Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Culture Night - Dialled in from the Future @ the SpiritStore

Culture Night at the SpiritStore Fri 25th Sept

Dialled in from the future
A tribute to Bambaataas Bronx . Video edit by Paul Tarpey. music compisition and performance by Djs Doobs and Deviant
Being a Hip Hop fan since the 80s there automatically comes with that territory an inherent affection for all things New York. Absorbing that first wave I instantly responded to the picturesque grit of the new world as glimpsed in videos such as Malcom McLarens ‘Buffalo Gals’ and Grandmaster Flash,s ‘The Message’.
I still dig out those videos of pre internet Big Apple visuals for use in backdropping Cheebah music Nights in Limerick. Vhs copies of seminal films such as Wildstyle and Black Ceasar get chopped up and looped as their saturated grainy feel is intended to add some visual spice to the post punk funk flavored sounds we and our similar guests like to Dj with. In this process we channel pre comodified classic urban imagery as an ongoing tribute to an inventive era. Well that,s what i like to think anyway, mostly it just looks properly funky.
My favorite example of the video collage / scratch aesthetic pioneered in the 80s was an example i saw only once on the Uks Channel 4 around 1986. The band Talking Heads (an essential modern reference to us art schoolled individuals) were at the height of their fusion of funk and electro afro sounds and the channel were dedicating a night to them. Watching it in a bar in Mayo that friday night it was indeed a big deal and great fun, absorbing New York at its coolest in emigration saturated Mayo.
Rather than showing concert or promo footage and interviews with the band, C4 instead presented a night of rhythmic visuals with the bands music pulsing underneath. The format of this art piece intercut distressed film of 30s African dance with 80s New York breakdance battles which were then combined with stock footage of ranting of Deep South Baptist preachers. All of this of course perfectly suited the Heads urgent psycho rhythms. It was a distinctive presentation and far removed from the compromised 3 minute clip one was accustomed to on Top of the Pops.
Later i found that this piece was a definitive representation of the New York craft of using video artists to compliment the underground sounds of the New York clubs of that era. The tentitive ‘out of the gallery’ practice by certain Artists who facilitated the clubs was an unintentional extension of the Psychedelic slide shows used in the early supperclubs / discos of the late 60s early 70s. Artists in this now expanded zone used the affordable video cameras and recorders new on the market to sync and pause edit their own footage combined with foraged stock imagery.
Video Artists like Dara Birnbaum for example pioneered a lot of the tropes associated with the practice. She used the space of both gallery and night club believing that her work could be inserted into different contexts and enviorments.
So downtown weekend dancers would design their moves on the floor while checking the wall for a manipulated visual of say Tvs top detective Kojak (as in her piece ‘Pop-Pop Video; Kojak / Wang’) and alternativley uptown Gallery patrons would regard the same piece in front of a Tv monitor. Birnbaum and her peers were against the idea of Art existing in limited editions speculated that with video the possibility existed for one to be able to buy or rent Artwork from a Video store. Pre Internet times indeed.
I never forgot that Talking Heads night but i also never met anyone else who saw it, nor can i find any trace of it on the net . I do remember all the sequences vividly and a couple of months ago while sorting through some tapes i wondered for old times sake, would it be possible to recreate the experiance of that night with a basic edit on I Movie.
Eventually i found some of the footage used on the C4 show and began to revisit my memory of that night. Bits were buried halfway through tapes and dvds and as i began to view them i thought it may be worthwhile to see what would happen if i constructed a stand alone Art piece rather than just a personal audio visual reference on material that i had an emotional attachment to.
I seemed to have collected a lot of tapes about about Ufo sightings - paranoia allways generates great clips - and as i balanced this footage against snipits of the 80s New York landscape, a digitised theme emerged.
i thought of the clash of technology and tribal rhythms that circled the then bankrupt city and the music and movies that were created in that timespace. John Carpenters ‘Escape from New York’ and Walter Hills ‘The Warriors’ suggested themselves and the beat up ex rental copy of Slava Tsukermans 1983 NY Space /drug film ‘Liquid Sky’ that i picked up in Moviedrome in Henry St became a major reference.
I didnt consider using any internet footage as the project was allways about about the act of physically locating old formats and working around the fixed parameters of the content within ‘An imagined New York’ brief ’.
Cutting and pasting I seemed to seek out grimy street shots more than any thing else at the start, piecing for a while different street scenes as seen from the Cadillacs of Superfly and Gene Hackman. Then for tone, I fast forwarded to find any loose stock footage that may have been popular for the scratch video artists in the 80s. These would crop up in 60s 70s shows or in the BBC 2 arts programes that covered Warhols active legacy. Eventually I developed an electronic palette for a timeline.
Recently in Wallpaper Magazine Jay McInerney, the author of ‘Bright Lights Big City’, remarked of a pre cleaned up Times Square. ‘There was a sense that the crazy people and criminals were more entitled to the streets than we were. There was an athmosphere of menace and that Talking Heads song ‘Life During Wartime’ was a perfect discription of the danger and paranoia.. .’ I could feel McInerney there alright but i was also aware that i had to be carefull not to fetishise and just replicate the content while still undertaking a straight edit as one would have done with two vcr machines on record and pause . A decision to play grimey street stuff against clips of the visionary jazz musician Sun Ra seem to take care of that concern which in turn led to calling the piece ‘Dialled in from the future’.
