subliminalTV is an ongoing project based primarily around live audiovisual performance with – mostly – original sound and video. I have developed my own software, AViator, which allows me to link audio and video (and other things) together in odd ways, and all live. With subliminalTV I’m trying to do something very different to most DJ/VJ sets I’ve seen – I’m deliberately avoiding flashy 3D visualisations etc. and going for a very lo-fi, ancient kind of look. I’m also using some very homemade and analogue techniques and a deliberately unlikely range of source material. My influences haven’t been anything recent, but rather things like surreal 1920s cinema and – a very direct influence – Global Groove, Nam June Paik’s amazing ‘global village’ collage from the 70s. The music is intentionally all over the place stylistically, with elements of my experimental electroacoustic background combining with plundered samples and strange (or just plain wrong) genre combinations.
NOTE – these are contiguous sections of a single performance. So they’re best watched in sequence (in my opinion), and some clips start and stop rather abruptly. The nice vimeo player will play them in sequence anyway – just leave it to it!
Part 1 – holes
This section is a good example of my lo-tech experimental approach to multimedia – here most of what you can HEAR is actually the video itself. Basically I simply split the video signal and shove it into my audio input (as well as sending it to the projector). If you do this, quite often you won’t hear anything (I think the frequencies involved are actually out of the range of human hearing), but if you mix the signal with something else, you get strange kinds of interference. Here I combined it with some rather filthy bass to get this rather raw, distorted kind of sound – I really like the way the video has a tendancy to punch ‘holes’ in the audio – hence the title of this section. It does make for a pretty raw and nasty sound – if this bit isn’t your cup of tea, do try some of the other sections which you might find easier going! I’m trying to develop a kind of audiovisual feedback loop based on this (where the audio signal is fed back into the video too), but I haven’t really got this working yet.
Part 2 – toody girls
I like to do live visuals in strange ways, and this is a good example. The visual material is all super8 film, captured live off the screen of a funny little super8 editor thing I’ve got (it probably has a more proper name than that). It has two little handles that you spool the film through with, and with a bit of practice you can get the film to ‘dance’ in time with the music (expecially if the film is actually of dancers!). Here and there I do some rudimentary ‘mixing’ simply by putting two bits of film through at once. I really like the super-low-quality effect you get from filming off the tiny scratched screen with its little flickering bulb.
One of the ideas behind subliminalTV is to use rather unlikely material – things off the cutting-room floor, things no-one else might want. This is a good example of that – the super8 material was literally discovered in an attic. I’ve absolutely no idea who these people are, or any of the background behind the footage – I find that fascinating, and a bit sad. Oh, and there’s a tiny bit of Chris Marker’s ‘Sans Soleil’ in there too – don’t really know why.
Part 3 – oneyes
I’m interested in the idea of visual material seeming somehow symbolic, without actually symbolising anything. This has led me to develop (unsurprisingly) an interest in symbols – I’ve accumulated quite a library of books of/about them (my favorite is Symbol Sourcebook by Henry Dreyfuss). All the symbols used here were literally scanned in by hand, which took weeks. Although this is a bit crazy, I like the idea of a hand-made film put together a frame at a time.
Although these sequences were done ‘manually’, I’ve subsequently developed a piece of software called ‘choosyviewer’ that automates this process. It can sift through images/video and find frames that are similar and sequence them according to this similarity, which can be defined using various rules. It’s quite cool actually – more anon. The little sequences of symbols are synchronised perfectly with the sound through the power of my AViator software – I find I can build up little visual ‘rhythms’ this way.
Part 4 – ascii blip
I tend to throw these little ‘blipverts’ in between longer sections during a gig to break things up a little. Like the opening section, this uses the trick of feeding the video signal into my audio input so that you can actually ‘hear’ the video. AViator has an video effect that basically converts video into messed-up ascii art, and I’ve found that the ascii version sounds much better than the original version for some reason. Rather than the kind of interference and distortion I used in the opening section, you get these quite nice harmonic sounds.
part 5 – beards
I’m interested in the idea of video ‘remixes’ (see my more recent ‘La Antena’ remixes). This is made from material taken from two films made by Hans Richter in the 20s – ‘Vormittagsspuk (Ghosts Before Breakfast)’ and ‘Filmstudie’. There is a reason for such blatant pilfering – I really want sections of subliminalTV to seem incredibly old, as though they have been dug up from another era (kind of a reaction against shiny digital-ness, I guess), and in my opinion that can’t be simulated.
