tom moody

Interview with Paul B. Davis
March 2009

compression study 4

Hi, Paul,

A recent discussion on mentioned some work you've been doing with what they're calling "datamoshing."

Had you been using that term? It was new to me.

- tom moody 3-02-2009 10:06 am

hi tom
no i dont use that term, and it was new to me until the guy who did the chairlift video emailed me to say what an influence the rihanna/cranberries piece was on him and other "datamoshers".
what happened is that when jacob (ciocci) posted the piece, which is actually called "Compression Study #2" when i exhibit it, he came up with some random words in paperrad style for the youtube title, among them "data" and "mosh".
also i just checked your question about the title on rhizome and i think the answer is that jacob changed it once the word "datamosh" started popping up cos he never intended it to be an actual term.
i'm not sure how meaningful this is...on one hand it's like who cares, now it's just a video effect no one will ever used since kanye killed it, but on the other hand it is making me think about the pop to art and now back to pop production cycle...and if it goes back to art again or if it's just pointless after round 3.

- p.d. (guest) 3-02-2009 12:17 pm

John Michael Boling, who posted the YouTube video on Rhizome, concurs that "datamosh" was deleted after he saved the title.

It must be scary to have something you've been working on "killed" by a hugely popular artist.

Someone on the Rhizome thread is vowing to press on with the technique in his art.

The thread is a good example of the pop-art-pop cycle you noted and how sped up it is now. People are processing the Chairlift and West and what it means for their art, while the usual Rhizome attitude is also represented of "you kids, we did this back in the '90s."

At least you've been credited as a forerunner, or get to share credit with Takeshi Murata (whose use of the technique is less interesting to me than yours).

You seem to be the only one of the group thinking (agonizing--perhaps you were a little hard on yourself in this exhibition catalog [PDF]) about the content implications of the pop being mashed up. Did you really feel that your interventions weren't enough in that series of pieces? (If I take your meaning correctly?)

- tom moody 3-02-2009 8:19 pm

lots of things to pick up on here...

i'm not sure if it's scary or not, it's more just annoying cos i had some new work planned and now i have to figure out if it will mean something else. it's also annoying cos i shoud have made this stuff earlier anyway. and i've been thinking about being a "forerunner" cos it's happened to me before...with 8bit music, nintendo cartridges, this...each time i've had professional regrets about not taking advantage, although at the same time i've been happy that i didn't compromise anything i did.

in art practice outright theft of ideas is usually frowned upon, although there really is little IP as far as i know. however outright theft of popular culture is totally cool, so one has to question why any artist would be bothered about kanye doing it back. however it's somehow do you see it??? it's like kanye's coming from a different milieu that has different rules, and the interface between his and mine is ultimately at his disposal. for example, i would never have ripped off takeshi - and if an artist did, everyone in our milieu would call them on it. but now that he has been ripped off outside of it, there's absolutely no influence we can have, although perhaps takeshi doesn't even consider himself having been ripped off. i don't know.

where the loops get a bit weird for me is that, re: the "90s" rhizome comment, i ALMOST did this in the 90s and in retrospect i dont know why i didnt. kind of a big "what if" because the AVI file format which is what everyone uses has been around since i think 1992. i remember fucking with movie files and jpegs for ages in school (1996-2000) and being able to make some beautiful glitches happen but i didn't have control over it so i just left it accept for the occasional front image on the beige site. then i showed with takeshi in london 2006 so i saw monster movie, but it didn't interest me until i saw sven konig's website a few months later where he explained how keyframes work.
thats what set me off on it, because i then had a problem with how both sven (all algorithm, no artistic choices) and takeshi (all mediated manipulations - doing lots of scrubbing, screen captures, and re-assembling in a video editing program) were working since i now understood the system...and a response to other's work is an important part of our milieu. i wanted to work through the codec aesthetically at the level of the data itself and essentially edit video without using a video editing program...i did this by intentionally manipulating specific sections of data at specific points in specific pieces of a file using a hex editor, and those manipulations are seen as the "glitches".

i'll send it back to you here because the pop culture stuff in your last point is i think the biggest part and i need a typing break.
do you think anyone really has anything to complain about? and can you think of historical similarities? i can think of one with the scratch video scene in the uk vs. mtv and subsequent commercial television but there must be others. the thing about the scratch video guys though is, once the mainstream picked up on it and started ripping them off, they all got employed in tv. but in this case, kanye and chairlift didn't ask any of us to make their videos.

- p.d. (guest) 3-03-2009 6:33 pm 

Don Relyea, on the Rhizome thread, also mentions using a hex editor. In the links to his work he talks about "custom made glitches" and "Data compression error video art." I don't know his work well but he seems deeply immersed in the "generative" scene and is doing his pixel-scrambling experiments in that context.

