"Violet Dark Spring of the Numinous Orb" (2011)
I'm so pleased to announce the following interview of the great japanese New York based artist Yoshi Sodeoka. I'm a big fan of his mesmerizing audiovisual carrier and interested on all around it, today he tells us everything about this trajectory, including details which he had never told before. As a exclusivity, Yoshi presents here at Triangulation as a first time online one of his new pieces called "Violet Dark of Spring of the Numinous Orb".
Sodeoka’s psychedelic video, sound art and prints are a dystopian clash of noise and beatitude. His projects have been shown all over the world, from London’s Tate Britain, New York City’s Deitch Projects, Paris’ Festival Némo, Edinburgh’s MU, São Paulo’s Rojo Nova, Barcelona’s OFFF, Baltimore Museum of Art, London’s OneDotZero, Barcelona’s Sonar Festival, Haifa Museum Israel, Berlin’s Transmediale, Poland’s Krakow Film Festival. See more;
Introduce yourself please.
My name is Yoshi Sodeoka, and the longer version is Yoshihide Sodeoka. I was born in Hiroshima. I grew up in Yokohama-city and Tokyo, Japan. Now, I live in New York with my wife and 2 cats. I make art and music.
Did you go to an art school in Japan?
Yes, I could probably say that I’ve actually had more art education than any other regular person could have; and I consider myself very lucky. I’ve studied art since the age of 7. I had an art tutor as a kid. It’s pretty common to have some kind of tutor for kids in japan. It’s not like some wealthy family thing to do or anything. I come from a very regular family, and tuition for those is usually cheap. And it wasn’t either some military style kids training thing. It was the complete opposite. It was casual, and I really liked it. The majority of kids get math, history or grammar tutors, things like that, something more practical than art class. Luckily, my parents thought that it’s a good idea to get me an art tutor since they saw me enjoying drawing as a little child. Clearly, they didn’t want me to be a doctor or a lawyer... And I think I was happy enough that I didn’t have to study too much math. I studied drawing, oil painting, sculpture and art history among other things. I remember being in my first gallery show when I was 12 at some small local art gallery. So, I got good at art making, but I was a failure with everything else as a kid.
When and how did you end up in New York? Was it because of your work?
Right after high school, I briefly enrolled in Temple University Japan which had some art classes. Then I met this RISD graduate artist, Stephen Talasnik who happened to be living in Tokyo, teaching at Temple at that time. He was planning to come back to New York around the same time when I had to choose my major. He suggested I study art in the US rather than staying in Tokyo. I actually tried to get into RISD and Parsons, but my TOEFL score wasn’t good enough. So, they rejected me. Then Stephen recommended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn instead. They were less strict than other art schools for international students with very little English. So, with my parents great support, I transferred my credits to Pratt and my NY life began; that was 1990. I actually could care less which school I was going to be in. Moving to a different country was already a big deal enough. Any school that accepted me was a good school.
You work on video, sound and prints in an abstract and psychedelic way, I'd like to know and what did you start to experiment in the first place, sound, video, prints?
I can’t remember when I started making the things the way they are now. I can’t trace any specific source of inspirations honestly. And I never intentionally decided to make my style like typical psychedelic. I just let my right brain work it, whatever feels right. I let it flow. It’s like a total jam session in my head. And the result always ended up with a lot of strobing colors and loud noise music. I can’t explain why. But I was thinking about this the other day. I think my psychedelic outputs must have something to do with making art on computer screens. The colors you see on the screens are also lights generated by machines. RGB colors don’t really exist in physical objects. So when you are picking colors, you are essentially picking artificial lights. The process is definitely different from paintings. So, I’m guessing that added element has some sort of effects on my senses. Maybe I’m mildly hallucinated by lights. The term psychedelic seems to fit ok. Whatever people want to call it. But it’s got nothing to do with drugs for me.
print from "Distortion II" series (2011)
Some of your latest works/videos have been inspired on the 70's progressive rock, could you tell any more about this source of inspiration and how it affects on your work. What inspires you?
I talked about this prog-rock project on Creators Project interview not too long ago. I went on and on about my prog-rock obsession, maybe too much :) so I will try to keep it brief here. You can read about that stuff there.
I just happened to be rediscovering prog-rock lately. Prog-rock used to also be called art rock, and it came originally from psychedelic rock. It sounds like a perfect match for me, doesn’t it?
I just saw in your website you have updated a 50 songs collection made from 1997 to now. Is this recompilation your audio portfolio from all these years?
