Melodies full of emphasis, experimental sounds, crescendo pathos: these are only a few simple words that I feel I need to use in order to describe the music by Plaid, historical brace of intelligent electronic music that for years has given a personal discourse of experimentation between audio and video. Ed Handley and Andy Turner , these are the names of the two musicians, record and make reference the Warp Records , the most famous Sheffield label, a forge of talent that needs no presentation.
Important experience behind them like an eight month tour with Björk and with Orbital , new projects and avant-garde projects like the completion of the A/V project Greedy Baby , and the collaboration with the dance company Random Dance at the Brighton Festival this year, that has just come out.
The last strenuous work of Plaid, Greedy Baby, is a complex work, the result of one long growth, an audio-visional work in all effects born from the close collaboration between Plaid (audio) and Bob Jaroc (video). Conceived as a live show, Greedy Baby was initially presented as part of the Ether Festival in the 2004 still in an embryonic stage to then go on to be completed time after time in following shows in important music festivals and A/V shows, up to its sublimation in the show at the IMAX cinema of London , in its final stage 5.1 Dolby surround and wide screen, at the Optronica festival last year.
The collaboration with Bob Jaroc concerning this project goes back four years and goes on today towards a further goal, the making of a box set containing a cd and a dvd, which came out on June 26 th . I asked Andy Turner to tell us briefly how Plaid came about and how their projects are developing, from the realization of Greedy Baby to their work with the faithful videomaker Bob Jaroc to whom I then had a chance of asking further questions about his long collaboration with the London pair.
Alessandra Migani: I know that you met at school. At that time you lived in the East Anglia and that you started making music together. I’m curious to know how you came into contact with Warp records and then how you became part of the label. How much have things changed since then?
Andy Turner: We met at school in East Anglia and after we left we both found our way to London. This is where we started working with Ken Downie and writing music together. In 1989 after a few half hearted and unsuccessful attempts to find a record label we formed our own, Black Dog Productions. Here we released 3 EP’s as ‘The Black Dog’ and a Plaid album, ‘Mbuki Mvuki’. Warp contacted us after hearing the Plaid album and shortly after we recorded an album called ‘Bytes‘ for them. Things have certainly changed for Warp since then. They have grown and diversified into film and indie, away from the pure electronica they first released but we still feel they are one of the best independent labels in the UK.
Alessandra Migani: Your A/V project, Greedy Baby just came out on the 26th of June. The idea of a DVD album is a revolutionary concept even if it be the order of day in terms of ideas and projects . Could you tell me more about this project? Why the title Greedy Baby?
Andy Turner: We conceived of the idea to make an A/V album 4 years ago and have been working on it since. It’s really a progressing from our live show and an exploration of the technology that’s available to us at the moment. We wanted to get away from the traditional pop promo type video by creating the audio and video simultaneously. Traditionally a video is produced for a piece of music after it’s completion or a piece of music is scored to a finished film. With ‘Greedy Baby’ we first developed loose concepts to drive the creative process and then worked together from there. Hopefully we’ve made a more cohesive release through this process. The title ‘Greedy Baby’ is partially a comment on ourselves and the project itself and partially a comment on our consumerist culture.
Alessandra Migani: Greedy Baby was introduced as an A/V album with a 5,1 surround sound system. The menu of the DVD introduces a double option for the stereo system or the surround sound system. Therefore do you imagine big changes in our houses for the future?
Andy Turner: DVD is really not a great format. It’s old and slow but it’s the best we have right now and so this is what we’ve used. We feel surround sound is a huge improvement on stereo but the uptake is slow and mainly driven by the movie and game industries rather than the music industry. This is why we’ve given people the stereo option. We don’t want people to have to go out and buy new hardware just to hear the album. DVD is unlikely to have a bright future though. Although there are new DVD formats coming out this year the future is more likely to be online, when connection speeds improve. People will be able to select and stream music/movies/games realtime without having physical copies at all.
Alessandra Migani: How does the creative process work between you two and then in collaboration with Bob?
