Interview on March 16th at Cellar Door, Dongcheng
KL: Have long have you been doing this?
A: I’ve been doing visuals for about three years. I did it in college as well but stopped when I came to Beijing so after two years here I picked it back up again – three years ago.
KL: Why’d you quit doing it?
A: I’m not a trained graphic designer so I realised that I was spending so much time on one visual where I could have been studying. I quit for awhile and then came here and realised that it’s a lot more fun when you’re not having to study all the time.
KL: So, it started off as something you did purely for pleasure or have you always wanted to do some ongoing collaborations?
A: Yeah, it’s always different working with musicians. You can use one visual for a certain style of music then it might not be acceptable in another. So, the stuff I do with Noise Arcade can be a lot more chaotic than something for Motorbike Girls. It’s very different artist by artist but when I was doing it before it was mostly for experimental musicians and getting back into different genres took quite a bit of getting used to.
A:是的。和很多不同的音乐人合作感觉很不同。你可以为某一种特定的音乐制作特定的视觉效果。所以我和Noise Arcade合作的作品就比和 Motorbike Girls合作的作品更失控。不同的艺术家会有不同的制作风格。我之前大都为实验音乐家创作，现在转变到其他不同风格的音乐制作，这中途花了蛮长的时间去适应呢。
KL: Working across different genres, do you have to work with narrative at any point?
A: Just visuals as accompaniment for everything. Nothing, for me, is narrative. We were going to plan in the future but we haven’t gotten to that yet with an unnamed project.
KL: Which bands have you worked with?
A: Noise Arcade, Comp Collider, I did some stuff with Gui Gui Sui Sui before. Mostly it was pieces that Dann [Gaymer] and Su [Nan] created and I just mixed them. Motorbike Girls, Puking Unicorns, Disco Puppet, Dee [Sheng Di], this unnamed project I’m working with now. They are in several other bands so I won’t say them.
A：Comp Collider，Noise Arcade, 之前还和鬼鬼祟祟合作过。大部分作品都是Dann [Gaymer]和Su [Nan]创作的，我只是将音乐结合起来。像这些未命名项目：Motorbike Girls, Puking Unicorns, Disco Puppet, Dee [Sheng Di] 这个未命名的项目是我现在在做的，这些作品都来自不同的乐队，我就不一一提了。
KL: It’s a secret. A covert mission.
A: Deep ops. I know it’s cliché, but I’d have to kill you if I told you.
KL: My will to live is dissipating so I might appreciate that service at some point.
KL: That could be a very interesting visual project as well but trying to match it to the right audio…
A: That might be difficult. My favourite so far has been working with Noise Arcade because Mike [Cupoli] is usually saying, “just give people seizures. Do it! Go!” Working with Comp Collider was really fun. Those guys were actually just, “Colours. Shapes. Go!” Which is a lot more fun being able to have free experimental rein. Not having a lot of constraints. Some bands typically are very precise with what they want. What colours, bit rate, everything. So it’s fun to just be able to go out and do whatever I want.
A: 那会很难哦。到目前为止，我最享受的还是和Noise Arcade的合作，因为Mike [Cupoli] 总是说：“我们的目的是让现场燥起来！尽情发挥！。”然后和Comp Collider合作也很有趣，这群家伙总说：“有想法，就大胆做啊，不管什么颜色形状，你决定就好”。有这种自由发挥的实验机会真的很有趣，有些乐队很清楚自己想要什么，视觉要做成什么颜色啊，要多少比特率啊，所有事情都有要求。所以只要能做我想做的，就已经很满意了。
KL: So do you have a sense of responsibility, this weight on you that you have to represent their musical vision?
A: Not at all. It's fun. I don't feel much weight with it. It's more or less just reading the audience. If people are typically getting bored you don't want to keep doing the same thing you're doing so you have to adapt. The same thing an improvising musician would do. You have to be able to adapt to the crowd and adapt to the music at the same time. That’s a little bit of weight but other than that, not much.
KL: That would make you very software dependent, too. How does the tech side of things go?
A: The tech side is a little more fun. I use a GoPro HERO5 and a Nikon D3300 to get everyday scenery. On one project we worked on, I just took a trip to the hutongs with my GoPro. There were some things I had to edit out particularly people pissing in the street.
KL: I feel like there would be some bands who would really appreciate someone pissing in the street.
