December 3, 2010 9:30 PM | jeriaska
Independent games can be host to uncomfortable truths. One example is the irreverent adoption of the glitch aesthetic found in games by musician Goto80 (Anders Carlsson) and video artist Raquel Meyers, a mirror for the multifaceted malfunctions of our lives.
Goto80 partnered with Autoboy on the 2008 Commodore 64 game HT Gold. The re-appropriation of old school hockey game Hat Trick, programmed to go a bit haywire, was on display at the recent Chicago GLI.TC/H art installation. The Swedish musician, responsible for chip music albums like the well received Commodore Grooves, is himself critical of artistic pretensions. When invited to perform on Rampljuset, a Swedish television program, he wore a lettuce suit.
Raquel Meyers collaborated with multimedia artist Bram van der Poel on THE GREAT ADVENTURE OF WH-TVR. As the paradoxical title suggests, the goals offered to the player of "finding the disks and feeding the dogs" elude any kind of satisfying resolution. Raquel's debut DVD release from lightrhythm visuals, useless yet crucial, is being released this year. As with her Tokyo Blip Festival performance with Saitone of 8-Bit Thriller, the visuals rendered in the low-fi aesthetic of early home computers are filled with beautiful and grotesque imagery.
We caught up with the artists to hear about the intentional disturbances underlying their game-inspired media.
Have the two of you been working on audio-video projects together for some time?
Goto80: We did our first together in 2004. Since then, we’ve been doing live performances, music videos, art-oriented projects and games. Also, Raquel sings on some of the music as well. It’s a blend.
Do you feel that over time you’ve been able to broaden your abilities as artists by working together? If you had never met, would you be different today?
Raquel Meyers: For the visuals, that’s fifty percent music. For me it was really important meeting him because he inspired me to make all these graphics.
What interested you in creating a game that glitched as a conscious aspect of its construction, rather than a biproduct of unintended programming errors?
G80: I have always liked quirky and unexpected things. Both in technical, social and aesthetical ways. There's a lot to explore in "glitches", especially since as a genre it has become very academic and art-oriented. What I wanted to do, which was only possible with Autoboy's mad coding skills, was to make a fucked up game that was neither naive machinima, boring interactive-for-the-sake-of-interaction, typical 8bit-databending or merely decorative. Hat Trick was one of my favourite games, and with these new additions I actually think that the game has improved. The new turbulence gives a new challenge to it.
How would you describe the collaboration with Autoboy?
G80: We've made demoscene works together for over 10 years, but this game was developed for an exhibition at Mikrogalleriet in Copenhagen, and made just a few days before it. We discussed ideas about what to do and Autoboy checked out the code of a few different games to see which ones were suitable to mess with. There were some experiments with generative music, but finally we settled with a linear song that is modulated with the sfx of the game.
We were both pretty surprised with how resilient the game was to adding noise to it, and the audiovisual effects that they led to. We tweaked the amount of different "noise-events" and how often they appear, to set a good level between order and chaos.
You've written about the presentation of artists in the mainstrem media and how it has problematic consequences. Was your memorable television performance, which seemed to catch a lot of the younger audience members off guard, communicating a personal stance?
G80: This was a collaboration with Skuggan. I was actually mistaken to be Skuggan ("the Shadow" in Swedish) since I was wearing the lettuce. The original plan was very different from this, involving crazy interaction, but they informed us one week before the show that we couldn't use that idea. So the performance was, actually, just a compromise between being likeable and unlikeable. Of course it would've been easy to charm the kids with cute videogame stuff, but it felt more relevant to give them something outside of the normal genre grid. Something unclear.
For me, it was not an anti-statement. Maybe some kind of surrealist comment. Dishonesty in media is not a problem, it's a prerequisite in many contexts where the point is to not be honest and present a selection for a certain purpose. Journalism? If you're engaging in mainstream media, you have to deal with how the system works, somehow. It's not very critical to just be anti and rebel against as many norms as possible. That's what they did 40 years ago, you know. It's better to get inside the system and infect it with salad and confusion.
Is there something you wanted to communicate in the design of THE GREAT ADVENTURE OF WH-TVR that was a conscious difference from mainstream games?
RM: ( whatever! ) No, we felt just the need to make a game for a gallery, because games are a form of art itself. It felt just right to do together. We wanted to do something altering the ground principles from gaming: leveling up, collecting coins or even get the princess and defeat evil once more. Take those away and come up with some new rules (such as find the disks and feed the dogs) no level up or bad guy to defeat but a very sympathetic nice person.
Could you describe how you met Bram van der Poel, your collaborator on this game?
