On Friday, Australian electronic music group The Avalanches dropped the highly anticipated Wildflower, their first album to come out in fifteen years. The band's first album Since I Left You contains nearly 3,500 vinyl samples deftly weaved together towards the apex of audio mastery. Therefore, it seems only natural that the group would then collaborate with video artists Soda_Jerk to create a visual companion to their latest release, a mashup of characters and settings from over 129 different movies and TV shows that blend together seamlessly with the music, all the while even seeming to interact with each other in the process. The Was takes us on a nostalgic trip through some of the best moments of pop culture since pop culture was even a thing.
It may not be the first video collage of its kind, but it's certainly one of the most comprehensive. Where else have you seen a 20-minute video that includes everyone from a young Jean Paul Belmondo and Donnie Darko to Andy Kaufman and Seinfeld to Beavis, Butthead and the Dude?
Formed in Sydney in 2002, Soda_Jerk is a 2-person art collective that, like The Avalanches, works with sampled material. Taking the form of videos, cut-up texts and lecture performances, they describe their practice as the "interzone of documentary and speculative fiction." They are based in New York where their work has screened at Anthology Film Archives, and their collective also runs Spectacle Theater, a microcinema in Brooklyn.
In addition to being a great watch, the video serves as a statement on the rights of video artists to repurpose copyrighted material. An issue for bands like The Avalanches as well, artists sampling and creating mashups are subject to the whim of heavy copyright laws and restrictive corporations. In a fittingly appropriate cut-up text piece they deemed 'The Anarchivist Manifesto', Soda_Jerk summed up their feelings on the matter with a quote from artist Victor Burgin:
“…when two-thirds of global copyrights are in the hands of six corporations, the capacity to rework one’s memories into the material symbolic form of individual testament and testimony is severely constrained. We rarely own the memories we are sold.”
SODA_JERK's 'The Anarchist Manifesto'
It's still somewhat of a mystery as to who released The Was and exactly how legal it is, but as Conor Bateman wrote for the online music publication 4:3, the video "goes some way into staking a claim for the right to rework memory into a material form." And for video artists like Soda_Jerk, the re-use of video to create something entirely original should be exactly that: a right.
As Picasso put it, "bad artists copy, great artists steal."