appropriate for an artist/auteur working with (for want of a better term) colloquial forms--but it hardly even matters. The sensibility, and sound, is so effective that it can't be argued with. If I had one criticism, it'd be that the ideas and execution seem vaguely, curiously modest--but the point remains.

"All you have as an artist is your word and the quality of your work. I like that, it keeps things pure. Those things are all you ever have really, but in a totally DIY environment you never forget it."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

it seems like we argue every day

Along with texture, rhythm, space and time--your sense of reality becomes viscous, things in the world become curious and uncanny, as if they were all slurred. Like the disorientating game-layers in eXistenZ and the effect created by staring into a computer screen for more hours than into open air. In screw music, there is no sense or implication of the "realest" Real, because literally every sound is distorted and dragged down into unnatural slowness, including the real/live DJ's own interjections (!). This whole world is wrong, thus a totally pure escape--and catharsis, for the open air seems to be charged with electricity when you emerge.

OG Ron C's F-Action series of screwed & chopped R&B jams is more profound to me than the Michael Watts versions of hardcore crunk albums (though his refix of Da Unbreakables comes close). It's because of R&B's constant use of melody, which--when screwed--becomes glaringly slow & low, yawning stretches of fabric stretched into odd, troubling outfits. The more banal the melody, the more profound the shift in perception. What could be a visual corollary to slow-jam schlock?

Friday, February 16, 2007


Subrin's video obsesses over another artist and her work, while showing neither the artist's face nor her work. Instead, it spends maybe 20 minutes circling its difficult (because complex, yet temptingly obvious) subject, using a number of strategies which divide the video into an equal number of independent segments. This gesture feels cerebral rather than arbitrary, carefully measured rather than haphazard. I have a feeling it has to do with the length and pace of each segment, which ultimately require intuition much more than rational thought.

I don't remember The Fancy's exact sequence but I do remember its strategies (or, movements), for what it's worth. The introductory scanning of the late artist's former belongings, a staid archive made voluptuous by the camera's twists and pans. The camera isn't afraid to re-scan objects at only slightly different angles, like it's cross-referencing this information into a temporal weave. And the short-term memories of the objects build up, encrust themselves in our heads: books, mirrors, a bowl of eels. Then there are still shots, which--coming after those first restless movements--seem as effective as pure photographs. We see them as photographs, even though they are motion pictures, because they don't appear to move, because they're rigorously framed. Yet they breathe where photographs suffocate; whereas photographs thrive within sealed borders, the video "stills" have danger: danger of movement, danger of activity, danger of the unexpected, danger of a cut. And yet they're equally ephemeral, one-of-a-kind documents of a place and time (with bonus sounds).

Then there are those deadpan recitations and re-enactments of the late artist's photographs, revived for the video camera and video screen. At their best, they isolate and magnify video's extra limbs, its secret weapons: sound (a lone figure, straitjacketed into a "photographic" frame, speaks with no emotion; you hear the words, then you interpret them, then you notice yourself responding to sound, and realize afterwards that these were sounds made by photographs), and movement (anonymous women posing, twitching, and gyrating eerily in total silence--phenomenal that such minimal, isolated movements could be so shocking). I don't know why film doesn't hold up to basic experiments such as these, but I suppose it makes sense that the more economical and fluid of the two would be the most free.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Koudelka's pictures speak volumes. Photography paralyzes me because so much must be left out--yet this is precisely its power; everything that remains in the frame is quite literally everything. The balance, or dialectic, between what is excluded and what is revealed, when successful (as in a masterpiece like Exiles), is both frightening and inspiring.

Frightening because it's a maddeningly difficult and haphazard process of accumulation and subsequent cherry-picking, a hodgepodge of shots taken from a dozen different countries over a period of years that nonetheless cohere and congeal like the viscous fluid of Koudelka's black eye. His sensibility pervades each photograph in Exiles: bleak and skeletal and windy and uncanny, as textural as it is literary. I can only attribute this to the strength, the incessant presence, of that sensibility, which forcefully reflects the natural light of the world from the camera back into the world, projecting the author's own dreams and nightmares onto its landscapes and bodies. This secret unbalance marks those of us who can't help but be artists, despite our equally secret wishes that we could be just as happy as corporate businessmen or marine biologists. You see these images and first you think "what kind of a place is that" and it hits you, immediately thereafter: What sort of human being is this?