A: Some but I feel like that wouldn’t get passed the censor bureau. Someone might come by and ask me to “have some tea” and I might be missing in China for a few months.
KL: That’s quite bad, too because tea is a diuretic so it would lead to more pissing and it would be a downward spiral of trouble.
A: Especially if the camera’s rolling.
KL: And it always is, right, with a GoPro?
A: That’s right, it is. Just strap it on your head and go have tea. Get beat by a few armed guards. That would make a good video.
KL: All in a day's work.
A: Exactly. But, yeah, as for software there’s a few different ones that you can use Resolume, for example, or sometimes you can even take the raw data of a video and tweak the audio components. So you’re altering audio components on raw data and then you’re able to export it back to a video and you can see some really cool effects but, that’s particularly time consuming because it doesn’t always work. If you mess up the header of a video, your video is done. It will not work. You always have to constantly back files up because experiments do have their downfall. Sometimes your computer will crash if your audio is too big, the raw data is too big or, if you’re using the wrong file type. Using different types of video files live can be problematic at times. I've had computers crash mid-set. The crazy blue screen of death. It sometimes can work but then you’re looking at a blue screen for the next 20 minutes.
KL: Was there any footage, in particular, that has been taken by the mid-set computer crash that you were upset to lose?
A: Once we were doing it at Temple and I had three or four .mov files on top of each other and I thought, hey why don't I add a fifth because that’s smart. Usually, most computers can handle three or four videos depending on the size and these were all quite large. So, when I added the fifth in it just went crazy. My computer started flashing all these blue screens popping up and then you saw my desktop.
KL: Do you always use your own visuals or do you also collect interesting stuff?
A: Both. I’ll use visuals that I’ve made and sometimes I will use sci-fi films, but I don’t think I’m allowed to use for music videos. I might get a phone call from Fincher or other directors who aren’t particularly happy with that but we have used films like Blade Runner, Predator, Alien. So, you'll have a bunch of hectic colours and then boom Sigourney Weaver's face is staring at you. Some people in the audience do typically find that off-putting and a little disconcerting seeing Sigourney Weaver staring back at you when there's a metal band playing.
A：都有吧，有时候使用自己创作的作品，有时候使用一些科幻电影元素。但我感觉一些电影制作人不会同意我去使用他们的电影来做音乐视频，像Fincher或其他导演会很不满地给我打电话。但是我们有使用过电影元素，像Blade Runner, Predator, Alien，用的就是电影元素。这些作品会让霓感到一团激情燃烧的颜色，像炸开了一样，然后你会雪歌妮·薇佛的脸在盯着你。其实当金属乐队表演时，许多观众一看到雪歌妮·薇佛就会感到厌恶和不安。
KL: It’s even worse when you’re in the shower.
A: One of my favourites is using scenes from Blade Runner because the colours are already pretty interesting in the film alone and then being able to tweak the distortion, taking the blues out and adding extra reds does make for a good video.
KL: They do have usually have distinctive colour palettes. As far as your adventures around the hutong with your GoPro, is that an important element? You want to bring in the Chinese, the local?
A: Definitely. One video we made before is called Editing Bad Translations and the whole thing I wanted to do is take something that’s significant to China. I live in a hutong right down the street and wondered what here has no one seen outside of China? Duh, the hutongs. So I just went for a walk and in parts of the video, you can see a guy cleaning a fish in the street over a grate. There's at least 15 fish beside him and he's just sitting there, chilling. You go a little farther and there's someone taking a piss. You go a little farther and there's maybe 80 or 90 Qingdao bottles just stacked around. That's the hutong and this is going in the video now. So, instead of stopping there I just kept walking so as soon as the hutong ends you see a Starbucks and then you see all this modern China. Then the video ended up being about 12 minutes long so it matched the audio perfectly.
KL: So, this is an introductory lesson for the uninitiated to China?
A: Pretty much, yeah. That video was quite difficult to work with because it was over two and a half gigabytes so putting that into the rendering software then transferring it to raw data. Adding reverb and chorus to it then going back to a video took at least 15, 20 tries just to get the video back in one piece. At one point it was just a green screen and you could see some movement through the hutong but it was mostly green. Getting rid of that took a while. The final product turned out good. At least, I think so.
KL: Does the frustration show through?