Andy Turner: We all work independently but are open to influence from each other. Working like a traditional band is difficult when the instrument you’re using is a computer as only one person can be in control at any time; we’re closer to a collective than a band. With this project we spend a few weeks in Italy together to get the ball rolling and then spent time in our studio in London . When it wasn’t possible to be working together (Bob lives in Brighton ) we used an FTP space so we could keep each other up to date with the progress of the work.
Alessandra Migani: Greedy Baby is coming out as box set containing a DVD + CD. Who did the graphical plan of the cover and the box?
Andy Turner: Bob has been the eyes for the project creating the vast majority of the video and cover. He worked with a animator called Andy Ward on ‘Super Barrio’ and some of his illustrations also appear on the artwork. The Greedy Baby logo was designed by Karen Jane and the picture taken at the IMAX performance was taken by Chris Dorley-Brown .
Alessandra Migani: The borders between the various arts and disciplines today are almost invisible, many artists coming from various fields and experiences are starting to work as a group of musicians, graphic designers, directors or architects. Thanks then to the new technology things have become simpler and less expensive. Do you think that artistic expression today is able maintain its high quality and express itself better with communication at 360°?
Andy Turner: The advances in technology have certainly enabled artists working in the audio and video fields to produce professional high quality work. And even to distribute them. Hopefully this will allow people to break away from the middle of the road mainstream that the major movie and music corporations churn out.
Alessandra Migani: Thinking about war dialer, the first piece that generally opens the live shows and the first track on the DVD, can you tell me how you had the idea and how you worked on it visually?
Bob Jaroc: The recordings come from a programme utilised by hackers to find modems on phonelines, a machine randomly connecting and disconnecting into peoples homes. The audio was generated for an 8 channel audio installation around 8 years ago, and the video followed around 4 years after that. At the start of the greedy baby project, I gave ed and Andy the audio parts and they mixed the track, creating the dark tones from the clicks and cuts of the original audio. On the dvd and in the live show, we use it as an intruduction/schematic to the connection between audio and picture, and it serves as a great introduction to surroundsound as each visual”pumper” is placed in the audio to coincide with the visual placement.
Alessandra Migani: Some of your videos contain images recorded during your trips on tour with Plaid. What generally captures your attention? Which place has inspired you the most?
Bob Jaroc: There is so much downtime on tour, especially in the states where the shows are so far apart, there is plenty opportunity to hang out of the window and train your camera on the world going by. I’m not sure i can generalise on attention, but anything that seems wrong or shiny is always worth a look. Japan is fantastically inspiring, as is America and location wise, anywhere where people usually are when they are not, like a shopping district at 3 in the morning.
Alessandra Migani: Moreover, having had therefore a long development, Greedy Baby seems to be a journal where you have written in images what has happened in the world over the last few years. During this period the war in Iraq started and this is testified in one of your works, Crumax rins. How did you have the idea for example to record the Cnn news? What is your approach to the media and the information channels?
Bob Jaroc: At the start of that all period of time where the war was going to a kind of occur, I found very difficult to cope with the fact that we were obviously powerless to stop these things we could see unfolding.
In a lot of my work it is really important. With my work I am trying to work out some questions that I have with the world. I felt so powerless but the only way I can kind of approach the 24hours news channel was to try to make something over, was to try of kind of deal with it by getting in my hands.and kind of sculptured. So in this respect I tooked it in timelapses, for four weeks my tv was tuned with CNN and I time lapsed into my computer and then the Crumax rins works was just an editing presentation of that footage. For me it’s not a political statement, it’s more a political question and it’s a presentation because you take from it what you want to take from it. It should be a question, it should leave you with a question and you answer yourself. You feel whatever emotion you feel after watching that piece I am not pointing the finger, telling you that it is bad. You should make your mind up because all I am doing is presenting that period of time in five minutes rather than say ‘george bush is bad, he is really bad’. Because you can make your own mind up about that time. And also the way that the news was broadcasting that information in terms of it was more a sports games and also they kind of repeating elements of news so when you watched timelapsed you realize that there are the same faces of the same bit of news rolling round round and round almost like the way people make music.