I wouldn't even call it a portfolio. It’s more casual and I want to keep it pretty low-key. I wanted to archive it before I lose it. Also, maybe half of what I have in there was made specifically for my videos. So, I wanted to switch off the visuals and just listen to it. It’s just a little experiment done for my own personal reason.
Could you tell more about you career as a musician? Do you still play live music?
My childhood art tutor was a music freak. So he introduced me to a lot of music from the Rolling Stones to the Sex Pistols. He had some guitars and keyboards, things like that lying around; and my older sister is also a musician. So, I picked up playing music gradually around then. Then in my high school days, the only thing I remember is pretty much playing music in hardcore punk bands. I spent more time playing music than painting around that time. But I was making a lot of flyer art and posters and things like that then. So, that was maybe the beginning of the idea of art/music experiments for me.
I used to play live music before, but I haven’t done that in awhile. There was a time I could enjoy playing live music, but I actually don’t enjoy being the center of attention too much. The stress wasn’t worth it for me. I enjoy recording music on my own with a few friends. And lately, I mainly record music to go with my videos. So, I have no desire to pursue my music interest into a business in the regular music industry or anything. I’m sure making music wouldn’t be fun if that was my job.
print from "Electric Hair Doom" (2010)
As well as your music, focused on punk rock, psychedelic and noisy rhythms I guess is also inspired in the 70's progressive rock. How do you describe you music style?
The music I make is such a mixed bag. I have a lot of mellow, ambient music, but a lot of noisy music also. The things I listen to are totally random. I can have Chuck Mangione and Napalm Death in the same play-list, and that’s the most natural thing in the world to me. But I always have a thing for anything loud. And you know, if you look at the history of music, people have become a lot more tolerant of loud music. I mean I can’t believe that people thought the Beatles were some loud satanic music back then. We can say the same thing for art too. Just check out what we have in the art and music scene nowadays. It’s just difficult to shock people with anything now. I am guessing in 100 years; everything will be wiped. Art and music will be nothing but static.
Your visual work follows retro aesthetics, most of your videos seem to be made using analog tools, cameras, VHS, I'm so curious about what tools did you use in the past to create your first video-pieces and how are you doing it in these days. Could you say any programs, software or tool you usually uses to make your audiovisual pieces?
My setting is relatively simple actually. I do use some old analogue gear sometimes. Like one of those cheap VHS camcorder and a not so fabulous Panasonic video mixer from the 90’s. They were the cheapest I could find on ebay. Of course, I do like the look it produces. But honestly I just can’t afford to buy the latest HD equipment, is another reason. I don’t even know what the latest things around are anyway. I’m less interested in tools or techniques. So I use a lot of common software like After Effects for video and Logic Pro for music. Oh and another music app that I use often for music is called Recycle by Steinberg. It’s an oldie but a goodie. I sold most of my analog synthesizers that I used to own. I had some really good vintage keyboards, but I am not really a collector. I only want to own what I actually use, and I don’t need stuff that stays in a glass showcase.
And yes, I do like that whole retro aesthetic. But I don’t want to just carbon copy what’s been done before though. What I want to achieve is a good mix of old and new to make something totally original.
still from the video "Evil Erector" (2009)
The other day I saw in your G+ profile some really cool animated GIF. You said they were part of chatbot/game called Fred The Webmate you made back in 1998. Did you make more games like that one? Do you also write code?
Yeah, the Fred The Webmate was probably the first and the last app that I made back in 1998. A webzine Word hosted it. I learned to write it in Lingo, by myself, back then to make it. Then after that one, I realized that I have no tech background and I’m bad at maths. So that was the first and last app for me.
Fred is off-line now because it was made with Shockwave and that plug-in is almost obsolete. It’s a pain in the ass. So, I choose not to show it for now. I’m thinking about reviving it by porting to a newer platform though.
Fred was a chatterbot, sort of like the famous ELIZA. You could “converse” with Fred by typing in questions that he’d “answer” by detecting keywords. What made Fred different from ELIZA was that Fred had a graphical interface that was, I think, pretty entertaining. He appeared as an animated character—in the pixelated style of an old video game--and he did some idiotic things like getting drunk and passing out, smoking by the windows, doing push-ups etc in his little apartment. And you could talk to him about the dot-com bubble, president Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Seinfeld, all the good things about the 90’s.
*GIF representation of the chatbot, "Fred the Webmate"
It was pretty popular for what it was back then. And luckily Fred the Webmate along with Word.com is preserved with SFMOMA and AMMI in their permanent collections which is pretty cool. And I think it was one of the earlier pieces to be archived at Rhizome Artbase. It’s still in there now with a broken link (my fault) and wrong dates and everything. But I remember being contacted by someone from there in ‘98 or ‘99.
