Tenured Not Not Fun artist Jon Clark has recently released Spectrum Hunter, a short, spastic little project, the synopsis of which says:
“When TC's older brother goes missing, TC and Rotten Robbie embark on an adventure to find him. The trail leads them to the maze of the uncanny Spectrum Hunter cult where they encounter bizarre rituals, puzzles, illusions, and a pantheon of adversaries.“
This is what happened when I watched Spectrum Hunter:
30 seconds in and I’m utterly confused. These dudes in robes and ultra-hip animal masks eat some psychedelic robot pogs and then do spin art until the Chroma key starts to going wonky. Before we know it, a more serious, detailed Brodie-from-Mallrats type crawls through the window of a bedroom. And suddenly there’s a treehouse forest commune and we’re being introduced to characters with names like Steeplechase, Bugle Boy, Triple Entendre, Mizuno, and E. Thought. Everyone’s eating drugs but it’s OK, and the hallucinatory specifics get used to reinterpret alternate realities as a multi-wavelength Spectrum Hunter. Before you know it, we’re in a video store stocked by Max Headroom when he worked at Altered Zones (that never happened). I’m not sure what more I can write about the plot.
Oh guess who plays the video clerk? Dian Bachar, aka Squeak Scolari from BASEketball. He’s just as good here as he was there, for what that’s worth.
And I’ll just say: Spectrum Hunter is fun to watch. It’s a riddle. It’s not always linearly coherent. And both these things speak to me as conditions of my frame of reference. We’re presented a kind of splintered demographic condition flagrant in post-digital communications—it’s an assemblage of symbols that, by themselves, spark no interest. But when constructed as one odd diametrically opposed and yet simultaneous world—the collection of the occult, the campy, the late-‘80s neon shtick, the Derridian notions of Play—it makes more sense and is much more enjoyable, sort of how Friendship Bracelet ended up being a blog about basketball.
Phenomenology figures heavily in Spectrum Hunter. At stake is symbology as the most important weapon of combating the corrosive divide between pre and post digital empiricism—the act of experience is possessive of the aura. The infinite regression fueled by technological dependence disrupts authenticity. We can sit on blogs and joke about the goths and psychedelia all we want. But Jon Clark actually went out and made something here: activity vs. action. Clark is an actor, in the communal sense.
Clark’s meaning-making here is constructively semiotic: he frames arguments out of phenomenology, event, and the aura rather than linear, Aristotelian constructions of narrative that leave us generally always with one of two or three results (yes, no, deal with it later). This post-structuralist expanse when applied correctly destroys the notion of space in composition and, willfully, narrative. However, phenomenology and causality are dependent on procedure in its best forms. So when TC finally finds Tyler and Tyler sees a recorder in TC’s pocket and Tyler says, “Woah, dude! When did you start playing the flute?” the absurdity of the audience’s lack of context disrupts the absurdity of the entire presentation. This is what the mainstream validation of Tim and Eric has done to art film.
This narrative structure distorts the timescale through ease of style and stream of consciousness—awareness of the struggle allows Clark to post and paste with no consequence of falsity or failure. An impervious argumentative narrative, schooled in the dream logic but grounded in the symbolic interactionism that humans employ to navigate the cues of social life, comes to bear. Clark is allowed to do this now. We're beyond post-modernism. Truth-values are publicly ridiculed to the very point that the notion of Truth itself has been destroyed. One symbol isn't enough—it's the construction of many symbols into the peak of a personal zeitgeist that we should all hope to achieve, if we truly want an audience for our art in 2012. Clark’s zeitgeist may not be the tallest, but he’s certainly chilling at the top.
All of this is to say nothing of the production values. They are high, but they don’t really matter that much. Spectrum Hunter’s intended aesthetic is not a polished one. But it’s not an eroded VHS vibe, either. It’s simply the look and sound of a film that just needs to be Now, as in right now, made with what the production team knows and has. I would venture to guess it’s a function of availability and the familiar. However, deficiencies seem to be embraced here as part of the phenomenon of the composition itself.
As for the drugs: Magic pogs used as psychedelics to interpret certain otherwise invisible or hidden wavelengths, potentials, realities, or beings. They are seen as formative and part of an ontological inquiry and nothing to fear, and I laud all of that. The sheer defamiliaritization keeps this intriguing rather than clichéd. I’ve been trying to convince people we need to keep weed illegal and move beyond destructive notions of substance—there is a possibility of control in all things. The counter culture needs something gentler, more inquisitive than face-flooring destructors. I appreciate Clark’s playful vision of the mysterious in the psychedelic, here, even if that was not his intent.
The extent of my knowledge here comes from hanging out with coordinators of the Telluride Bluegrass festival. This one white kid with dreadlocks said, “I have nearly a hundred gigabytes of unique String Cheese Incident recordings.” After he left the party, another white kid with dreadlocks told me he was a Trustafarian, which I guess means his parents supported him and he drove a Range Rover and he thought hemp was A-OK for all kinds of shoes. In 2011, for the third summer in a row, I turned down free Widespread Panic tickets – why do they always have to play venues that only have port-a-toilets? If I have to hear one more person prattle on about how amazing “Dave at The Gorge,” is I will kick a Fry Bear in the face. When I used to read about psychedelic drug use on the Internet before I ever smoked weed, 40 percent of testimonials happened at Phish/String Cheese Incident shows and ended with “black helicopters” and passing out. Now that Owsley Stanley is dead, must we fuel the witlessness of psychedelic desperation? The LSD aesthetic literally died in 2011. What this really comes down to now is the formation of the second-wave psychedelic and how things like DMT terrify even the fear-mongering, aging, dangerously conservative Psychedelic Right.
Jon Clark’s vision is something broader in scope, something freer, and frankly just more fun to witness.
Spectrum Hunter is available now from Death Bomb Arc. View the trailer below.