Belgium’s Ssaliva is clearly a lover of defunct, muddy aesthetics. His music is pop that may not go pop, but that keeps your brain involved. While his Thoughts Have Wings tape had some segments that were straight out of Motown, the sound here is much more aligned with the failure pop sounds of artists like John Maus, Puro Instinct, and Ariel Pink. However, when you remove the element of the human voice, it is so much easier to zero in on the murky anti-rythm that is present in this style of music, and it is harder to fall back on experiencing the sound as traditional pop. The muddiness is echoed in Mulatu Width’s video for the track. A haze of bleary colors bleed in and out of each other, and it is hard to latch onto any particular shape. It is a mostly a concoction of fluid, painterly moments. The irony is that when we are at last able to make out human characters, they are a group of graffiti artists, who are perhaps the ultimate lo-fi painters. The ambiguous visuals fit the warped beauty of the music. Ssaliva’s passion for anti-structure makes me excited to see the ways that he’ll continue to break it down.
Words: Samantha Cornwell
Ssaliva’s Sextape Hiss will be out later this year on Surf Kill
Jon Clark is a visual artist living and working in Los Angeles. His work has appeared on several Not Not Fun releases, including the video for Matrix Metals and LA Vampires “So Unreal” (credited to Image Masters Unlimited, his collaboration with artist Spencer Longo). Clark’s practice spans comics, graphic design and video. The culmination of his efforts to date is Spectrum Hunter, a just released thirty minute film with a striking visual style that compliments its loose narrative about a cult of drug-addled video warriors who film their exploits for sale on the black market. Spectrum Hunter captures the timeless atmosphere of youth while leaving the menace of childhood intact. It is a vital document of the dark, nostalgia-infected vibe that colors the work of Not Not Fun artists and associated blurry-VHS style travelers like James Ferraro.
Visitation Rites: In addition to the cover art and other visual ephemera you created for the film there is a lot of original 80s and early 90s graphic art in the opening sequence. Can you talk a little bit about how this kind of art has influenced your own design work?
John Clark: With the bedroom scene, I was referencing the type of art and graphic design that inspired the aesthetic of the movie. In reality, that is my real bedroom and I own everything on the walls. The products, symbols, and advertising of the 80s/90s era are interesting to me because I first experienced them as a child. When you are young, everything is mysterious and new – there is a permanent suspension of disbelief. Encountering aesthetics in this mindset is profound. Browsing video stores as a child had a huge effect on my subconscious. Since I was not allowed to rent an R-rated movie, I would imagine what might be on them based solely on the cover art. I did my best to illustrate this idea with the video store scene in Spectrum Hunter. As a kid, I wanted to interact with the mysterious characters and artwork represented on VHS boxes. As an artist, I’ve found a way to create a world in which that is possible.
A close friend said she thinks the best modern example of Black Magic lies within the advertising industry. There is something very seductive and powerful about package artwork and design. When making props for Spectrum Hunter, though we referenced the graphic art of the 80s and 90s, I think the pieces that worked best went beyond that aesthetic. Those pieces in particular had a haunted feel, familiar, yet dark and ambiguous. Since completing Spectrum Hunter, I have continued to make cover artwork for a series of imagined media called the Night School Collection. With these pieces, I want to move beyond the 80s/90s aesthetic and put more emphasis on creating work that evokes the haunted feeling I mentioned earlier. You can view them here.
VR: Can you talk about the names of characters in the games and the videos shown in Spectrum Hunter. Were these created specifically for the movie or were they a result of ideas and design concepts you’d been thinking about for a long time in different contexts?
JC: Both. Text and language are a big part of my artistic practice. I’m as much of a writer as I am a visual artist. I have a ton of aliases and names for projects that don’t even exist yet. When I used to play in bands I would always make up fake band names and include them on our fliers. A lot of times, the impetus for a piece comes from a name or phrase I’ve come up with that is interesting or evocative to me. Names can carry a lot of weight, especially when juxtaposed with imagery. Rotten Robbie is the name of a gas station on the way to San Francisco. Their sign has a cool font. Poison House is something I saw written on a Pog. To me, a Poison House is a futuristic version of a haunted house. If Spectrum Hunters are inhabiting a building or mall, it’s a Poison House. Night School is the name of the production company that puts out the Spectrum Hunter videos. Mizuno is the name of an athletic company. Heather, who played Mizuno, actually wears a Mizuno batting glove on her left hand in real life. I like the name Shuttlecock because it sounds very regal but also funny and homoerotic.
VR: Can you tell me how actor Dian Bachar got involved?