Both the Kanye West and the Chairlift vids make some pretty artful use of the technique, to my eyes. On the Rhizome thread, I've defended West's use of video FX as being part and parcel with his use of Autotune and distortion. I quoted Simon Reynolds' Salon review, which offered an interesting read of the FX being more honest about "Kanye's bad year" than the typical use of Autotune as a mask to hide behind. In the Chairlift, the context, which you can't escape, is these adorable pop stars walking through fields singing (lipsynching) to the camera, but then there are some stunning passages, such as the one where the rockers' heads morph into each other in the center of the frame.

Unlike standard morphing, which was the hot effect in the early '90s, in the Chairlift you don't know where in the image the change is going to come. You can be looking at a chin, which is mostly a frozen grid, and suddenly it sprouts a pair of eyes and looks at you. (Don't think this actually happens--just trying to convey the sense of it.) In your Cranberries vid, at one point an upside down cat's head emerged from the noise and startled me.

Perhaps by posting the code (with its interlineated comments about your process) and your statement questioning the value of the regurgitated pop material you are giving it a frame that some of these other works don't have. But to come back to my earlier question, can we talk about the statement from this thread that you reposted in the UK catalog?

i think my work failed in this regard. messing with cremaster 3 was obvious and hence accessible, and then also messing with rick james, rihanna, the cranberries, homemade youtube videos and ultimate fighting championships was meant to suggest that specific content didn't matter (even taking into consideration that one of the vids was a jacob/paperrad collab and that's what they do). but the source did matter - no matter how haX0r3d the compression codec was and hence how messed up the picture on the wall looked.
In what way do you want to talk about the source, if not as mashup fodder coming from a media that is constantly spewing this stuff at us?

- tom moody 3-05-2009 8:57 am

nicely done in focusing on the main point :)
and it's that i just don't see the source as meaningful, and what i try to talk about and try to convey is this meaninglessness. in most cases i think pop culture source material always means the same thing - "oh, i've seen that before" with the possible addition of "and now it's different!".

i'm going to regress a bit and talk about specific examples cos it's easier for me...

so like with the piece where buddy takes the top 25 films of all time, reduces their frame resolution and adds them together...wouldn't 26 be better? or 30? or 100? The concept scales to infinity in an instant - there is no solution so the artist is forced to pick an arbitrary (meaningless) number of films to compress in an arbitrary (meaningless) way. or the piece where buddy dresses up and re-enacts michael jackson routines or nirvana videos. would it have been any different with prince? i doubt it, i don't think it would have made an informational difference, and for me it reduces to fashion.

or for example i really like randy travis and sure i've been dying for someone to, i dunno, fuck up some randy travis videos or something. however, even if someone did, i would almost guarantee that i don't need to see it. i doubt it would tell me anything about randy travis, and i also doubt it would tell me anything about pop culture, or more importantly, the medium of the piece that i didn't already know.

the most most most important thing when i look at a piece is "what does this tell me that isn't already obvious?". and to be honest, since the use of any bit of pop culture is to me essentially equivalent across all contexts, the use of pop culture can't ever get a free pass. for example, you are right that our media is constantly spewing this stuff at us - i know that shit is circling around faster and faster cos of youtube, but i know it cos i see it on youtube every day outside of an art context, and any art piece that points it out is late by default.

sooo...thats why at i wrote that my compression pieces failed. what i wanted them to convey to people was that none of the stuff they were actually looking at mattered in the slightest. and i found that they didn't convey it at all.

now that could be because i'm a bad artist, i'm still trying to decide on girlfriend tells me that the rihanna piece i did with jacob is my best piece, but i think that, as it's a mashup and mashups are lame, the piece is kinda lame. but what i hope happened is that the ideas i'm interested in just have a larger scope than i knew how to deal with and i haven't conceptually worked it all out yet.

my solution with the compression stuff after my show was to collaborate with a dancer, shoot all my own footage, and create a linkage between gesture and "glitch" as a way to push an original narrative along. but i haven't finished it and now that the kanye/charlift stuff came out, i feel like just dropping it because now the thing (glitch) itself is identified with pop culture.

also here are all the compression study pieces from my 2007 show:

anyway i'm really keen to hear your thoughts and get into more discussion about this... :)

- p.d. (guest) 3-09-2009 9:23 pm 

OK, I'm getting this. It's strange, though, to say you failed because you wanted an art emblematic of having no meaning and people keep reading meaning into it.