Alessandra Migani: Some of your images remind me of some experimental films like the work by Len Lye. I think that you have an incredible sense of movement applied to the mounting of live images in common with him. Have you ever, in a sense, been inspired by him ?
Bob Jaroc: Not directly but you know I feel very humble that you’ve mentioned people like Len Lyne in comparison with my works because he is kind of the daddies of I guess the kind of stuff that I do. I am just a baby compared to people like Len Lye or Norman McLaren and Saul Bass who are three people that I would say that they inspired the things I do but I think they are a kind of leaders in that sort of work. Saul Bass’s directions in term of one film who directed and also his motion graphic work for film in the 1960 or 1970. Every time you see an amazing title sequence for film, 90% of the time if it is in the 1960 or the 1970 it would be Saul Bass. So these people are people that I really love, I don’t know if they really inspired me but I think every things that you see every minutes that you live is an inspiration to your work, so I guess if I unconsciously I’ve seen them, and of course if I’ve seen their works, of course I’ve seen their work, of course they inspired me
Alessandra Migani: are there other directors who you think come close to your approach?
Bob Jaroc: I am not really sure about at what kind of directors I feel very close, but there are directors that I really love like the old works of people like John Carpenter. I’ve been inspired by people like Harold Edgerton, who is the inventor of flash photography and he worked for MIT which is Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. His work is incredible. I really love the works of Alex Ross, who actually draws; he paints a kind of cartoon of Marvel. At the moment his works are incredible in terms of comics and also people like Kevin O’Neill, he is an illustrator, he illustrates things for Nemesis for 2000 AD and also all the Alan Moore works his writing work for the early Future Shocks in 2000 AD were an incredibly inspiration into me, you know I would kind of say that that was one of the first things that expanding my mind was reading Alan Moore works of the earlier editions of 2000 AD was when I was very very young being around at the supermarket with my Mum, she would buy me a copy of 2000 AD just to keep me quiet and I read his works and they were always amazing.
Alessandra Migani: What type of equipment do you use? How much has technology changed your job?
Bob Jaroc: The kind of equipment I use is the same equipment that everybody uses in the production of this kind of work: mac, dv camera, final cut pro, after effect. I guess the other things I really love using add stuff to my work as I use a lot of analogue equipment it’s like old analogue machines to feed into the all digital world and also I like to make my hand dirty by using a kind of real film and attaching real film real cameras. I feel that that approach is much more interesting to me in term of approaching the work because technology it shouldn’t be the only thing you use. There is a world, different approach with lenses and light and refraction and altering electronics and all ends up on a computer.
But I think the most important thing is the idea if you have a bad idea no matter what effect, no matter what technology, no matter what super8 you applied to it as last the idea is a good idea .if it is a bad idea. If it is a good idea it would be a good idea whatever you do if it is a bad idea no matter you do to it it will be a bad idea.
Alessandra Migani: When did you start out as a director? What is your background?
Bob Jaroc: I guess I made my first moving picture when I was in art collage in the late 80s in stoke-on-trent. before I studied at university i worked in music venues loading/unloading trucks and rigging/running lights. After leaving the fine art course in stoke I exhibited a lot of work (video instillations) in galleries/art festivals.
Alessandra Migani: What is New Family about, one of the most interesting tracks in Greedy Baby?
Bob Jaroc: I guess it is about a soldier coming back from a war and the government that sent that soldier away doesn’t actually look at, it’s kind of throwing him after using him as a tool. It’s a kind of story about I guess post traumatic stress disorder or something like that. There are other elements in it but in general that’s the main story moving through out he is a kind of a homeless person who used to be a soldier who is now in the streets of Washington.
Alessandra Migani: One of my favourite videos is The return of Super Barrio – the collaboration with the graphical artist Andy Ward. How did you meet and did you work together on this project? Who Is Super Barrio?
