Pixel Pirates II & Soda Jerk Interview

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pixel pirate IISydney artists Soda Jerk continue their glorious remix trajectory, with their latest feature length epic ( and collaboration with Sam Smith): Pixel_Pirate_II : Attack of the Astro Elvis Video Clone.

Much booty to be found over at Soda Jerk HQ – short clips, project documentation, audio remixes and thoughtful witty texts related to the art of remixing. And of course a trailer for their gargantuan collage effort – Pixel Pirate II, and details for ordering the DVD – savour the extended saga, bonus disc sample breakdowns, a piracy archive, gorgeous provocative booklet and a cool poster which lists on the flipside the over three hundred(!!) film and music sources used.

What’s PPII like? Rad. Stupendous. Exhausting. Deftly weaving narrative strands of time travel, copyright battles and video cloning, films relentlessly combined and twisted, Elvis strutting into frames of films that don’t expect him, and all the narrated dialogue itself sourced and spliced from other media. Action? The extended Hulk vs Luke Skywalker vs Daniel-San vs Die Hard Bruce vs Lara Croft vs Rambo vs The A-Team vs Donnie Jarhead fight sequence is “preeet-ty, preeet-ty good”. Over to Soda Jerk:

>Copyright and Intellectual Property rights – what lead you down this not-so-sexy garden path?
When DJ Kool Herc invented the break he wasn’t thinking about intellectual property issues, he was just thinking about what was going to sound good. As artists, a similar kind of rationale lead us into video remixing— we wanted to liberate the actors that we liked (Bill Murray), punish the actors we didn’t (Tom Hanks), and resurrect the celebrity dead (Elvis Presley). “Ah, yes, this shit is illegal” was a realisation that followed.

>Almost every major media organization is touched by the vast array of works in your mammoth Pixel Pirate II edit – have you been threatened by any of them?
So far no nasty legal letters have arrived in the mail, but we do take the legal dimension of our art practice seriously (shout out to Shane our intellectual property lawyer).

>Why did you choose to state in your PP2 booklet, “none of the samples in Pixel Pirate II have been cleared” ?
It wasn’t really intended as a f-you finger to the copyright cops, or a way of waving a red flag at the intellectual property lawyers of MGM and Co, just acknowledging that Pixel Pirate II wouldn’t have been possible under current copyright law. With fragments from over 300 different film and music sources, the cost of licensing each sample would’ve been phenomenal. With licensing there is also the question of consent – it’s unlikely that the Powers That Be are going to be into our requests to mash Elvis and Jesus or to decapitate the head of Charlton Heston-as-Moses. These licensing firms might not agree, but we believe there can be value in these sorts of remix actions – people have a right to play with shared culture and mess with the linearity of history. We see Pixel Pirate II as a protest along these lines: if as a culture we want this sort of project to exist then we must alter the law accordingly.

>It’s an epic production, what roles did Soda_Jerk and Sam Smith have in making it happen?
As Soda_Jerk, the two of us have been practicing as remix artists since 2000 and we had been bigtime fans of Sam Smith’s video installation art for about as long. Although he works with original footage, he shares with us an interest in the sci-fi dimension of contemporary screen technologies. So in 2002 we asked him to collaborate with us on Pixel Pirate II and four years later we were still at it…

>Given the immensity of masking your work required, can you give 2 tips for masking / ‘composing fragments of different sources’ into a single shot?
Masking is a bastard, if you’ve done it then you know it to be true. It begins with a simple thought like ‘hey wouldn’t it be great if I cut out footage of the Karate Kid and made him kung-fu kick the Incredible Hulk?’ and always ends in tears. Somehow we tend to overlook the fact that every second of video footage we want to ‘cut out’ has 25 frames that need to be individually masked.

1/ Fingers are really hard to mask. Avoid this problem by masking character’s who are amputees and have no hands.
2/ Loops are your friend. Why mask 8 seconds of footage when you can mask 2 seconds and loop it 4 times? Just think of the old school Scooby Doo and He-Man cartoons, they had the shit looped out of them and still looked rad.

>What inspired your hiphop blending of the 2001 Kubrick apes in your ‘Dawn of Remix’?
dawn of remix
‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is a sci-fi saga that follows the evolution of man from ape to outer space. With Pixel Pirate II we were attempting to chart the evolution of the video remix so it made sense to use 2001 in our project. For us, the true innovators of the remix hail from Hip-hop culture so we conflated these two ideas in ‘Dawn Of Remix’ by re-cutting Kubrick’s apes to make it appear as though they were DJs, drummers, break dancers and MCs. ( see video )

>Conceptual challenges of collage to be overcome in the future / what do you think are some next steps in the evolution of collage and remix video?
Most video remix cultures draw on fast-cut visual forms like movie trailers and music videos. We think the next step in the evolution of video remix is longer narrative films, and in many ways PPII is a bet in this direction. For us, digital editing makes the shift to narrative video works possible because it allows people to recut the space-time continuum of film in a greater variety of ways.

>Do you ever explore live reworkings of your audiovisual remixes?
At the moment that’s not our gig, but we are interested in the possibilities of live remixing.

>Current / future plans?
We’ve just completed a new video remix ‘Picnic at Wolf Creek’. It’s a 10 minute saga where the girls from Hanging Rock get slaughtered by the psycho from ‘Wolf Creek’ despite an enthusiastic rescue attempt by Mad Max and Skippy. It’s a remix made entirely from Australian sources. We’re also attempting to pimp Pixel Pirate II for screenings here and overseas.

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