A way to avoid that easy reading, if that's the problem, might be, as you suggested, to make something of your own that has meaning and no obvious precedent (dance + pixel mosh) or provides viewers less of a "way in" than pop icons, such as these earlier pieces of yours that are almost completely abstract:

beige installation

I had wanted to ask you about those when I saved them a few years ago, so I'll ask now. How were they done? And are there any similarities, process-wise, to the pieces you posted on YouTube? Are they based on pop culture sources and if so, what was your intent in effacing them? 

- tom moody 3-12-2009 7:08 pm

it's not that the artworks had no meaning, it's only the pop content that had no meaning. the works themselves had lots of meaning unrelated to that "content", and that's what didn't form the basis of most viewer's readings.

lately i have been a believer in the application of claude shannon's mathematical theory of communication to experiences outside the purview of the original paper. one of his concepts was a definition of "information"...and the notion is that the amount of information contained in a message increases as the potential scope of the message increases, sometimes regardless of the actual content of the message. an analogy i could make is that there's more information contained in a roll of 12-sided dice then there is in a roll of 6 sided dice, even if you roll a 3 with both of them. and conversely, two dice rolls with the same dice carry the same information regardless of what you actually roll. shannon apparently came to regret using the term information in this way but i've found it very helpful.

i make a relation here between this definition and using pop culture, because i think the messages have the same scope. the scope of using rick james = rihanna = michael jackson = any pop figure, and so they all carry the same information. that is, the content of the message is equivalent because the scope is the same.

the message i wanted to convey wasn't about pop, it was more like showing a "shannon-istic" that the pop culture-derived imagery was all identical, and the pieces were about the compression, my working through the codec, and the aesthetic and procedural decisions in the work.

this is different than an artwork that actually represents itself as having no if i shit in a jar, and a viewer reads meaning into the piece and i'm sitting there saying "no, it's just shit". in my case the piece had more important readings and a focus which was exactly the opposite of most interpretations. maybe failure is being harsh but i don't have a problem with it.

dunno, maybe that sounds retarded.

i was chatting with michael bell-smith about some similar things the other day, and he pointed out if i think that, as an artist, i've got nothing to say about youtube because youtube itself is saying it already, then just don't talk about youtube! makes sense but it's depressing haha.

anyway about those prints, they were made with an image editing software that i honestly cant remember the name of. i must have downloaded it when i was about 15, and back then i used it to design psychedelic covers for my first mixtapes and radio show flyers. process-wise there was little similarity to the youtube pieces, there was more similarity with messing about in's just i was messing about in a software that was by 2005 (when i made the prints) technologically outdated and used processes that faded from popular use. like it can't generate lens flares but it can generate crappy 3d wireframe fractal landscapes. there was absolutely no pop culture source material, everything was generated completely from within the software, and i suppose it was more about aestheticically exploring an obsolete technology without really knowing what i'm doing...i suppose similar in a way to your using of presets or to cory's video painting piece from his last show at team.

- p.d. (guest) 3-16-2009 8:31 pm

Not to bog this down with theory but your reasons for the YouTube work sound Modernist in being mainly interested in process and foregrounding background assumptions.
My understanding of post-Modern work is that it's "double coded" (Charles Jenck's term). Thus, it has all the background, process stuff but also works on a surface level and can be read in a "normal" way.
I think I prefer the second reading for your work. Publishing the code and commentary in a gallery catalog tips the reading in one direction and publishing it on YouTube gives it a "pop" spin.
You may or may not have seen my link to a show I worked on in '98 titled "Static." One of the pieces was a video loop of some scrambled porn Ray Rapp made. This was analog scrambling, as far as I know, but was a regular feature of flipping around the TV dial in the '80s and '90s.
Rapp presented about 10 minutes of the stuff, completely straight, with no alteration or intervention, looping on a TV in the gallery. I like things like your Rick James YouTube on that level--almost like a found process: a video that people want to see fails somehow on the transmission side.
I love the disclaimer that Kanye West put on his YouTube, telling his fans there's nothing wrong with the video and could they please just comment on the music?
Injecting the work into a public context increases the chances of creative misunderstanding.
On the abstract work you showed above, I like that it's just, as you said, messing about with an imaging software, treating it as a found process, seeing what it can do. Too many artists feel they have to tell us what the underlying material is, what algorithm they used, and what the end result is supposed to be (see our XYZ discussion).

