Soda_Jerk are two remix artists who create brand spanking new stories with their compositions. They work across several mediums but are probably best known for their entirely sample based audiovisual films that range from a couple of minutes to an hour long.
Their feature length and excellently named, “Pixel Pirate II: Attack of the Astro Elvis Video Clone” uses over 300 video and audio sources and stars Elvis Presley doing battle with the evil Moses and his Copyright Commandments fighting for the ancient art of the remix. The film also stars The Hulk, Monkey, Batman & Robin, Michael Jackson and The Ghostbusters.
I had the chance to hear these two inspiring artists speak at a recent exhibition and thought I’d hit them up for an interview…
So there’s an endless amount of content to sample and remix out there…what grabs your eye and ear?
We never know what’s going to grab us until we hear it or see it, so we just watch and listen to as much stuff as we can, as much of the time as we can. We do have a soft spot for aged or damaged footage though: decaying celluloid, warped video grain or digital glitches.
I really like your decision to use narrative in your remixes. Can you give us some insight into your workflow? Do you come up with a story first, or just sample everything that sounds and looks good and say “Cool, we can make a remixed feature film starring Moses, Elvis and Bill Murray.”
Our work is largely research driven, in the sense that we generally start with a concept that we are interested in and investigate it by consuming culture that’s related to the area (books, films, audio tracks etc). So with our most recent project “Astro Black: A History of Hip-Hop” we were looking into this interesting field of theory called Afrofuturism and that lead us to dig through science fiction films and anything related to African-American sonic culture. It’s from these viewing sessions that usually an idea will emerge about what shape the project might take and then we’ll search in a more focused way for shots we could use. The way the narrative evolves is constantly shifting as we discover new footage that leads us in new directions. It involves a degree of openness to improvisation.
And what about technical workflow, I’m guessing there’s a fair bit of masking going on there?!
Yeah, our process is definitely large on the tedious and labor intensive aspects. Most projects involve weeks or months of doing nothing but just pushing masks around in After Effects.
Where does ownership begin and end? Surely the only composition that an author has complete ownership over is the one that no audience has ever seen or engaged with?
Totally. You don’t have to actually sample stuff to be actively engaged in generating new networks of meanings and associations from the works you consume. To a certain degree you are doing this every time you watch a film or listen to a track: mentally isolating specific fragments of the composition and relating them to your own memories or other works you know. But we are also interested in the way that the digitization messes with ideas of cultural property and ownership. You see this very clearly in those film piracy warnings that say “you wouldn’t steal a handbag” or “you wouldn’t steal a car” as though this was somehow related to illegally downloading films. The thing is, when you steal someone’s car the person who owned that car doesn’t have it anymore, which is not the case when you are “stealing” digital code. If the film industry really wants to be taken seriously it needs to at least acknowledge these types of differences.
Talk to me about your vision for the future of the remix…are we destined for a world of Creative Commons?
We sure hope that culture will be structured around the principals of Creative Commons, but whether we are destined for such a future anytime soon is hard to say. What is obvious though is that if things don’t change illegal remix culture will continue to grow at a rampant rate and the current copyright law is absolutely unequipped to prevent this.
Aside from thrift shops and video store sales, got any hot tips for sample digging? What has been your proudest score to date?
A tip we live by is that some of the best samples are found in unlikely places so you should just consume as much as possible of whatever you can get your hands on. For instance, one of our favorite audio samples in “Pixel Pirate II” was ripped from an 80s science program on bionic ear implants. And as for our most choice score, its not particularly rare or anything but we’ve sampled it to death; a dubbed version of the Japanese Godzilla film: “Invasion of the Astro Monster” (1964).
Ok, so you’ve had Elvis and Moses doing battle, explained what happened to the girls from Picnic at Hanging Rock, re-animated River Phoenix and explored the universe and beyond through hip-hop…can we get a sneak peak into the next Soda_Jerk project?
The primary video remix project that we are focusing on in 2009 is “The Dark Matter Cycle”. This will involve a series of video works that each explore the relationship between death and the remix. We are interested in the supernatural dynamics of sampling as a kind of re-animation of the dead.
Where can we find out more about the latest Soda_Jerk adventures?