JC: I love living in L.A. and being close to celebrities. I also think the idea of a cameo is a symbolic gesture within the context of the film. Celebrities carry the same sort of weight that logos and graphics do. They are recognizable symbols of our culture. Dian was roommates with a close friend of mine. I am a big fan of Dian’s work and as we got to know each other, he became a fan of my work too. I knew I wanted him to be in Spectrum Hunter before I even wrote it. The other potential actor to play our Store Clerk was Jason Narvy, the guy who played Skull on Power Rangers.
VR: The mythology behind the Spectrum Hunter isn’t gone into much detail in the film. Could you give a little background on your own idea/concept for the Spectrum Hunter universe?
JC: The Spectrum Hunters are a cult that inhabit deserted malls. They use drugs (represented by Pogs) in order to gain tangible magic powers. They build mazes and then kidnap people, forcing them to fight their way through the gauntlets they’ve constructed. Surveillance cameras document these affairs and the subsequent videos are sold in clandestine locations. They sell for astronomical sums of money since they are rare and illegal. We made the Spectrum Hunters mysterious intentionally, but I still think their core motivations are apparent: the Spectrum Hunters inhabit deserted malls, they have real magic powers that most normal people don’t have access to, and they have a subculture with its own rituals and hierarchy. Those are the things that motivate them to do what they do.
VR: Can you speak briefly about the music in the film – what your initial ideas for the score were and how you collaborated on the project?
JC: I wanted the score to mostly be comprised of early synthesis type music. Music and sound cues similar to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, A Clockwork Orange, 70s/80s TV bumpers, pinball machines, and video games. I initially wanted natural noises to be represented with synth noises in order to abstract the imagery another level (sonically). There are some instances of this in the film, but not as many as I originally planned. One example is when Robbie spins the flower on the honeycomb prop and it bleeps out an atonal synth arpeggiation.
When I hear music that inspires me, I automatically attach imagery to it in my head. This often compels me to illustrate music through video. I am a huge fan of house and techno. The scenes in Spectrum Hunter that incorporate dance music were conceived of with that type of music in mind. I wanted to illustrate techno in a way that is based on my personal relationship with it, that would resonate with people in a different way. Even if one isn’t a fan of that type of music, I wanted to work with it in a more conceptual manner that would transcend taste and deal with this music as an idea. When the Spectrum Hunters baptize Tyler in the opening scene, it was important that techno be playing in the background. Techno is hypnotic, ritualistic future music and it fits in with the vibe of the Spectrum Hunter cult. I grew up going to raves, DJing, and making techno. The synaesthesic experiences I had at raves, where images, sound, and humanity combine to create an alternate reality, have had an immense effect on my artwork. In many ways, Spectrum Hunter is a heavily abstracted movie about rave culture, or subcultures in general. Before I knew what raves were, I’d often pick up rave flyers at the mall because they looked cool. On the back side, they listed all the DJs who were performing. The names lists blew me away. Adam X, Frankie Bones, Stryfe, Shredder, Tin Man, The Hacker. “Who are these Demi-gods?” I wondered. It would be years before I would find out. That experience inspired the Spectrum Hunter flier that keeps reappearing in the movie: Apple Knocker, China Doll, Body Bag, Puss in Boots, Double Dude, Confetti Skeleton…Hugh Know?
Words: Max Burke
It’s hard to create truly confounding and mysterious music in the age of information, and yet here we have Thought Broadcast. Inspired by “bands whose atonality and libidinal force were free from any purpose” and currently based in San Francisco, Thought Broadcast is defined by recordings as paranoid as they are restrained. Instrumentation slides in and out of time, mistake becomes intention, things are being said, but anything discernable is just out of earshot.
The recently released Up-Maker 7″ on Phaserprone acts as a perfect introduction to the project’s music and philosophy – one which values confusion and personal connection over accessibility and passive consumption. The record was released in an edition of 175, computers were avoided, clues were planted with the past in mind, you will not find mp3s on Mediafire, you will be rewarded with music and thoughtful design if you put in the effort to track down the object. However, there don’t seem to be many left, so don’t dawdle. Living in a landscape where exhausting promotion has become the norm, it’s easy to forget that some of the most interesting music will still wait quietly to be discovered.
Thought Broadcast: “Noted Guerrillas”
I often hear people say that slow-drone ambient tunes — such as those created by artists like Melbourne’s Andrew Cowie — are supposed to be transportive. I mostly agree, but I’ve always used these muddled slow burners as a type of brain bleach, or rapid, memory loss enhancer. Cowie’s latest effort under the Angel Eyes moniker sums this idea up beautifully. What’s got ya down tonight? Were you cold and lonely this Valentine’s Day? Did your mundane job jab and frustrate you more than usual? Don’t worry: “Flicked Bottle Tops” drowns and drones out your troubles with a healthy mixture of echoing percussion, thick walls of reverb, and gentle synths that sine and cosine their way through your grey matter. By the time Cowie’s voice slowly moans over it all you may find yourself unable to tell if the singer is real or imagined, but again, don’t fret–by that time it won’t even matter.