The ‘borrowed’ material is mixed with a live video layer – this is generated using the very high-tech technology of a dusty mirror and a torch – I find such simple things can be much more tactile and immediate than even the most sophisticated interactive technology.
part 6 – amplified
More symbols, this time combined with a variety of colours and textures. Once again, the symbols are all scanned in by hand, as are the textures – mostly from comic books! Again I’m building up visual rhythms using my AViator software, but here they’re a bit more complex and varied.
The music has quite an interesting history – the backbone of this music is actually by a musician/DJ called Salmon, based in Tokyo. He made the music for my Amplified multimedia performance (you can find clips here), and this was my remix, with a lot of ambient textures that I built up around what he’d done (I can’t even remember why…). The premiere of Amplified was in the Spiral Hall in Tokyo in (an unbelievably hot) summer 2005, and it was preceded by my very first subliminalTV performance. Somehow this piece of music has slipped from one to the other.
part 7 – glitch blip
This is my first attempt at a kind of ‘audiovisual feedback’, where video feeds into sound, which then feeds back into video, which then feeds into sound etc. etc. I haven’t really got it working to be honest – it tends to produce very unstable images and nasty sounds. However, I think it works quite well in this little bit.
part 8 – canter guts
This section is very strange, even by my standards. It takes my idea of getting material from unlikely sources and really runs with it. I’ve had this idea which vaguely underpins subliminalTV; of a kind of post-apocalypse TV station, where the technology to make new material doesn’t exist, so programmes can only be made out of recycled material put together in unlikely combinations.
This is supposed to be like some kind of weird twisted kids programme, and most of the material (audio and video) is stolen. It’s from all over the place – the video is mostly from 50s road safety movies (found on the fantastic archive.org), but there are all sorts of other things in there – the beginning is from ‘Voyages a travers l’impossible’ – made by Georges Méliès in – incredibly – 1904. (Méliès is a real favorite of mine. He was an illusionist and magician by trade, and illusion has been a bit of a running theme in my work). The key sounds in the demented nursery-rhyme music come from heavily-edited Stravinsky and Raoul Haussman – nonsense poetry from the 20s, performed by Henri Chopin in the 70s.
part 9 – look mummy blip
Another of my little ‘blipverts’ – the earlier material was using an AViator effect I tried to make which went completely wrong and just turns images into garbage (but I like it), and the old video-plugged-into-audio glitchy thing.
part 10 – super secret submarines
Another strange concoction of stuff from all over the place. There’s a bit of a tunnel thing going on here, to do with forgotten or forbidden places, and the dankness and darkness of underground places. The key ‘locations’ are the Kiev metro, a wind-tunnel built to test V2 rockets in Berlin, an abandoned submarine factory in Crimea, and Pripyat, which is an abandoned city right next to the Chernobyl reactor (what can I say, I holiday in strange places), but there are little bits of stolen footage in here too, though usually only one or two frames at a time!
The blips and bloops you’ll hear in the music are recordings of short-wave radio transmissions from ‘numbers stations’ – these mysterious broadcasts, which you’ll find right at the edge of the short-wave frequency range, repeat morse patterns, strange little melodic patters and voices solemnly intoning strings of numbers over and over. No-one really knows why – well, presumably somebody does. Seemed to fit the feeling of secrecy and mystery I was aiming for anyway.
This is where I take the subliminal theme most literally, with longer sequences being broken up by tiny subliminal ‘flashes’ in time with the music (courtesy of my AViator software). I think this in itself gives this section an unsettling, claustrophobic nature.
Here are some pictures from my visits to Chernobyl and the submarine factory: