Boomkat Product Review:
Conceptual composition probing the feedback loop between user-generated content and the avant-garde. Features vocals by UBUWEB magi/poet Kenneth Goldsmith and engineering by Steve Albini
In 1989 American TV launched a series inspired by Japanese television featuring amusing home videos, later edited together with music and sound effects to produce a collage of amusing mishaps and spectacles interlaced with commentary from a host.The series was called America's Funniest Home Videos and is regarded as heralding the birth of user-generated content for Western television. In many ways fashioned similarly to blooper-reels and Candid Camera, the Funniest Home Video format placed the content-making (or indeed harvesting) with the audience. The program's immediate success saw Australia, the UK and other countries following with similar programs soon after.
So hungry were audiences for their 15 minutes that the original series received up to 1,600 tapes per day in the 90's, and was the sole reason for the Hollywood post office employing extra staff at the time. An ad-hoc ethics committee comprised of comedy writers looked over and assessed these tapes, ranging from mundane to incriminating, allegedly requesting written confirmation from the creators of the videos that nobody was seriously hurt, before they went to air. Even today, as unfiltered user-generated content permeates every corner of society, royalties continue to be paid to Tokyo Broadcasting System for use of style and presentation for America's Funniest Home Videos. What did TV producer Vin De Bona, under the influence of Japanese TV, do... to us all?
Australian composer Chris Cobilis set about transcribing episodes of both Australia’s and America’s Funniest Home Videos to develop an animated graphic score and accompanying script which conceptually speaks of the feedback loop This Is You proposes. The work was performed live in studio by Chicago’s Spektral Quartet and features vocals by American poet Kenneth Goldsmith (the genius behind UbuWeb), factor in recording/mixing by arch crank Steve Albini, and you’ve got quite a headful to contend with.
As far as we can make out, the angular, discordant strings and Goldsmith’s voice-in-your-head interjections are about a million miles from the pop cultural tradition of sitting on the sofa cackling at slapstick holiday mishaps or watching a dog chase its own tail. However, it does appear to be about a sense of narcissistic self-awareness, which has been noticeably increasing ever since the programme launched and was syndicated circa 1989 and ultimately paved a path for the near-hyperreal way that folk represent themselves in myriad vlogs, “pranks”, and social media nowadays.
And how does that tie with the music? Chris Cobilis apparently transcribed episodes of Funniest Home Videos into a graphic score (it would be fun to see that), which was performed by the clearly adept Spektral Quartet and recorded/mixed with the vocal parts at Albini’s Electrical Audio studio. So you have it, a bewildering model of the feedback loop between sun-light/consciousness, and probing the relationship between technology and the way we perceive ourselves, or something.
A curio, but one we highly recommend you check out.