As humans, our immediate impulse is to “label” in an attempt to understand. Our rational mind instinctively filters through memories, creating associations, placing square-pegs in square-holes and eventually cramming interesting ideas into boxes.
In the music biz, categorization is important for marketing and a good SEO strategy is essential to find something quickly. However, though most artists want to be discovered, some find labeling restrictive or insulting. Discovery may lead to money, but “success” has nothing to do with labeling.
Consequently, a song may contain ambiguous lyrics or be given a title wrapped within metaphor in an attempt to forgo pigeonholing. These intentional artistic dissociations often place the guest in a position of active participant in regards to what is being heard, seen and felt… and there’s nothing wrong with a lean-forward experience that appeals to people’s intelligence.
Videos have also come to straddle categories due in part to an influence from both music and fine art. Wall mounted TVs and installations may be successful, but they require a bit more of a mental investment from the general public. Music videos, on the other hand, have always been an accessible playground for artistic experimentation.
The modern day music video is a product of decades of development, inspired by live-action musical short films from the 20’s produced by Warner Bros., sing-along cartoons from Max Fleischer, three-minute American musical 16mm films called “Soundies” and other key productions. These risk-takers would inspire generations of talent and eventually open a new revenue stream for the music industry.
And… in step Brennan Roach and Jorge Rios, the two-piece known as Time & Energy, who have happily slapped their fans across the face with their new music video titled “Ajai Alai“; a track from the recently released Open Channels album which delves heavily into themes of meditation and metaphysics.
Not that experimental music videos are uncommon, but “Ajai Alai” successfully merges song and image to produce a delightfully transcendental cohesive experience while dancing on the razor thin edges of visual freneticism.
While watching the music video, I caught myself initially rationalizing; trying to compare it to something. But by the end, I managed to push those thoughts out of my mind. As, what I did NOT want to do was “label” it.
Citizen LA: I get the impression that you guys must be surrounded with a lot of stuff.
Brennan: You mean like instruments?
Citizen LA: Like WEIRD stuff. Do you guys live in some wacky musical sandbox?
Brennan: [laughing] We spend our money on instruments and recording equipment, whatever it takes to help us change our perspective about music and improve it.
Jorge: Yeah, you can easily kill yourself walking around in here.
Citizen LA: When I watched the “Ajai Alai” video, it reminded me of fine art. Then I started thinking about how the line between art forms, on many levels, has been blurred.
Brennan: Yeah, that’s the idea. You’ve ever been to dive bar and on the projector screen are images with some music behind it? The images always seem to sync up with the music in a weird way, always. No matter what the footage is. This video is playing with those happy accidents.
Jorge: Our video is edited to sync, somewhat. It’s not just thrown together.
Citizen LA: Wait a second! So you guys actually thought about this video?
Brennan: The thought is not to think, but to watch. And kinda cradle it. And move with it.
Citizen LA: Heavy shit, man.
Brennan: Just like you said, it’s about fine arts. I think about a song the way I put together a painting. They’re both different when you experience it. But the way you think about it, when creating it, is essentially the same.
Citizen LA: With all these happy accidents, how do you know when the song is finished?
Brennan: If I’m trying to create something, what’s being created is an “observed system”, by the observer. I have to step out and experience it as a person, not like the creator. And then once it feels right, then it’s there.
Citizen LA: Your work also has elements of abstract expressionism. With Jackson Pollack, for example, it could have been as simple as “well, this is the fifteenth cigarette that I’ve smoked and tossed onto the painting, so I’m done.” Just a practical thing like someone ran out of booze.
Jorge: Yeah! That person was totally just free, and not focusing on trying to make something awesome. They were literally in a meditative state.
Citizen LA: This video is somewhat like a slice-of-life piece. I mean, where did it start and where did it end? I congratulate you on completely confusing me.
Brennan: That’s what we’re going for… the whole “what the fuck just happened to me” thing.
Jorge: It kinda shakes people up a little.
Citizen LA: So “Ajai Alai” is from your recently released Open Channels album.
Brennan: Yeah, but it’s only out on cassette, not on the internet yet.
Citizen LA: Brilliant. Granted, maybe some of the younger people —who have never even seen a cassette—might just say “what’s wrong with these guys?”
Brennan: Everything is so accessible now… it’s kind of a stupid idea, but we wanted to make it difficult.
Citizen LA: Well, it’s stupidly brilliant.
Citizen LA: The message… I understand that it’s exploratory and has a sense of abstraction, but you did name it. So what was the intention behind the message?
Jorge: A lot of my lyrics are open for interpretation. I just write things that make me go “yeah!”
Citizen LA: It’s definitely poetic.
Jorge: “Ajai Alai” comes from a Sanskrit mantra, which means to “have power behind what you say.” In the song, I’m saying that “you” can take control whenever.
Citizen LA: It’s nice to see something placed in the experimental genre, which actually IS experimental and not bound by a box.
Jorge: We did go through an experimental metal hardcore phase to the point where there was, like, no form. But then we brought it back.
Citizen LA: In terms of Live vs. Studio, how do you approach that?
Brennan: On this album, we wrote and recorded it without worrying how we’d play it live. It’s called Open Channels cuz it’s open to everything. No limits. But on a Low-Fi level. That’s why it’s on cassette.
Citizen LA: So next, the totally punk move, is that you guys record an album and then… erase it?
Jorge: We make a really good documentary about it. Then destroy the album.
Citizen LA: Awesome.
Jorge: The only time we hear the album is during the credits, at the end of the film.
Brennan: 30 seconds of each song.
Brennan: Then release it years later.
Citizen LA: And the songs are all backwards.
Citizen LA: When you choose instruments, I can assume that you guys are not limited by the things in this room.
Brennan: We do a lot of source stuff. We’re working on a song right now where we sampled a bamboo wind chime. We added it in to get a reaction like “wow, oh shit, they’re doing it on purpose!”
Citizen LA: So, the future of technology… Most musicians, just as software designers and robotic technicians, affirm that they are currently in control of their instruments, but at what point does it flip?
[Jorge spins the camera phone and points it at a row of pedals]
Jorge: You see those pedals?
Citizen LA: Yeah.
Jorge: Those are six channels that have hours and hours of recording time.
Brennan: We have them synced to guitar, bass, keys and a sampler pad and we can loop those on any instrument.
Jorge: So it’s us and those six dudes.
Citizen LA: Do you see any time in the future when those dudes are gonna kick you out of the band?
Jorge: If they ever create loop pedals that are connected wirelessly to instruments, they might make that change. Right now it’s just a filter. It doesn’t have a brain… yet.
[CUE OMINOUS SOUND FX]
If Sanskrit mantras, Abstract Expressionism and the “Ajai Alai” video are to suddenly become passive entertainment, then there’s a good chance that the technological singularity has happened. And while the foot-pedals will certainly control our minds, we should hope that they also develop the capacity to be creative, or at least appreciate our artistry as a kitschy moment during the “Age of Mammals.”
As for Time & Energy, this artificial superintelligence scenario will undoubtedly inspire them to release another killer video. I just hope that their robot owners let them keep their garage, for what these guys do in there is worth its weight in bitcoins.