Xprez Yourself: Peter Burr's “Special Effect” on the Museum of the Moving Image

Alaina Stamatis

Still from the "Special Effect" trailer

As I sit down to keystroke this entry about tonight's Peter Burr performance and Cartune Xprez compilation presentation, I immediately divert to Twitter and notice that trending worldwide is the hashtag “WhatHurtsTheMost,” yielding tweets that read: #WhatHurtsTheMost WAS BEING SOOO CLOSE AND HAVING SO MUCH TO SAY THEN WATCHING YOU WALK AWAY. AND NEVER KNOWING WHAT COULD'VE BEEN; and: #WhatHurtsTheMost estaba tan cerca. Y teniendo tanto que decir. Y mirándote a pie. Y nunca lo sepa. I assume that these are Justin Bieber lyrics because I am out of step and old, only to Google that they are “in fact” Rascal Flatts lyrics. Nothing fundementally changes; I am but one do-si-do closer to the grave.

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Tonight is the debut of “Special Effect” in the dynamic country of America, at the American Museum of the Moving Image in the melting pot of western Queens. “Special Effect” is artist Peter Burr's answer to a screening of short films, choosing to create a television stage setting from which to “host” an expedition into the unpredictable vortex where wishes may be granted and perplexing artifacts discarded by aliens may be misinterpreted, misused, and proved extremely dangerous. This world is based on the 1979 film “Stalker” by Andrei Tarkovsky, which is based on the 1971 novel “Roadside Picnic” by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Burr's safari collides with video art pieces that he has commissioned from chosen artists; they are also inspired by “Stalker” and “Roadside.”

Original music was composed by Lucky Dragons and Seabat in order to score Burr's performance — an undertaking that will most likely fuse humor and Halo-grade CGI. I got the chance to email Seabat's John Also Bennett (that's his real name [his dad is a poet {thanks dad}]) about his process and this is what John wrote:

“[T]he mood we wanted to create is essentially an extension of what Seabat is already doing, so we didn't have to reach super far to score this piece. I had just returned from a trip to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia when Peter approached me, where I had spent some time exploring abandoned soviet hydroelectric plants and empty mountain villages, which is essentially what's happening in Stalker. Eduard Artmieyev, the Russian synthesist who scored the original Stalker as well as other Tarkovsky films like Solaris, was already a huge influence on the output of Seabat, and when it came time to start composing this music I had just put together a mix of cosmic electronic music from the USSR. So I was very much 'in the zone' when scoring these pieces, I couldn't have asked for a more appropriate project for Seabat. We worked closely with Peter and, as in our last collaboration Green / Red, we sculpted the music and animation simultaneously, each element influencing the development of the other.”

The format of the post-pubilc-access psychedelic talk show has become increasingly popular in late-youth proto-tumblr alt culture with serial programs such as NYC's E.S.P. TV and Portland's Experimental ½ Hour, and I attribute this partially to our society's distance from actual television. Hokey television, like warped video and distorted audio, continues to be a tool for displaying the talent of our generation.

Burr has worked on everything from animation for Yo Gabba Gabba regarding sharing and tutorials for Tavi Gavinson's blog Rookie Mag on skateboarding (featuring avant garde twee teens Supercute!) to contributing visuals for Carlos Motta's 2012 exhibition at the New Museum We Who Feel Differently and serving as a booking agent for Extreme Animals.

I sat down at my Gmail with Burr to get a quick sense of tonight's performance.

Part of your role for Special Effect is a television host but how much will you take on the role as the Stalker – a guide into the deep fantastical wish-granting-land? Is there something you hope to smuggle from the film and bring back for the audience?

Peter Burr: Stalkers are a very special kind of host. They make the world unfamiliar to us to gain perspective on our wishes. We use tools of fiction and special effects to better understand who we really are and what we really want. This wish-granting land doesn't grant just ANY wish. It grants our DEEPEST wish. Until we know what that is we get to sit in the MOMI's cozy blue chairs and tweet our friends.

In your experience, are there wishes that should never come true?

PB: Most true wishes are often better left unturned.

Do you have any rituals when preparing for a performance piece? (Total isolation, juice cleanse, etc.)
PB: I have a box that I go inside while preparing for a piece. Everything I need is in that box, except light and oxygen.

An IMDB user wrote that, “(Andrei Tarkovsky) creates films that resemble elaborate (and always smartly written, beautifully shot and superbly acted) puzzles. The pieces are always scattered, and Tarkovsky relies on his viewer to bring the final element of the puzzle along with him.” Were there any concepts that arose from the commissioned animations that surprisingly interlock with Stalker?

PB: Every commissioned piece has a really interesting relationship to STALKER. They also relate to the book its based on, ROADSIDE PICNIC. That premise is that aliens landed on our planet and left a bunch of junk in their wake…. almost-used-up batteries, half-empty bottles, things like that. The people on earth don't know whether or not its junk though because the aliens came and left so quickly. Maybe these aliens are just car-camping in the wilderness; leaving behind their hot dog wrappers, puddles of anti-freeze, etc and we are just on the outskirts trying to make sense of that stuff the next day when they leave. It is unclear….. but what happens either way is that a whole industry pops up around trying to figure out what these things are and how we could use them ourselves but nobody is ever really sure if we are doing the right things with them. Are we using laserdiscs as battleaxes? Sledgehammers to open bananas?

What are other works or ideas that would want to use as catalysts for Cartune Xprez curations?

PB:


***

SPECIAL EFFECT from cartune xprez on Vimeo.

Contributing artists in this edition of Cartune Xprez are James Duesing, Amy Lockhart, Yoshi Sodeoka, Billy Grant, Michael Bell-Smith, Ola Vasiljeva, Jacob Ciocci, Andrew Benson, Jeff Kriksciun, Chad VanGaalen, Philippe Blanchard, E*Rock, Luke Painter, Brandon Blommaert, Stu Hughes, Devin Flynn, Michael Robinson, Sabrina Ratté, Ben Coonley, and Brenna Murphy. Written by Peter Burr, Maya Lubinsky, and PFFR. Past collections have included Takeshi Murata, Paper Rad, Mumbleboy, Shana Moulton, Dearraindrop, and Michael Bell-Smith, in conjunction with music from Dan Deacon, Videohippos, Narwhalz (of Sound), Shams, and the Blow among others; they can be purchased here.

Special Effect is Friday, January 18th at 7pm.

Tickets: $15 public / $9 Museum members / Free for Silver Screen members and above.

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