- tom moody 3-17-2009 9:00 am

you should know me better than that by now, i dont mind the theory at all :)

so perhaps all information is post-modern in the sense that it by nature double coded? it has it's underlying structure or protocol, and it also has it's expression...what the stuff actually does when the program runs. seems the same whether it's dna or an AVI file.

but i don't make post-modern work if only cos we're not in a post-modern era (and i never cared about post-modernism anyway). i don't know if bourriards "altermodern" is what's actually happening (just saw the tate triennial he curated), but i think post-modernism leaves a lot to be desired as a model that explains the here and now.

i read post-modernism in art as saying that multiple codings or meanings is ok, you don't have to focus on the object or its singularity, etc...i dunno, to me this goes without saying, and it has no impact on say making work that deals with traditionally modernist concerns. because post-modernism was a reaction against modernism, it's limiting cos it can't really take on board a lot of those modernist concerns..."authenticity" or a belief in rational thought or whatever. but today we can take those on board if we want and we can also take on board post-modern concerns if we want. it's like post-modernism is now just one viewpoint or style or whatever that an artist can pick, it's one arrow in the quiver, depending on if we want our work to be read that way or not.

another thing is that jenks was, if i remember correctly, mostly writing about architecture, and the use of the term post-modern can mean something completely different with art. but this is more of a general problem with pervasive sloppy language in art-related theory. in my phd i'm trying to come up with a definition of the word "medium" and it's just stupid how hard it is to do that...and it should be a cinch when you think about how often that word is used.

anyway i'd go for something like hypermodernism or maybe super-calla-fraggilistic-modernism, because we have multiple modernisms to choose from now, which are hostile to each other on their own terms, but not when framed from outside. but that new frame needs a new name.

sooo....this is all just saying that artists can have readings of their work that they want a viewer to "get". if we want, we do have intentions in our work and meanings that we want to be imparted by those intentions. it depends on the artist. one successful artist friend of mine talks about their work in terms of "hits" and "home runs", meaning how successful it is in the gallery and how many people "like it". i think thats lame, but it's totally legit. in a sense, you must have something of a modernist viewpoint about you if you want someone to even have a reaction to your work at all.

so yeah i don't have a problem with you having a preferred reading of the piece, but it is a problem for me that your preferred reading is different than what i wanted it to be, cos i wanted the piece to really say something else. it's like, how do you beat pop culture down? how do you form it to have it's own it really stuck meaning the same thing all the time? when you say publishing on youtube gives is a pop spin, is that the only thing that youtube can give? is youtube's currency only in "hits" and there's nothing else it can say?

and i also think that for a lot of work it is really important for the artist to tell us what the underlying material is, but again this depends on both the artist and the piece. soemtimes it's a crutch or really wack.

- p.d. (guest) 3-17-2009 8:05 pm

compression 4

One of the most interesting to me of the videos you posted is Compression Study #4 (Barney). Here we are not talking about pop trash that's being eradicated by your process but Art that sells for the big bucks at Barbara Gladstone gallery and somehow ended up in thumbnail form on YouTube. I saw Barney's show at the Guggenheim and may have seen snatches of the video of his performance piece there but I mainly know it now through your video. I think your process is adding some much-needed ambiguity to his rather literal, theatrical surrealism: it's creepy to watch the cat-creature emerge out of a mass of frozen Barney-pixels, for example. Something that was said about the Rapp cable-porn-scrambling video I mentioned earlier is that we tend to look more closely at what we think is there. The imagination can supply prurience or horror but Barney is the type of artist who likes to do all the imagining for you.

As for the art-pop-culture-art loop I find curious echoes between your piece and a painting from a decade ago by Michael Bevilacqua, also dealing with Barney. This had a real transgressive frisson at the time, and rumor has it Barney was very annoyed by these paintings (and, I suspect, the fact that Bevilacqua was selling them out).


Here's what David Ebony said about that work in his Top Ten for artnet, 1997:

Perhaps the most astonishing works in the show are those based on scenes from Matthew Barney's 1994-95 film, Cremaster 4. The large painting Dig Your Own Hole shows Barney's so-called Faeries, in orange wigs and blue jumpsuits, carving a large hole on a pier, an early scene in the film. The upper left portion of the canvas is tightly packed with fragments of corporate logos, as well as a logo for the band Oasis. In these brilliant canvases it seems as if Bevilacqua has succeeded in creating a bit of instant art history. By transforming such a recent work as Cremaster 4 into a pop icon, Bevilacqua reminds viewers of, among other things, the speed at which culture can be assimilated.
This was in the super-slow world of painting and gallery practice, and now we're talking about the same things happening in seconds online.

