Pogo: Turning Classic Films into New Songs

"That’s what sampling is all about – hearing something you love, no matter how short, and forming it into something bigger, more inspiring and more enjoyable."

At the Art History of Games Conference in Atlanta, Celia Pearce gave a talk about the history of interactive art before video games became popular. The difficulty that multimedia must always deal with when trying to gain access to something like a museum is that interactivity is an intrinsic part of the art work. While something like a Fluxus exhibit is easily recognized as only working if people can touch it, other forms of interactive media are often confused with their final product. A Jackson Pollock painting, for example, is just as much about the rhythm and flow of splashing the canvas as it is the final picture. For this reason, a lot of his paintings will feature a filming of the actual painting process so that the viewer has a better appreciation of a work that they might otherwise dismiss. This isn’t a concept that works just for painting. It can be relevant to any form of media.

One of the most interesting musicians making the internet rounds these days is Pogo, his music takes samples from films and converts them into unique tracks. Reworking syllables into new phrases and cutting music where there was none before, the video which accompanies the song often becomes intrinsic to enjoying the music. It resembles the need for Pollock’s painting to have an accompanying video because the two forms of media mix to create a greater appreciation in the listener. After flipping through a couple of different interviews that Pogo linked to on his website, I decided to just pick & choose the relevant responses then convert them into a post.

An interview at Brains? breaks down a lot of the basic information about him. He was born in Capetown, South Africa in 1988. While growing up, he played with taping his favorites sounds from movies and eventually started making music at 12 with the Playstation game Music 2000. Marc Sinclair’s music introduced him to remixing not just a few sounds, but hundreds, to create a new song. He explains this creative process, saying, “I don’t think it’s sufficient to just find sounds that I deem usable, like a single note, or a distinct chord. They have to be sounds that I really like and find inspiring. I think that’s what sampling is all about – hearing something you love, no matter how short, and forming it into something bigger, more inspiring and more enjoyable. In the case of sampling from a single film, it’s about capturing what I love about that film as well” (Ruslan, "Pogo Interview", Brains?, 10 May 2009) It’s for this reason that Pogo dislikes calling his work a remix. The nature of a remix is to find sounds that serve as a hook or fit into a large preconceived beat. Pogo instead listens for pitches that are pleasing to him and collects them from his favorite films until he has enough to make a song.

Another discussion with him at the Eleventh Commandment blog reveals that the creation process can be as quick as a few days to several weeks. Pogo comments, “Once I have developed my track substantially, I download it to my MP3 player and listen to it throughout my day. This phase is about enjoying and evaluating my track from the perspective of a casual listener, and it's often here that the imperfections and annoyances of my track stand out. After switching back and forth between production and listening modes, it's then time to produce a video. This is a process that requires a different way of thinking. When I'm editing, I'm constantly evaluating things like meaning, flow of motion, framing continuity and so on. It's a misconception that my track is the product of my video, when the idea of producing both at the same time would be chaos” ("Artist Profile: Pogo", Eleventh Commandment, 18 August 2009) The videos themselves may be one of the most intrinsic parts of the Pogo experience. While his non-movie related tracks (you can pick up several for free here) such as "Splurgenshitter" are very good, the ones that have a video accompanying them cross into the extraordinary. Even his live shows now incorporate them into the experience by having them play in the background as he mixes.

In yet another interview (I know, I know), he gets more specific about the video creation process. Like looking for sounds that are personally pleasing and trying to group them together, Pogo mixes core images with more exciting ones. He explains, “I begin by finding all of the clips of a scene or film that correspond to the samples in my track, and lay them down appropriately to form the simple-most core of the video. Next it's a matter of finding as many other clips as I can, typically footage of lead characters dancing or moving in a way that I can deem visually exciting. After layering these clips to break things up, I take a step back and analyze what it is about the video that doesn't sit well with me. Sometimes two shots don't gel. Other times things get too repetitive. Again, it's a process of feeling and acting on instinct” (Rev. Syung Myung Me, "Interview: Pogo", Kitty Sneezes, 15 July 2009).

His early work often relied on a traditional video style of tuning the actions to the beat, such as the video for Alice in Wonderland where the cartoon clips are played in fast forward and also rewound to create images that seem like dancing. As he continued producing videos, he slowly phased out the "beat imagery" to just rely on the content of the scene itself. The Willy Wonka video above doesn’t remix Charley Bucket’s actions into dance, it just rapidly cuts to scenes of him dancing or other exciting scenes from the film. It’s the reason that watching the videos become such an intrinsic part of hearing the music: your memories of the film are sparked at each scene that is visually referenced and in turn are connected on a deeper level with the work.

It’s not my intention to make a literal comparison between Pogo and Pollock. Instead, my point is that they’re just both examples of the concept of multimedia or a work of art that you engage with at multiple levels. Often these combinations are so common now that people forget that there was a period when film directors felt that including sound in their work might distract audiences from the imagery. Now the combination is considered intrinsic to the film experience. Concepts like Kandinsky’s synesthesia or interactive Fluxus exhibits that can only be understood by being touched challenge the notion that art can only be stared at. Or, in Pogo’s case, that a song can always be reduced to an MP3 and a pair of headphones.

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