A: It does. There were a few times I rage quit, slammed the computer down. It doesn't stop until I open it back up, CTRL-ALT-DELETE, cancel everything, then I rage quit again. Then the drinking starts.
KL: And you get even less done.
A: You get less done.
KL: Do you think you have a particular visual style that is recognisably your own?
A: Seizure-inducing, chaos, lots of colours, too many colours. I would say, I like going heavy on the greens and reds, you know, Christmas style. Adding distortion to a video, I'd like to think it's my style because I'm not clicking a button that says distort. A lot of it is importing the raw data and finding the effects that I like in a video and then programming it into the software and then using it live.
KL: Does constantly doing video works linked to audio change the way that you listen to music in your everyday life?
A: It does.
A: As far as synaesthesia goes, I can hear a certain bass line and think that would look good on a video. So being able to replicate that on a video takes quite some time to adapt to but once you get it, it’s one of the best feelings. It’s like you just made a sound turn into a visual effect and getting that takes a lot of trial and error but once you get it, it’s worth every second.
KL: Are there any particular songs or bands that you want to make videos for, even if it’s only for you to enjoy at home?
A: I have been seeing Dress Code all over these days and would really like to work with them. Those guys are all incredibly gifted musicians with some catchy tunes. Also, I was listening to zydeco recently and there’s a lot of good driving beats which would probably go so well with some visuals.
A：我这几天一直在看Dress Code ，还想和他们一起合作呢。这些人都是很有天赋的音乐家，创作的曲目朗朗上口。另外，我最近还听一些zydeco（柴迪科舞曲），里头有很多不错的拍子，也许可以很好地将它和一些视觉艺术结合起来。
KL: That’s getting into some diverse genres, there. Do you feel a bit limited by the bands on offer in Beijing?
A: Not really, no. Everything I work with is usually a different genre, from experimental IDM to punk rock and everything in between.
KL: If you’re working with someone like Comp Collider where there is a degree of improvisation, do you have to do somewhat of a mind meld with the guys?
A: Yeah. They are in their own world and will change on the ground as they’re moving so I’ll have to adapt with them because I don't know where they’re going. Those guys can read each other and I have no idea where they are going. You have to be where they are going to be without having too much going on, on the screen and they start toning down. Sometimes I do want to go balls to the wall and make it just absolute unadulterated chaos but you have to keep yourself back because if they start toning down their playing style then I have to as well. Or, I could just be an asshole and just keep it going like a strobe light or static. Keeping myself in check is kinda difficult.
KL：如果你要和像Comp Collider 这种即兴表演的人合作，你想和他们心有灵犀吗？
KL: In that collaboration are you considered a part of that improvisation? Would you go to their rehearsals or would they talk to you about their intentions?
A: Mostly they tell me their intentions so they say this is what we want to do, this is what we plan on doing, let’s make it work. Usually, I’ll send snippets of the videos to each of the bands or each musician. I’ve only been criticised a few times and always take that into account. Sometimes it’s difficult to rein in the chaos.
KL: Is it always the same person?
A: Usually. Most people are pretty cool.
KL: What do you have coming up?
A: After the Noise Arcade and Disco Puppet show at fRUITYSPACE on Wednesday I’ll be at RECroom on April 1st and 8-Bit on April 22nd. I’m also doing a music video for Mike [of Noise Arcade] now. Don't know which song I’m gonna choose but as soon as I figure out, I’ll let you know. We’re making a series of music videos for him and it’s very difficult to keep up with him because the man can put out music. His last album I did one called Developmental Speed. It was so much fun to work with. I just took old footage from beach trips and goofing off around Beijing, spliced them all together. It's kinda creepy at some points because you see the silhouette of a head pop up. As for the series we’re trying to do three, four or five more. Hopefully.
A：Noise Arcade 和Disco Puppet在fRUITYSPACE演出后，4月1日我会去RECroom 演出，4月22日在 8-Bit演出，我现在也在为Mike [Noise Arcade] 做音乐视频，目前还不晓得选哪首歌，但是如果我确定了歌曲会告诉你的。我们在给Mike的音乐视频做一个系列，但我发现很难跟上他的脚步，因为他总在出专辑。他有一张和我合作的最新的专辑是叫Developmental Speed，这张专辑超级有趣，我只是把从漫步海滩到闲逛北京的老镜头拼接到一起，看上去挺令人毛骨悚然的，因为你会看到一个头的轮廓突然出现在你面前。至于这张专辑，我们希望能做到系列三，四，五这样。
KL: So, it’s definitely a partnership at this point?