Angel Eyes, “Flicked Bottle Tops” (Vice to Vice, Moon Glyph)
What has always impressed me about much of Adam Forkner’s output as White Rainbow is his ability to incorporate a white range of percussive sounds in a relatively seamless manner. While much adherence is given to structure, there is a lot of playful innovation when it comes to texture. This particular track is credited to Rob Walmart, as well as White Rainbow. Although there is only spotty information available regarding Rob Walmart, from what I understand it is a rag tag electronic music collective that Forkner belongs to. Lionel Richie is allegedly a follower of Rob Walmart, or at least that is what the tee shirt that Forkner is wearing in the image above would suggest. While it is unclear how many hands were on deck for this track, it has the aesthetic unity of many of Forkner’s live recordings under the White Rainbow moniker. Give it a whirl if you are looking for a steady pulse, office machine exclamations, and primitive vocal utterances.
UPDATE: I’m eating humble pie. Apparently this is a mash up of Rob Walmart and White Rainbow by Ectoplasm
Ectoplasm, “Rob Walmart x White Rainbow”
In 2008, Aaron Dilloway released a cassette and CDR titled Modern Jester through his label Hanson. Primarily featuring the sounds of crude 8-track loops treated with tape delays, the editions were identical save for a re-imagining/speed-doubling of the release’s first track serving as a sort-of bonus on the CDR. Dilloway was clearly unable to close the book on Modern Jester during the four years following its initial release (the grainy photo of the rubber masked man has become somewhat of a calling card for Hanson), and this year we are graced with a 2xLP bearing that same name. The Modern Jester of 2012, however, bears little resemblance to that of 2008.
The final version of Modern Jester stands as perhaps the most cohesive and nuanced set of music that Dilloway has released thus far. On tracks such as “Body Chaos,” we find him further honing his Burroughs meets Blockaders sound philosophy into a nearly nineteen minute side of pure psychedelic sound collage. This is music that demands your attention and will forcibly take it if you don’t comply — machine music that is unsettlingly human and flawed to perfection. With that in mind, the quote from KW Jeter’s The Glass Hammer — which adorns the record’s back cover — must have been printed in sarcasm. The excerpt reads, “People could screw up — you expect them to — but machines are made of finer stuff. They’re not supposed to begin talking, in a new voice, out of the blue, about death and weird shit like that.” Dilloway has taught his machines to speak, and what they have to say is completely and utterly vital.
Aaron Dilloway: “Body Chaos”
I learned a great many things today. The first one being that it is actually possible to be locked inside your own apartment building. Sometime after that I learned about a dude named Liam Betson who has been releasing music under the moniker Liam the Younger for quite some time now. I know I can’t be the only one who missed out on After the Graveyard or Clear Skies Over Black River — as both albums have recently been re-released Underwater Peoples and Liam’s own label, A Learning Computer.
“Leaving Black River” is a simple folk tune off of Clear Skies... The song flows gracefully from lightly plucked string to lightly plucked string while Betson croons about the joys and pains of leaving your hometown behind. The middle section falls back into warm static-y silence that seems reminiscent of that fleeting moment when you’re not quite if sure leaving is the best decision. Before song’s end Liam and his guitar reassure us that it is, providing that the door will open.
Liam the Younger, “Leaving Black River” (Clear Skies Over Black River)
When I first came across the music of Dylan Ettinger, he was what you could call a New Age Outlaw. His compositions often possessed a rich, textured ambiance, that was often more tense than meditative. Ettinger’s pop potential first made itself know on last year’s 7″, “The Lion Of Judah.” “Wintermute”, the lead single from Ettinger’s upcoming LP Lifetime of Romance, continues to build on the dark wave ambiance, this time with a rhythm that is ripe for the goth dance club, and a Robert Smith-esque vocal line. The video itself is intriguing and nightmarish. While the images border on titillating and pleasurable, their surreal nature places them subtly into the space of sexual anxiety. This is certainly a testament to the directorial skills of Melissa Cha. While the overall sound might be more accessible than Ettinger’s past output, its power is undeniable, and with this video as a visual representation, we can gather that Ettinger is the type of artist who will always keep us on our toes.
Words: Samantha Cornwell
Lifetime of Romance will be out in March on Not Not Fun