Bob Jaroc: We met each other at school at the Secondary College in Cambridge and we kept in touch since then. So it was very long time ago, we know each other for very long time. And the collaboration arose with an intention of work together, I really wanted to work with Andy and Andy really wanted to work with me. I found his style of drawing and his approach at the kind of things he drew was the perfect style of illustrate my kind of sick ideas or my kind of childish ideas. I wanted to make into a cartoon so we decided we wanted to collaborate and the Super Barrio story was born from that and I wrote it. Then after I’ve written, I sent it to Andy the script and he came over to Brighton where I live and we worked on the script some more and he came up with some illustration for this. So we really collaborated on pretty much every aspects of it. So it was a proper collaboration of the three of us, Plaid, Andy Ward and myself. I think it was a very successful collaboration in that way. I am really proud of it and I am so really proud we got the real Super Barrio to do the voices of Super Barrio because it was really important for me to actually get the real Super Barrio who is a real guy
Super Barrio is or was a real person, a real character who used to lead marches against the civil oppression and he used to go to America to do talks to immigrant workers about the civil rights. And he is really a figurehead after the Mexican’s earthquake for the poor people of Mexico and he dressed up as a Mexican wrestler. That what Super Barrio was, he was and he still is a figure of the spirit of fighting the oppression in whatever way oppression is manifested. So it was really important for me to kind of do justice of his story, because he retired, few years ago and he works in the social services in Mexico. So that’s where the story picks up and the all thing was actually done in collaboration with the people in Mexico as well. So we got in contact with him and he gave his bless to the project . Because he thought nobody thought about Super Barrio anymore the all pieces is about unity in the end.
Alessandra Migani: Have you got any new projects in the pipe line? Will you continue to work with Plaid?
Bob Jaroc: The live show with Plaid is what I really want to work on it now. We have technology .so I can actually perform live in the same way I make videos like on the dvd. So now is an exciting time there is a lot of more equipment I can work with. So that is. I want to make a short film about a guy in hometown who sells records, soundtracks, film soundtracks, which I am incredibly passionate about. You know I am a big collector of vinyl films soundtracks and this guy is being selling soundtracks for 40/50 years. And I would love to make a documentary on super8 about him because he is an amazing guy with an amazing acknowledge about soundtracks. And he runs the shop. He is a very unique shop and he is a very unique guy. And I feel maybe we need to record these things before these things are lost. You know the only place to download to interact with people is on the internet ..or you know don’t go every specialist shop because people don’t buy vinyl anymore. Me Ed and Andy we love play live and we just gonna work on the live show.
Alessandra Migani: Going back to speak about music by Plaid, are you thinking about any new projects with other people and who would you like to work with?
Andy Turner: For us collaborations have mainly been natural progressions from friendships though there are plenty of people who’s work we admire. It would feel a little to manufactured to just call someone out of the blue.
Alessandra Migani: I think Plaid’s music is able to create a deep down emotive state. I can listen to ‘The launching of the big face’ and I never tire of it since the emotion grows with the images one has in mind. Do you think visually about your music?
Andy Turner: There is a feeling of imagined physical space but it’s not really too specific. There is a condition called synisthesia where people see music as color but it’s quite rare. We generally stick to the ear stuff.
Alessandra Migani: I saw your recent show with to the dance company, Random Dance at the Brighton festival. I believe it was the first time you composed music for a dance show, it was exceptional. A fluid dialogue between music, dance and projections. Would you still want to work on a project that involved various artistic disciplines? In general what projects do you have in mind?
Andy Turner: Yes, it was a fun experiment and I think we’ve learned a lot through the experience. There was some talk at one stage of taking it to a few other places but no firm plans. We’ve had some ideas about small programs that generate music each time you run them; within certain parameters, so each time there is a different variation. This might be something that we’d work on with another programmer.It would also be nice to build music boxes but this maybe something to do in a shed somewhere quiet in several years time…