I found my way to the Temple of the Triad God by way of Friendship Bracelet‘s Ian Paul Roger Nelson. Nelson, who is releasing TG’s album NXB on the UUU Tapes imprint, entranced me by declaring that he could only reveal limited information on the artist behind these sounds. His name apparently is Vinh Ngan, and he is half Vietnamese and half Chinese. Many of his tracks feature him speaking a combination of Cantonese, French, and Vietnamese over samples that draw in everything from Opera to R&B. “I Never Told You” is the one track that is mostly in English, and for that reason I feel conflicted about singling it out. However, its ability to be both uplifting and bittersweet make it stand on its own. Ngan is channeling the same mainstream pop sensibility that made Britney Spears’ Blackout both club friendly and refreshingly vulnerable. This is melancholia for the YouTube/Camera phone generation.
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
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
In Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic memoir, The Doors of Perception, he comments on the beauty and mystery of the network of leaves surrounding a flower, over the celebrated blossom itself. The idea is that an expanded mind will be drawn to more subtle patterns and tones, as opposed to grandiose aesthetic flourishes. A Ray Array, the new experimental film by Lucky Dragons member Sara Rara, provides a lens for these details. The 58-minute film explores the idea of interference through visual ruptures, interactions between sound signals, and optical illusions, and is composed of static shots– mostly of everyday objects.
The score, which comes courtesy of Rara and Lucky Dragons’ Luke Fishbeck is overwhelming and persistent at times; and at other points, it seems to magnify diegetic sounds from what is transpiring in the frame. As simple and non-narrative as the film is, it is one of the most emotionally impactful experimental pieces I have ever seen. As two sets of hands pull a transparency with parallel lines over a nearly identical sheet of white paper, creating a dance of DIY optical effects, you are reminded of the strength and magic of partnership. When a sublime, rounded, moon-like sheet of marble suddenly shatters, you feel a profound sense of despair and destruction. Once again, these images are largely simple and commonplace. The film’s strength lies largely in its ability to remind us of the power of looking and listening.
The Smarts were a band from Atlanta/Athens, GA founded by husband and wife Keith and Shawn Smart Longino, with Danny White and David Foster, in 1980. They played their first gig to a sold-out crowd with The Brains, were contemporaries of The B52’s and Pylon, and garnered a reputation as “the band that opened for R.E.M.” The Live At The 40 Watt Club ‘80 EP is a collection of one-take studio recordings from that year — although the “live” part of the recording was created with the help of Greatest Hits’ Tyler Thacker in 2010, enhanced by “audience” babble from the Longinos’ daughter, Camile. On “Modern Life,” Shawn’s provocative snarl evokes that of fellow new waver Tina Weymouth and hints at glam-rock aspirations on par with her husband’s pension for discontented lyrics à la Lou Reed’s Transformer. The Smarts disbanded shortly after these recordings, and, unfortunately, have no physical releases to date. However, the Longino musical tradition has been given new life in Resin, a “dust bowl glam” collaboration between father and daughter.
The Smarts: “Modern Life”
Words: Mary Katherine Youngblood
The Smarts perform “Rocket To Stardom” in Dan Halperin‘s fittingly “out there” short film by the same name:
From what I understand, Green Mansions are a truly international duo. The members include Mike Pigott from Pittsfield, MA, and Peter Bonneman who is a power pop musician from Denmark. While I’m not sure how their collaboration works, I figure it must be through some sort of creatively fruitful correspondence. My mental image of them as two harmonious, but remote poles is perfectly underscored by Miko Revereza’s new video for their ambient track “Vacation #5”. Revereza is at it again with his painterly layers of colored analog video feedback. The visual motifs here are a worthy compliment to the melancholy, down tempo synthesis of the track. It is sort of a shy dance between a searing pink and a translucent blue. The two bursts of color dance within and without each other, creating moments of extreme harmony and distance.
Words: Samantha Cornwell
Green Mansions have a forthcoming tape on UUU Tapes
If you knew the apocalypse was coming, what would you do? If you’re Jim and Jonathan fromCaptain Ahab, your bucket list includes IRL Fruit Ninja and In-N-Out Burger (duh). In the new Lawrence Klein-directed video for “The Kingdom of Light,” the duo get to enact their most outrageous impulses and basest desires to a glitchy electro backing tune that sounds like the soundtrack to real armageddon. There are lots of surprises in store during the relentlessly edited, video-game styled clip, but you’ll have to watch it more than once to keep up with all the shenanigans.
When I interviewed Purling Hiss over the summer, one of the points that all three members of the in-the-red garage power trio agreed upon was that the band was their main musical priority and that they were dedicated to upping their profile. That point is borne out by a currently in-progress European jaunt and an extensive US tour (with The War on Drugs) they’re launching as soon as they return. Check the clip above, which features the full band lineup jamming out to “The Hoodoo,” for an approximation of what you’re in store for during a live gig. In addition, the band is releasing two separate tour tapes reflecting different sides to their sound, limited to 100 copies each. Paisley Montage is a 40-minute continuous experimental recording, while Dizzy Polizzy is a more song-oriented effort that Polizze explains shares a kinship with the most recent full-length release Public Service Announcement.
Words: Max Burke
Paisley Montage and Dizzy Polizzy will be available on the current Purling Hiss tour. “The Hoodoo” is now available on Lounge Lizards (Mexican Summer). Full European and American dates available at their MySpace page
Living in Los Angeles at the beginning of the last decade was an instructive experience. Although I am skeptical of autobiography-driven appreciation, it’s impossible for me to think about I.E. (Inland Empire) without falling into a bit of a reverie. Living now at a time when the Internet has become the inescapable medium through which underground music is dispersed, it’s strange to think of a time when these transmissions required going out and meeting people, crossing social boundaries and traveling, sometimes alone, to dubious venues in unfamiliar neighborhoods. Of course all this still happens, it’s just that its constant documentation by the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. has the effect of making it seem less real, not more.
This is all to say that something as strange and wonderful as “Dungeon Of Drunk Girls” could only spring forth from the Southern California sprawl. The techno sound is rudimentary; an unadorned rhythm suggests a time before electronic music fractured into an idealized, non-existent past before an ever-multiplying ecosystem of sub-genres and micro-scenes. That this music is created without irony by the unflappable Margot Padilla of Pretty Cool Land, a collaborative site dedicated to earnest exploration of the fringes of various Los Angeles subcultures, reinforces I.E.’s “only in LA” qualities. The accompanying video montage of found news footage documenting Angelenos at various out-of-control parties completes the picture of the Southland as a boundless region of sun, smog and love.
A few months ago we posted Psychic Handbook‘s unabashedly New Age track “Dolphina.” Now Alejandro Archuleta (the man behind the handbook) has added some visuals to the pure moods, and dolphin calls of the song. The video is successful in capturing the playfulness of the music. It centers around a group of dancers, including Archuleta himself, journeying through a magic landscape. This landscape includes swimming with dolphins, surfing, and in a particularly exuberant moment, singing on stage with the women of ABBA. The imagery here is both a valentine and a parody of the New Age aesthetic, and it captures a joviality that we don’t see quite enough of.
Words: Samantha Cornwell
Psychic Handbook’s debut album will be out later this Fall on Not Not Fun