Fred the Webmate was pretty different from the newer video stuff I do. But conceptually, it was maybe more psychedelic than anything.
Tell me more about Word.com
Word.com was one of the first webzines which utilized all things web, the whole multimedia zine experience with art, music, comics, games and original stories etc. Now the domain name “Word.com” is owned by Merriam Webster. Sadly, their site has nothing to do with the original Word.com. I was the creative director of Word. The late 90’s were such a fun time. The economy was great, and the Internet was such a booming wild west. Nobody knew what they were doing. So, artists like us could get paid to do a lot of crazy, experimental stuff.
Check here, a lot of broken links but you can get a sense of what it was. There was even a section to introduce early web art. I remember showcasing ctrlaltdel, abrusd.org, superbad.com, Marina Zurkow and day-dream.com on Word. Those guys are all pioneers of net art.
Word existed from 1995 when the web was total shit. You couldn’t design anything with it. There was no Flash, no video/audio, nothing. Not even not animated GIFs. Just static GIF images and text with grey background and bad layout options. I don’t even know if anyone would remember the time when GIF animation was not supported by any browsers, back in 1996, until Netscape 2.0 came out. Before that, we used to use this ancient CGI script called client pull/server push to do pseudo animations. We were one of the first people to do animations on the web. So we used to get a lot of attention back then. Word Magazine was shutdown in 2000. And damn, all these stories make it sound like I’m 100 years old. It was not that long ago. Don’t worry, I’m not that old. I just started out young and early. The Internet technology has changed from night to day in only 15 years, and I guess I’ve witnessed all that.
While we have been doing this interview, you have posted some incredible GIFs again on G+. They seem to be from a some generative tool, I really like how they move and the colors you selected for. What could you say about their design and the way for animating them?
Some people have asked if those are done with some crazy code with Processing and stuff. But I actually just use After Effects to make those. Those are just done with a careful choice of colors and a lot of weird combinations of effects and keyframes in After Effects. It looks sort of random, but it's done in a pretty controlled environment.
I had never saw any GIF from you. I started to see them at G+. Have G+ and the group GIFfers who are living there :) induced you to work on this kind of format?
I used to produce a massive amount of GIFs in the late 90's for Word.com. Word had this thing called "Word TV" which sat on the corner of the Word.com homepage. It cycled through hundreds of tiny GIF animations like a TV channel. And those were all made by Word staff, me included, and a lot of contributors. Then after Word.com got shut down, I sort of shifted my interest to video. I actually never cared for GIFs for a long time. Those GIFs you saw on my G+ originally came from my video experiments, just optimized as GIFs.
I know a lot of artists get passionate about GIF animations these days. I think it's cool. I can tell you that mine have no deep philosophical meaning behind them. Those are just for fun, and those GIFs on G+ helped me to meet some new talented artists. So that was already a good enough reason to make those. And I like G+ because it seems to be more graphically engaging than the other social media sites. I guess I'd rather communicate through visual things.
As we can see in your website, your first piece is from 2001. Your work has followed a path very uniform, marking a clear style and aesthetic based in digital manipulations, distortions, noise and psychedelic colorful visual effects, What can you tell about your trayectory in these 10 years? What do you think, has changed anything in your work in all this time?
I have a bunch of older things before 2001. Maybe I should try to put some of that up one day. But unfortunately, a lot of the Internet based artworks I made before 2000 don’t work because I used to use a lot of Shockwave plugin etc, and it’s just old, obsolete technology. Plugins suck. Don’t rely on them. I learned that the hard way.
print from "Distortion" series (2010)
One thing I can tell you is that I‘ve tried a lot of different things. I’m not always 100% happy with what I make. So, each time I challenge myself to outdo my older stuff. And I’m still going like that. I think part of the most important aspect of my art practice is to keep producing. Whether I think my work sucks or not, it is more important to keep making things than worrying about it. I have some stuff I made in the past that I am not particularly proud of. In fact, some of those are sort of ridiculous in retrospect! But that’s ok. It’s all just part of the big picture. And in the end, the ultimate goal is to make stuff that stands the test of time.
still from the video "Devils Reign" (2010)
Tell me about your recent/future activities please. You had a solo show in spring?
