Sound & Vision: How To Art On A Budget

Let’s get straight to the point: the purpose of this column will be making art (in this particular case music videos) when you got no bucks. I feel strongly that ambition never has to be shunted aside just because you got holes in your pocket, as long as you have friends (who hopefully will work cheap) and a dream. Who knows, maybe even the friends are optional (though, in my case, not so). Only the dream is essential.

Throughout the series, I want to explore both my own work methods and pick the brains of other women who have shown me just how much awesome work can be done in a limited (financial) framework. I hope you get something out of it and of course contact me with your own ideas!


A telephone conversation with Tamaryn

“Do you think anyone would hire a ‘Just takes her sweater off and sings The Little Mermaid‘ stripper?” I asked. I was mulling over various get-rich-quick options. The daunting task of planning and writing treatments for four videos in support of my upcoming record And Blow Us A Kiss was getting to me.

When Tamaryn and I wax lyrical about music and art, it’s like the Algonquin Round Table minus dudes and the hullabaloo. We believe sound and vision are the same beast – separating them would be like sex without touching. Our conversations swing the gamut from frustration on how to midwife a creative idea stuck in our craw or to pure elation after making something still dripping from the sweat of our brow. These discussions have been invaluable in my quest for making really rich panoramic pieces of art on a shoestring budget. Not to mention, allowed me to laugh at my missteps. Prior to this I was to art what Catholic school girls are to fooling around: active and ashamed.

I’m well aware that the days of innovative musicians fostering financial and artistic relationships with auteurs like Michel Gondry – with all of the glossy, dreamy, universe production and meticulous handmade sets, crews, and, most enviable, craft service – are gone. Most big budget videos these days are CGI nightmares or just boo boring. It’s like, how many times are we gonna try to recreate “Thriller” y’all?

Just as my cynicism about artists being able to create a multi-dimensional, sensory universe hit an apex, I started happening upon some really great, arresting videos, largely made by female indie artists. Stuff like Thalia Mavros’ video for Creep and Dum Dum Girls’ “Coming Down” – they were so beautiful and direct and minimal, yet within the simplicity, there was so much room for interpretation. It got me thinking of the power of simplicity. Maybe instead of draining my vitality trying to create cinematic video art on small-budgets and favor-basis, I should keep things super contained, like a chamber play.

Some of my favorite stuff, like Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly and Hitchcock’s Rope, with its long shots and single-set, are bare-boned and devastatingly effective. It mirrors how I try make music, with a limited palette and a lot of blank space. It takes discipline not to use all the colors. But, like I always say, when you mix them all together, you end up with ambiguous murk.

Because my hands spawn only invisible monsters, I called my good friend Jenni Hensler. She and I met a little while after she moved to NYC from Seattle. She and I instantly connected over a shared a similar vibe – beyond aesthetics. When I was looking for someone to help me organize looks for my upcoming record cover shoot, I asked her on a whim. She knew my personal style was a love of odd pairings that harmonized both sides of my heritage: the lover-of-beautiful-things girl from the South, and the old-world beast-loving intense, warrior woman. I wanted a more amplified and majestic Bergmanian version of myself, so she came over and helped me pull from my drawers of bric-a-brac and knick knacks. Because of her insane sensibility, she was so attune to my needs and anxieties and understood the laundry-list of references, no matter how oblique. She got lost in my universe, mined my emotional terra, and came back with the perfect thing. I could never work with a stranger that way. We’ve been great friends ever since.

I figured if she had done that five years ago using my coin belts and metallic ropes, with all the fantastic work she’s done with some really amazing ladies since, she’d be the perfect eyes for these DIY videos I was writing treatments for. I could think of nobody better to paint the whole damn canvas with me.

I am really hands-on with every aspect of my work. The few times I ever let the control slip from under me, it bit me in the ass. Hard. I had a particularly Twilight Zone-tinged hellish experience shooting a video for my previous band. I trusted someone with more technical experience than me to takeover, and make alchemy of my detailed notes. Instead I got Fever Ray-lite and empty paganisms. I nearly had an emotional breakdown since visuals have always been super fucking important to me. I remember being a child surrounded by records from all over. I would lay them out in front of me, staring at the artwork and getting lost in the worlds. By thirteen, I’d learned to use visual cues to guide my record-buying selections; choice of font, the palette of colors, who the record was produced by, song titles, etc. This very visual stimuli would loosely indicate what reckoned the album sounded like.

My eye eventually became so well-honed that I even understood what to look for when I wanted a record that was a departure from the scene/genre I’d just explored. I discovered bands like Lush and The Jesus Lizard using this method. Those discoveries were thrilling. It was like stumbling upon little bits previously missing from my genome.

<Side note: One of the only time my surveying failed me was when I was about fourteen and I bought Emmet Swimming‘s Wake expecting it to sound like Pagan Babies. It didn’t. It was an aural catfish and I still want my fucking money back.>

Gerhard Richter. “Blau,” 1988.

School projects that involved “art things” always left bits of paper and sticky shit all over the place and X-Acto knife wounds – and the reward? A super ugly thing I made. My aural experience, however, as a listener and writer is the opposite. It’s brimming with movement and color. The notes and textures take shapes and shades, and they swirl and radiate. It’s like a pulsating Gerhard Richter painting. I only recently discovered this was a neurological phenomena called synesthesia while researching another neurological disorder I’ve suffered from since I was seven – migraines with visual disturbances.

Jenni and I have a shared love for fantastic in the mundane – imagery with a touch of romance and barbarism. My childhood of strange dualities planted this seed, for sure. From the various languages spoken in my house, to the rigid higher learning expectation, to all the suffocating God stuff, rich with jiins, and ghosts, black magic, divine anger expressed via elemental forces, and animal sacrifices. I was very little when I walked in on what I thought was my pet goat, strung up and bleeding from his neck. It was awful.

I sent Jenni a lot of visual and literary references which included:

Colin Wilson – The Outsider
Lotte Reiniger – The Adventures of Prince Achmed
Maya Deren – At Land
Hans Richter – Filmstudie
David Lynch – Eraserhead
Jaromil Jires – The Joke

“I want it to be the feeling of an outsider, completely cut off from the world to the point where they don’t know what to make of the physical world outside of their four walls. The window should be a perspective fuck, and do and show things windows don’t show. I love the essence of Indonesian shadow puppetry, if we can capture that some way.”

That was as much pre-planning as we did before the day of the shoot. We had a great gal by the name of Kate Stone in charge of cinematography and editing. We shot at Jenni’s place. I did my hair and makeup and wore a black catsuit Jenni made. She covered her windows with white paper, and I brought my projector. We had two bottles of wine and just pressed record. At one point Jenni played me this scene to get me lost in the moment and to set the vibe.

Three gals, one camera, one lighting rig, an ipad, some projected imagery, two bottles of wine, and a whole lot of ideas. I’m really proud of what we did and can’t wait to share the upcoming videos very soon. Until then, I want to share other beautiful work that will inspire and spur you on.

Next installment: Tamaryn and Anna Copa Cabanna with Alex Lee Moyer

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