And this is why Exiles inspires, too ... it's easy and beguiling, immediate and bottomless, a quick reference guide for how to be a hard-working natural talent, a testament to persisting against "merely great enough" status. Any one of a certain dozen of these haunting pictures could have been Koudelka's last word on the medium, a decent excuse to leave this pursuit for other pleasures, but for whatever reason--a lack of greater pleasures, a perpetual sense of unfinished business, a score to settle with his past--he kept talking, until so much had been said about the subject of Exiles that it was already time for the next stage in his life.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Hunger tracks the tiniest shifts in the perception, emotion, and outlook of its protagonist as he sits, stews, and starves out his days while "nothing" happens. Each one of these seemingly inconsequential turns becomes crucial and central, the narrative's building blocks, the art work's fundamental units. Knut Hamsun's approach is heartening: shamelessly, relentlessly subjective, a grand experiment, a supreme demonstration of faith in his process. Yet his strategy is nothing if not meticulously structured, documentary, conceivably objective: beautifully simple, transcribing the mind's various turns and twists chronologically, deadpan--with incisive, urgent prose to be sure--and simply choosing where to jump time, which events to place in what order.

Also completely heartening to see that such a frantic, fretting mess of a mind is--if not necessarily normal--at least perfectly, authentically human.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

get mashup

Bizzy B and Equinox embody jungle-as-jungle's renaissance post-2000, tracks swirling with amens and other once-innocent recordings, snipped and stitched until they gleam and dance schizophrenically. Both are willing acolytes of the darkside classes of '93 and '96, and they do indeed bring those sounds into the future, but their single-minded focus can wound their relevance as much as it enables them to explore new extremes of the same territory. Their jungle cannot ever sound like the future, today's future as opposed to the last decade's phuture; it's all roots.

In contrast: ASC tracks such as "Distress Signal", "Lightsphere", and "Drum Track 3 (Heatsink)" and most of Sileni's discography. Jungle isn't just an era; it's a template, an outlook, a creative philosophy. Much like Photek sharpened his drums into textural (textual) slivers and Boymerang mutated his amen so thoroughly it was named "Boymerang" in his honor, ASC--at his most profound--employs and re-employs his own custom-built breakbeats. This is not unique, but ASC is inimitable: his sounds can't be missed; they're his signatures and symbols. The way he wields them is cut & paste--powered by jungle's recombinant heart. His productivity is theoretically endless: the possible recombinations are infinite, an infinity that multiplies each time his "purer" creativity leads him to fabricate a new sound, texture, breakbeat. This way of working seems ideal, and the element of newness is key.

Sileni manufactures all of his own sounds (except, of course, when he's sampling amen). And his music seems inspired and informed by jungle, but it doesn't feel especially like jungle. Instead, tracks like "Twitchy Droid Leg", "Failspan", and "Pressing Buttons" come across as alien, fully resistant to deconstruction thanks to their author's consummate weirdness. The form is recognizably jungle to varying degrees, but the sensibility trumps all. If ASC is a thoroughly contemporary jungle soldier, Sileni explores the zones in the jungle's outer dimensions, stretching the definition of the medium. In a sense it's music-as-music, distinguished by constructing an entirely new language rather than simply deploying a new vocabulary. (Given a certain degree of talent, neither is clearly preferable to the other; the question is how important it is that the artist transcends style and genre.)

Monday, December 25, 2006


Everyone seems to want to use digital technology to frantically purge their images (moving or not) of grime, unimagined deviations, anything remotely signifying a loss of total control. It's more than encouraging to see how Lynch wields digital dirt: convincingly, beautifully.

Inland Empire
is thoroughly oneiric, isn't simply a window into another world. We try (try!) to understand characters, words, events, and meanings through a thick haze which renders limbs fuzzy, eyes blurry, wounds subconscious.

The haze is omnipresent: sometimes it's easy to forget; other times we can see it spilling forth from the shadows. I suspect that it's more often the technical "failings" of Lynch's Handycam, rather than Lynch's own direction, at work (of course it's inherently both), but the effect can't be shortchanged. We are constantly forced to question our relationship to what is seen.

The silver screen is perhaps why this works so well. We see Inland Empire in traditional filmic terms, because it's projected from a reel onto an enormous panel in a dark auditorium, even though it could easily be video art (Lynch's story-weave is so weird that I'm not sure that one could say it's constructed "like a film" either). I'm excited to watch it reconstitute itself on my television monitor, on my laptop screen.