Yeah, the solo show was in Stockholm, Sweden. An art gallery called Galleri Jonas Kleeup. I mainly showed my prints this time. They are sort of like video prints. Then I have a retrospective screening at Rojo/Nova in Sao Paolo on October 8th. They will be showing about 15 different psychedelic/noise videos that I created over the last decade. It will be an hour program. Then I will be in a group show at a gallery called The Popular Workshop, in San Francisco in November.
I’ve also been working on 2 video albums. One is almost ready, and it will be called “Distortion III”. It is another noise video album. It will be published by a label in L.A. called Table of Contents. Then I will keep on working on the other bigger scale prog-rock inspired video album called Sibyl with my friend Daron Murphy. I’ll be showing some of the new pieces from Sibyl at Rojo/Nova.
How do you describe the concept “video album”
The way I have been using the term video album is that it’s basically like a traditional music album, but it comes in the format of digital videos. And the music and video are both produced by the artist. They are definitely not music videos, since that implies promo videos for a band’s music in a traditional sense.
I like having my video experiments in one package with a bigger concept and then presenting it. Not just showing little experiments piece by piece randomly.
And you know, this work I do has no obvious market. It’s neither exactly for the music industry or the art gallery scene or the net art scene. So it’s sometimes hard to find the right outlet for it. But I’m not able to make an adjustment just so that I can fit into a group. I mean I actually don’t know how to. So I just keep going with it and see what happens. Luckily I’ve been with labels, publishers and art galleries who want to distribute and promote my videos albums. Also, a lot of people invite me for screenings. It’s never been on a huge scale but I’m still lucky to have people that are supportive.
Tell us about your past video album releases.
I’ve had 3 video albums releases in the past. The most recent one is called Video Metal in 2009. The funny story about that one is that I got a pretty bad review and possibly the best review ever at the same time. It’s fun to read them. And I’m ok with the bad review since I sort of expected that. I mean I knew Video Metal was juvenile and just obnoxiously noisy. I didn’t mean to make a smash pop hit. Just look at the title of that thing. I totally knew that a lot of people would be weirded out by it. I knew what I was doing. I don’t like to take myself too seriously. But the reviews were so serious, and it was almost funny. And in the end, reviews in general for art or music, whether the good ones or the bad ones don’t really matter since nobody can really put scores on art and music. It’s not fucking sports. Who cares what people say because it’s all subjective. And you know that popularity doesn’t mean quality, right? Just look at the American top 40 chart or turn on MTV. The majority of people love crap. So, that’s a comforting fact for any artists who make weird shit. Or is that my excuse for a lot of my stuff!? I mean being different is a good thing.
The other two video albums are compilations of noise/music videos. One is from 2001, and the other came out in 2006. I have shown those two at many screening events. Those were all DVDs. DVD technology was a hot thing in 2001, but it’s already going extinct. So, I am talking to my label people about trying out digital video download for my new release.
still from the work in progress untitled video (2011)
I was thinking about the japanese animated culture, many japanese artists I guess have been really inspired by the huge animated cartoon filmography from other japanese animators and artists, making trippy and crazy animations. Many of these cartoon series show us lots of psychedelic effects. Have you ever been inspired by this kind of animations or other similar sources from the japanese culture?
Yeah, I’m sure. Japanese pop culture influenced me, but maybe subconsciously. I actually wasn’t really into japanese manga/anime stuff as much as the other kids were. Or maybe I pretended not to be interested. I kind of wanted to avoid that whole nerdy stuff since I was a poser dude who played guitar in bands :) I was such an ass. Or maybe I’m totally lying now. I loved this perverted comic called Gaki Deka as a kid. That one is pretty genius.
The thing is that in Japan, you can’t avoid manga/anime culture because it’s everywhere. So, I’m sure I absorbed it. I just try not to be a guy who makes stereotypical Japanese freaky cartoon art. I like being subtle and unexpected with everything.
Have you seen that Internet meme, “Japan, Producing 78% of the worlds weird shit, since 1952”? I think that’s pretty accurate and really awesome.
Tell me about the video “Violet Dark Spring of the Numinous Orb” that you are premiering with us at Triangulation Blog.
This is one of the pieces from the series Sibyl. It’s the first one my music partner, Daron Murphy, and I made. It was actually premiered at the New Psychedelica at MU in the Netherlands this spring. So, we should call this officially an Internet premiere. It’s a lot mellower piece than what I usually make. It’s sort of channeling Miles Davis. And I think it’s still got that intense psychedelic feel. I know people on the Internet are inpatient and probably won’t watch the whole thing. You, I know you! But I still recommend watching the entire thing with headphones on. It gets trippier toward the end.
(Recommended full screen)