RM: We both are in the Visual Berlin collective, where I'm a visual artist and Bram is an audio visual artist. He programs his own software, so mashing that with my visual skills was an interesting thing to explore. I did the visuals and Bram the gaming engine, the music and some algorithmic visual effects.
Do you feel there is potential for the art space to take experimental independent games in interesting new directions?
RM: I don't know, gaming is already a very cool art form. It's not yet customary in a public space as it is behind a computer. There is much to explore: we already have some other ideas of how to mess around with gaming's basic principles :)
Did you come up with your "Acid Burger" project specifically for the Blip Festival Tokyo event?
G80: Acid Burger as an idea seemed to fit nicely with this Blip Festival. The idea was to mix food with music. Acid and burgers, it’s a nice match. We bought burgers at McDonalds and put our stamp on it, completely stealing their product in a way. Maybe it’s even illegal, I don’t know. We put a DVD with acid music mixed with chip music, and also a really high quality video that Raquel made. I really like the idea of being able to eat an audio-visual product that you buy. I think that’s really nice, actually.
RM: We had wanted to do a project together and suddenly this idea came around, maybe because of “Breakfast." We both really wanted to make something with acid music and started with a joke. He made a song in Berlin, it was Notendo and me singing, and when we had finished we decided to put the release in a burger. This is the first “menu,” with some tracks and a video.
G80 For the Tokyo Blip Festival we launched the first menu, which is just the burger. In the future we’ll also do larger menus with fries, which will also contain music and video content. It’s food full of bad nutritional values and good media content.
You've incorporated your music videos together with live performances. What's the story behind the Microcolorado song that you performed at Blip Festival Tokyo?
G80: The Microcolorado video was made while we had a residency in the South of France in 2007, La Gare de Coustellet. We had been talking about cowboys, and one of the people at the place where we were staying said that quite nearby there was a place called “Le Petit Colorado” with all this red sand. As a tourist attraction it was known as something like the small Wild West. We found a store with all this kitschy cowboy stuff, bought as much as we could, and then went there to film. We wrote all the songs and finished the lyrics during the residency.
You and Raquel are both singing in this performance. Could you describe the roles of your characters?
G80: I’m the cowboy and Raquel is the Indian.
RM: We made a lot of jokes with the lyrics, taking stereotypes of cowboys. He’s a rapist and robs banks. By the end we just want to kill each other.
What interests you in returning repeatedly to the low-fi game aesthetic?
RM: The funny thing is that I started with photography and didn’t really have a computer to work with until I was 18. It was my brother who was making games from the age of 14, using this MSX. In Spain the Commodore and Amiga were not really all that popular. Suddenly one day with the growth of the internet I found a database with Commodore 64 music and it reminded me of games I’d seen in my childhood, Pong and Tennis. The music was giving me lots of input and I just wanted to make something with it. I found Anders on there. At first it was about reliving the experience of old games, but eventually it became about finding my own style of graphics, mixing different techniques and building my own universe.
G80: I started making this music when I was young and there wasn’t any economic possibility to do anything else. I just liked it and have never really stopped. It started as a necessity, of not being able to afford fancier stuff. It grew into a preference. It’s a nice way of working and there’s a nice sound to it. Especially the Commodore 64 I feel has really unique qualities that no other platform can provide. I think there’s a really nice mix of being in control and not being in control. The hardware has its peculiar features that you just never seem to understand, and that feeds your brain to think in other ways.
Feeds your brain with Acid Burgers?
How did you go about finding a visual style that would complement Saitone's chip music Michael Jackson covers?
RM: I got in touch with Saitone to make this small promo video for the “Thriller” cover. The funny thing is that I was not in touch with him directly. There was always an intermediary. For that reason, this was the first time really meeting him.
I was preparing a DVD with all my works. The guy of the label proposed I make something for a Japanese artist and Saitone’s name was brought up. They wanted a 45-second promo video for “Thriller.” Meeting Saitone in person and making this special set for him was really nice. At the end of the performance, when he came to me and gave me his thanks, it was really emotional.
When appearing at an event like Blip Festival Tokyo, do you feel like you represent something, like a geographical region or art style?
RM: Maybe for me I identify as a European. It was really exciting to come here. Tokyo was some kind of dream. There are not so many girls involved in this festival—most of the time there are more men, and not so many girls involved—maybe I represent the female side of this.
G80: I guess I somehow feel like I’m European. That might be my identity. Coming here I don’t feel that I represent something so much as I feel that I don’t really fit in with whatever’s going on here. I’ve been fascinated with Japan since some time ago, but I don’t get it. I guess that’s what fascinates me. Maybe whatever it is that we are is difficult to understand as well. Perhaps I represent the Comodore 64... yeah, I represent the machine.