Experiment on video

Semiconductor: Worlds in Flux

If the music video has any value at all, it’s that its omnipresence—iPod, PDA, PSP, etc.—reaffirms its mediocrity.

A handful of musicians-cum-video artists, however, are making an exception to the previous snobbish claim with their new avant-garde projects.

Ruth Jarman and Joseph Gerhardt, former “official artists in residence” at the NASA Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley, just released Semiconductor: Worlds in Flux, a collection of music videos, live-cinema pieces and six short films. The British filmmakers, whose experimental video for QT’s “qqq” eventually became an MTV ad campaign, are no strangers to skirting the line between experimental bravado and pop-culture décor.

Brilliant Noise,” one of the two NASA works on Semiconductor, features black-and-white footage of sunspots, images harsh to the naked eye and backed by a soundtrack of similarly discordant ambient noise—the likes of Thomas Dimuzio and Gæoudjiparl. Pockets of heat and light flow from the sun like extraterrestrial jellyfish, and the lo-fi synth and random pitch-shifting evokes warmth from the vaguely luminous images.

Another short, “Inaudible Cities, Part One,” a computer-animation throwback to ’80s video games, is part Space Invaders, part Tetris, but set to stock war noises and industrial electronica, all the while exploring the topography of urban cities, two-bit style.

Experimental indie musicians the Books, whose Playall is a compilation of videos, or “aleatoric television,” from their spring 2007 tour, also defy the music-video mold. Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong, who spoke with SN&R a couple years back and specifically cited Frank Zappa’s Baby Snakes as an influence, sequence found visuals into readymade narratives—not unlike their music, which uses found samples to complement guitar, electronics and cello. The results are both witty and coy, feeding the randomness of their intrepid but modest songs.

In a film-and-video world where everyone’s seen it all, 24-seven, fresh takes on things as everyday as the sun are a welcome reprieve.