Still thinking about the technology clash i responded to the zone Douglas copeland decribed as ‘acellerated’ in the late 80s, the begining of the pre internet overload. He mentioned this in The Guardian lately describing the change to button phones instead of the rotary dial and the then amazement in realising that there were now 50 Tv stations demanding attention instead of 10. ‘Quaint observations now’ he remarked, but at the time there was a real sense of feeling the change directly through technology.
Focusing on the Bronx I mentally began to pay tribute to one larger than life figure, the Gang leader, community activist, Dj and producer Africa Bambaataa who developed his own futuristic agenda in the late 70s Bronx.
Bam was the visionary who discovered that Kraftwerk and James brown had transferable similarities for the late 70s Bronx and introduced the concept of a specific soundtrack to dance parties in the projects.
As crazy as it sounds now the music of classically trained European musicians with state of the art instruments was appropriated onto the record decks of The Leader of the Black Spades for change in a deprived urban environment. His motto was ‘This is an organization. We are not a gang. We are a family. Do not start trouble. Let trouble come to you, then fight like hell’. To soundtrack this defiant agenda he mixed the music of kraftwerks ‘Trans Europe Express’ with English psyche rock to deliver a template that promoted ‘ peace unity and havin fun’. Then in the studio he replayed and re-edited the above journey and in 1983 launched Electro hiphop with the record ‘Planet Rock’. This simultaniously impacted on both Manhattan and Mayo. Bambaataas intellectual music souces and community actions became an uncompromising social document and one whos lessons are still taught in the worldwide Hiphop community to this day under his Zulu Nation banner.
Once i had a rough edit, title and concept i discused the idea of soundtracking the short piece with Dj Johnny Doobs. Versed in Hip Hop and Electro acoustic disiplines- not to mention community work- he proposed an interpretation that pitted looped rhythms and manipulated sounds from thematic records interspersed with a few spoken word fragments associated with the subject.
The Audio Visual result would empasise the ‘Spaciness’ inherent in the sequencing and by preforming these manipulations live - instead of just recording it as a final edit on Dvd- the finished work would echo Bambaataas musical intentions if not mirror his own and his Dj Jazzy jay,s techniques. As the intro to one of Bams favorite songs by the Jimmy Castor bunch said ‘ what we gonna do is go back... way back.. back into time’
With the brief and research done and the link to The Tweak electronic festival established it was then down to fine tuning for a performance. I reconfigured my images and Doobs drafted in Dj Deviant from Galways Vince Mc Mahon Turntabilist crew to assist on scratch duties. Doobs requested that images of subway trains and space footage be placed at certain points for a type of chapter headings seperating the alternating images of a crumbling 80s Bronx and interstellar abstractions. He also flagged the images of Egyptian icons that had found their way into the mix as transitions that could position the piece as ‘A Trip’ in the classic cinematic sense. This storyboarding process allowed the Djs to formulate the timbre of the loops and concider their weight and position.
There were concerns on my part that for all the fun involved in getting this far the finished piece might not transend the familiar stance of ‘funky visuals with cool music in the background’ but this was not the case once the musicians began to translate the concept into sound. ‘Anyway we need raw stuff these days’ said Doobs
The final piece was timed at 16mins 55 seconds as we agreed that this would be the limit of a performance of intrest before it strayed into club teritory. Doobs and Deviant practiced with tone and textures using laptop triggered Serato combined with Vinyl and footpeddled loops vibing of the projected edit and mindfull of the time line.
The Audience on the day in the Spiritstore was nicely top heavy with Djs and electo acoustic practitioners. As i pressed the pause button to release the picture i heard Dj Code, using his serious voice, say ‘This better be good’.
And it was. Breaking down the video into about five sections Doobs and Deviant confidently presented an Aural trip teasing disembodied ‘out of head and body’ speeches with runs of scratch patterns. A quirky swing type section near the end was unexpected and unintentionaly well sinister as it led out of a sequence of projects being demolished. Glorious dark passages bookended images of a spaceman at the begining and a rocket at the end as the screen went dark. (The same footage i then realised afterwards opened Pink Floyds 70s film ‘Live in pompei’... theres that zone again).
The event was in the end all about the music. A truly original interpretation that highlighted the psychedelic qualities inherent in all of the clips. Doobs control of the audio eliminated any hint of nostalgia from the sequenced visuals and what began as a memory and a rummage in a box of video tapes ended as a contempoary psyche suite. The visuals became the conductors batton not the orchestra.
While it was a great moment in the environs of The SpiritStore it made me wish to experiance the 17 mins in a very dark room with big speakers. Any questions ? ‘Do it again’ says Code. We shall. The recording will not be put up on the net because that would compress and finish the adventure. It will remain as a grainy glitchy live thing with add ons for some other time.
Many, many, thanks to Doobs and Deviant, The Spiritstore, Tweak, all the djs and noise crews, Shane and Peter Cheebah, Phill Bannister for the gear and Adrian Byrne for the out of this world poster.
A Coda.
Doobs precise ending was thrown by the incoming static of the phone in his pocket. This unwaranted transmission cut the clock on his computer screen and left him to inpovise a minutely different ending for the video. In one of Kraftwerks earliest Parisian concerts - when they were still regarded as avant garde performers - the power surge from the change over to night time electricty used by the car plants that ringed the city interfered with the groups keyboard programming. ‘it was’, Ralf Hutter said ‘as if the machines were playing us’. I wonder,who dialled doobs and from what dimension?
Paul Tarpey.

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