Future Talk (Part 2)
Future Sound of London
Part 2: what would you do with a Sony Betacam video edit suite next to your S1000? Simon Trask continues to track FSOL's audio-visual path...
In part 2 of our occasional series charting their growing involvement with video and computer graphics, The Future Sound of London talk to Simon Trask about the parallels between musical and visual creativity...
If you read the first instalment of this series (MT January '94) you'll know that in pre-FSOL days Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans were audiovisual pioneers, collaborating with video outfit Stakker on MTV commissions and the Stakker 'Humanoid' single. Now, following a period of music-only activity which established them as The Future Sound Of London, Brian and Garry are reinventing themselves as an audiovisual outfit and working once again with Stakker's Buggy G Riphead.
At Earthbeat, the group's 16-track studio in north London, the racks of musical technology are augmented by a Sony Betacam video edit suite, installed towards the end of last year. Already, Brian and Garry have started to take control of their own visual presentation, creating the video for their last single, 'Cascade', and infiltrating MTV with a 3-minute audiovisual 'statement of intent' which cuts up 'Cascade' edits with spoken inserts from Garry.
As Garry pointed out in the January issue, bringing some of the video technology in-house has allowed he and Brian to be rather "self-indulgent" in their working practice - an approach which has already proved successful for them musically. Through further debate and discussion, the pair have come to the conclusion that another aspect of their working method with music can usefully be transferred to video and computer graphics - namely that of being able to draw on a library of raw material.
"In music, the time we spend creatively is in putting together existing source material to make something that matters, not in generating that source," explains Garry. "Whereas so far with video all we've actually succeeded in doing is generating some good source material. A lot of the budget for 'Cascade' went on generating imagery that in its present form is not at its most potent. I believe that in the future we will put some of those visual elements, rather like samples, into a context where we are actually making something that is life-changing. Right now we're not doing that with video, and that upsets me because I believe our music sometimes is life-changing."
Garry also feels that creative techniques which he and Brian have developed while working on their music can have parallels in video: "We can take bad-quality samples and put them through reverb so that you're just hearing the reverb coming out of the desk, with a vague impression of the sample way at the back of it. Well, I'm convinced that you can do similar stuff with video.
"Whenever I talk to video people they say I shouldn't be making these analogies, because video's 10 years behind sound. I can't imagine that it is; I think you could take a bit of sky, change the orientation of it, whop it through a cube, stretch it, put it behind a piece of other action, and it would be unnoticeable.
"There is a new consciousness towards travelling: physically going with the video rather than being brought down to earth by edits."
"However, I haven't seen a really clever use of video sampling yet. I think we can take sound and make it so that it's impossible to legally sue over it; now, with visuals I'm not finding that that's happening. There's either a complete scare attitude towards sampling visuals - you just don't do it because there's this attitude of 'Wow! It's so corporate we're going to get fucked.' - or there's this bad sampling going on."
Garry characterises the visual style which Stakker developed as "corporate", a "big bang aesthetic" full of "brutal edits".
"I thought at the time it was a really groundbreaking aesthetic," he recalls. "I mean in terms of logos: Stakker-logo-wham!-corporate. Presenting itself as a big corporation through video - very emblematic. I believe that that aesthetic could have sold fashion, could have sold anything from lip gloss to artworks."
"I believe that in the future we will put visual elements, rather like samples, into a context where we are actually making something that is life-changing"
Today, however, the corporate punch and aggression which so characterised the '80s is giving way to a new aesthetic of depth and fluidity - an aesthetic which is more in tune with what Garry wants to achieve visually.
"Stakker didn't quite have the flow and depth of image that I required," he says. "I wanted the shapes in the videos to fly off into the distance and go through different landscapes and environments. Now that aesthetic has come about at last. I think there is a new consciousness towards travelling, physically going with the video rather than being brought down to earth by edits. The kind of virtual reality consciousness which is hovering around, nobody quite knows what it's going to bring but everybody has their own perceptions of what will happen."
Rather than jump straight to what Garry terms the "virtual reality, put-on-a-helmet" approach, the duo are more interested in exploring the new audiovisual aesthetic possibilities within a conventional linear format.
"As a musician and an audio-visual artist I can't deny the possibilities of virtual reality," opines Garry. "But I believe there is a bridging product before we get into this complete virtual reality thing, an educating product which TV and consumers will lap up. There's a certain point at which things actually have impact, and it's not always at the cutting edge.
"I think the ideas we have for products in this interim period are also conducive to when we get to virtual reality. What we have in mind is this kind of weird environmental travel, submersion thing, but it's a filmic thing as well, with a plot; it's a new kind of audiovisual television without being just a passive wash and passive shapes rotating.
"There's a problem in marrying the depth of a good film, the complexity of a plot, with the computer world, which is quite retinal, it's about passive stimulation, floating off into another world. The kind of product that we want to create is really a very clever manipulation of both approaches."
A new Future Sound Of London single, featuring the Cocteau Twins' Liz Frazer on vocals, was released on 21st February, with a new FSOL album, Lifeforms, to follow on 14th March.
Interview by Simon Trask
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