DISPARATE LAMENTATIONS ON SODA_JERK’S ASTRO BLACK
Let us assume that every ‘thing’ is interconnected, interactive, interfaced and intercultural. Sampling is always experimental, in that the potential results are not a given. We are splintering consensual realities to test their substance, utilizing the tools of collision collage, composition, decomposition, progression systems, ‘random’ chance, juxtaposition, cut-ups, hyperdellic vision and any other method available that melts linear conceptions and reveals holographic webs and fresh spaces. – Genesis P. Orridge, ‘Thee Splinter Test’, The Book of Lies, (New York: Disinformation Publishing, 2003)
As some women have done so, in the form of letter-writing, for at least the last three centuries, I construct and receive lengthy emails to and from friends on topics mostly concerning romantic misadventures and life dramas, with some attention also dedicated to less self-involved observations and analysis of ‘the bigger ideas’. More frequently, these emails focus on the inclusion of clips from video hosting sites: somehow, a byte from a film is a better host for a complex keyset of emotions than a paragraph of melodramatic auto-constructed text. This is because these clips tap into the receiver’s whole emotional memory of that film or piece of music and all the personal histories they have imbued in it. A rich respite from and product of our general new-tab, most-read, send-to-friend, un-tag, NSFW, highlight, export, save-as, fail-blog working existences.
Genesis P. Orridge, front man of Throbbing Gristle and author of Painful but Fabulous, writes an essay in The Book of Lies entitled ‘Thee Splinter Test’. The short, mystic text postulates that when we take a sample of something and place it in something else, we are placing a splinter of the original text into something new. This splinter not only retains the whole memory of the tree from which it came, but also the memories of everyone who has ever seen that tree. Therefore the process of assemblage is a powerful and dynamic alchemy. Splinter was also the wise rat in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who, in 1990, was my segue-way to the figureheads of the Italian Renaissance, leading me to Vasari and a desire to study art history.
As we travel in every direction simultaneously along the digital highways of our Futures, thee ‘splinter test’ is both a highly creative contemporary channel of conscious and creative ‘substance’ abuse and a protection against the restrictive depletion of our archaic, algebraic analogue manifestations. – Genesis P. Orridge
I find watching films by Soda_Jerk an emotionally enthralling, almost nauseating experience. Each time a sample I recognise pops up, memory lilts to the time I first encountered that sample and I end up in my own quiet internal me-fest. An example of ‘splinter’ could be Soda_Jerk’s employment of modern archetypes-as-protagonists: Sun Ra in Astro Black: A History of Hip-Hop [Episodes 0-2], (2007-8) and Elvis Presley in Pixel Pirate II: Attack of the Astro Elvis Video Clone, (2002-6). These two icons are transported through various contexts to explore complex ideas. We as an audience cling to them as one would an anchor or Tardis, and leap to different places in time and space.
In praising the video cut-up work of Tracey Moffatt, critic Jacqueline Millner describes Soda_Jerk’s works as lacking critical depth, being more akin to a ‘fan’s tribute’ or a ‘game of celebrity spotting’ and odd that they have chosen the contemporary art world as the realm to explore these issues. (Video Logic exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008.) Such statements beckon unpacking and I would argue that these Jerks act decisively and with the full weight of streaming, steaming, conscious, heaving histories upon their compact, vintage-clothing-clad shoulders. The Art World is an awkward place for such practises only because it is I fear, and I feel comfortable making this generalisation, manned by MS Word-grappling, all technological development out-sourced, cottage-industry-production-valued techno-philistines who are told things like Second Life are cool.
We now have available to us as a species, really for the first time in history, infinite freedom to choose and assemble, and everything we assemble is a portrait of what we are now and what we visualise being … Anything, in any medium imaginable, from any culture, which is in any way recorded and can in any possible way be played back is now accessible and infinitely malleable and usable to any artist. Everything is available, everything is free and everything is permitted, it’s a firestorm in a shop sale where everything must go. – Genesis P. Orridge
The thift-store is a good metaphor here for how we can pillage and re-use information. It is a mode of archival creative production that invites us to recall and reinterpret seminal moments in film, video, music and gaming history, moments that might otherwise slip into obscurity. In current times, even pulling up a newsreel from two months ago is so irksome that politicians and spokeswhores can double back on their words with little criticism from journalists for fear of complexity.
Revisionism and, what I might squeamishly coin as ‘video sustainability’, come into play. We already have at our disposal an infinity of material to engage with, along with the potential to build new histories and reinvestigate old ones. In some cases in Astro Black—such as the sampling of films like Star Gate or Independence Day—Soda_Jerk are adding value to the original text, by incorporating new, and arguably more important stories.
This music is all a part of another tomorrow, another kind of language, speaking things of blackness, about the void, the endless void, the bottomless pit surrounding you. – Sun Ra via Astro Black: A History of Hip-Hop, 2008
In April 2009, Pirate Bay founders Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm and Carl Lundström were found guilty of assistance to copyright infringement and sentenced to one year in prison and payment of a multi-million euro fine. The United Kingdom is also looking at criminalising the act of acquiring and republishing unauthorised material. In 2006, Attorney General Philip Ruddock spoke of ambitions to introduce checks on laptops at Australian customs for video and film files lacking proof of purchase. In June 2009, a US court forbid the publishing of a novel by a Swedish-American author whose protagonist resembles a speculative 76 year old version of the character Holden Caulfeild from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
You look at this and think ‘this is insane’—and if it’s only Hollywood that has to deal with this, okay that’s fine, let them be insane. The problem is, their insane rules are now being applied to the whole world. – Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture, 2002
Taking all this into account, Soda_Jerk’s ‘fan’s tributes’ become highly politicised. Ideas, whether they be imbued in words, songs, films or art, are now measured kilobytes and we are all rendered mute if we have to pay for every exchange.
I love the space section in Part 1 of Astro Black, a respite from the complex reconstructed histories so densely conveyed. It summarises another interesting element of the remix—the milieu. Just being able to sit back and let the countless samples we recognise or don’t (The Knife? Dopplereffekt? Aphex Twin?) whiz past. We have no choice but to enjoy the flow.
Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst … And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude. – American Beauty, Dream Works, 1999
There’s still a handful of VHS tapes I ruined in 1984. As a three year old I liked to hit record on the video player whenever I saw something good on TV. My parents would discover this as they sat down to watch carefully pre-recorded episodes of Brideshead Revisited or Yes Minister only to find it imbued with snippets of Play School, Rainbow or (and I’m quite proud of this one) The Young Ones. I also apparently poured orange juice into not only my parent’s video player but many of their friends’—an early citation of my own creative practice of dodging electrocution and breaking things. I still have some of these videos and enjoy watching them.
Video is thee electronic Molotov cocktail of thee TV generation. Cause the cathode ray tubes to resonate and explode. You are your own screen. You own your own screen. – Genesis P. Orridge
Originally published in Runway, Issue 14, Futures, Winter 2009, pp 32 – 35.
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