A: He’s the musician, I just swim in his wake.
KL: Would you consider doing visuals for anything independent of music?
A: Yeah, I wouldn’t mind doing that. I would like to get involved with art galleries but I haven’t really spoken with anyone about that yet but it’s something that I would like to do in the future. Art galleries or at small bars. I’ve done visuals at Soi Baochao with Van a few times while DJing, for other DJs or just while he’s playing music and just trying out new things. I’d like to do other bars, other environments as well.
KL: Do you think your vision is more Gulou-centric or would you do stuff at Sanlitun as well?
A: We’ve played at RECroom before with Eclectic Electric. I did one thing last summer with them and it was so much fun. It was a Eurotrash party so we were using old BBC videos and people were getting into it. I think I heard Barbie Girl at least three times that night.
KL: Oh, God!
A：在和 Eclectic Electric合作前，我在RECroom演出，去年夏天和他们做了一件事，超级有趣。那是一个欧洲派对，所以我们用了一些旧的BBC广播视频，然后大家都投入到制作里，那天晚上，我至少听了三次Barbie Girl 的声音。
A: I said, okay, you guys wanna do that? I can do some weird stuff, too. It was pretty fun doing stuff like that. I’ve only played in Sanlitun a few times. I've noticed a lot of people don't really like the chaos aspect that is more welcomed in Gulou so you can definitely see that there’s a dichotomy existing between the two. Wudaokou is a different scene, too. A lot of bars there won't have any visuals. They just put on a movie and say play.
KL: Temple was doing that for a while.
A: I remember Kill Bill was on at one point and I could listen to metal and watch Uma Thurman slice some people up. It’s perfect.
KL: They were stuck on Who Framed Roger Rabbit for a while there.
A: I appreciate that. I’m perfectly fine with Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
KL: After a few blackout drunks, you wake up in the morning and are like, what’s reality? Why was Bob Hoskins there?
A: There are cartoon characters in your room, little birds flying around.
A：我记得有一次他们放Kill Bill 时，在某一片段，我听见了金属的声音和看见了Uma Thurman将人切成一片片，这太有创意了！
KL：他们有段时间热衷放Who Framed Roger Rabbit。
A：我觉得Who Framed Roger Rabbit挺好的。反正我挺喜欢的，没意见。
KL：晚上醉的不省人事后，早上一觉醒来，精神恍惚，然后纳闷：“我在虚拟世界吗？为什么 Bob Hoskins也在那里。
KL: Let’s wind it up with what’s your dream project? Where do you wanna head from here?
A: I would like to see more musicians have VJs – people who can adapt to music instead of just pressing play on a video. I have seen some people around recently that are doing some pretty great work and I would like to see more of that with bands. Playing music is highly respectable. I love it but having someone that can adapt music to visual design is something I’d like to see more in the future.
KL: So, it’s not so much what you’ll do but how you’re going to make an impact on society?
A: Hopefully, people don’t say, God, this sucks! Stop doing it. Hopefully, I’m not going against any movement. I’d like to get more people involved with making designs using raw video as opposed to just finding something on YouTube.
KL: Maybe you’ve gotta work on some sort of propaganda angle.
A: Perfect. Get me in touch with the CPC. I’ll do it.
KL: Maybe you need to start flashing subliminal messages.
A: We’ve done that before. Just flashing the word “headache” every now and then. I don't know if it worked or not. Maybe the music induced some headaches.
KL: I think you should do something measurable. A visual Simon Says and watch the crowd.
A: That’s a good idea. Tap your head. Jump up and down.
KL: Scratch your nose.
J; I’m gonna have to do that. I'll do that for the Wednesday show and hopefully, can make some people pat their head or turn a few circles.
KL: Or something completely ridiculous.
A: Throw your shoe. Preferably at Michael.
Alkeshka, is a musician, producer and VJ hailing from the United States. His style varies performance to performance, but always contains a particular sort of peculiarity. Catch him VJ with Noise Arcade, 4 Channel Club and bREAKTHEDOLL at RECroom on April 1st and with Noise Arcade and DmH at 8-Bit on April 22nd.