- tom moody 3-18-2009 6:09 am

thanks tom, thats really cool - of all the studies i like the #4 the best.

altho of course the content isn't supposed to matter, etc etc per all my previous babbling, i can let myself enjoy it a bit here because the choice of source material was a nod to the art audience, but still lame.

you're absolutely right in that barney does want to do all the imagining for you, and as a result his films are so...filmic. high production quality, beautifully shot, just really lush looking, and for me he's all about the imagery. it just so happens that when you put good imagery through the compression stuff, it also looks really good. "good" data in = "good" data out.

i learned this from watching sven konig's version of depeche mode's personal jesus video. the dm video is directed by anton corbijn, everything he does is beautiful, so when i saw that also the glitches looked beautiful i wondered if it was at least partly because of the input. then when i noticed that sven doesn't do any intentional keyframe stuff, he just runs a video he downloaded via p2p through a program that strips out every keyframe wherever they occur in a file, i knew it was cos of the input since there weren't any artistic decisions at the level of an individual glitch.

so i knew cremaster 3 would look good wherever/however i made manipulations, and i choose places that let me play with time. and also there's a part about halfway through where it just goes all random goopy - this is a different type of keyframe manipulation - which also sat nicely on it's own, especially with the existing soundtrack. in the "long version", the goop at the end merges/glitches into barney the dinosaur who is mashed up with a tupac song, rapping "thats why i fucked yo bitch!" etc, but i couldn't bear it enough to put it on youtube.

i really like that Bevilacqua painting btw, altho for me the corporate logos are unneccessarily snarky. i don't think about the speed of youtube, in terms of like "0-day warez", as much as i do the access to sheer volume of stuff. for me, barney was in no way timely, just obvious. and luckily some random person put a clip of his film up there. for bevilacqua i think it was really admirable he could get his paint down that quickly. it reminds me of my experiences at the DMC dj matter how well you structured your beat-juggles or how insanely fast you could "crab" scratch, the sure way to get to the finals was to do a routine with a radio or club banger that had been released in the past month. the source itself still had a hype about it, and you also demonstrated an extreme fluency in your craft because you didn't need 6 months to put a set together like most of the other guys.

- p.d. (guest) 3-18-2009 9:54 pm

The DJ timeliness analogy is a great way to look at the Bevilacqua. He probably wouldn't agree--not that others' interpretations of his work and methods aren't equally valid. I had a random internet back-and-forth with the artist a few years back which explains a bit where he's coming from.

I want to ask a hybrid technical/content question.

In all the discussion of data moshing I keep seeing the phrase "deletion of keyframes" as a big part of the technique. I assume this is what causes the time-altering blur of one scene into another.

Could you explain to the layman how that works but also why it works on a conceptual level? Would deleting a keyframe on an uncompressed video have a similar effect or does this only work when the data is scrunched? Is the effect more than just deleting keyframes or is that pretty much it?

- tom moody 3-20-2009 8:26 am

having a phd brain melt at the moment so please excuse any mishaps...

but yes on one level everything is essentially keyframe-related. most compression codecs use this system in which a particular frame (the keyframe) has information for every pixel in the image, and a number of subsequent frames (delta frames) only have information for the differences between them, until you get to the next keyframe. so if you mess up a keyframe in the right way, all the delta frames "fall down". By deleting a keyframe, you make the delta frames visually display the difference between them and a frame that doesn't exist anymore (since you've deleted it) they look back to an earlier frame that the codec displays a[s] the keyframe - thats where all the weird blending/blurring comes from.

since a lot of the compression is motion-based, you often get the motion of what's going on in the delta frames sort of sucking off the color and image of the supposed keyframe.

there are a couple other types of glitches, one i also use essentially feed a lot of randomized data into the codec...this is where all the random goopy stuff comes from...and the codec just somehow deals with it. usually quite prettily :) but its display of the data is still based on the keyframing system since thats how the codec works.

you can think of an uncompressed video as having every frame as a keyframe, so deleting one wouldn't really do much.

codecs most often decide for themselves which frames are keyframes when they encode a file. so conceptually, if you want you can just deal with those frames where/as they are if you are using found footage. you can also re-encode something and define for yourself where your keyframes are, with the possible purpose of then manipulating them. you can also shoot you own video with the keyframe things conceptually shaping your footage...this is what i was doing before kanye showed up.

one funny thing thats happened is i've had students at goldsmiths come to me and show me the kanye video and ask me how to do it. so they got a history of everything and one in particular is off basically picking up where i stopped, shooting lots of night-time nature footage of bugs n stuff and then messing them up. he doesn't seem to care about any of the things i find problematic...maybe i'm just jaded and if it turns out nice i'll end up ripping him off!

- p.d. (guest) 3-24-2009 5:24 pm

Thanks, that's a very lucid explanation and does a lot more for me than the critical attempts to mystify and valorize the process such as Evan Meaney's quoted on the Rhizome thread:

Glitching is a process of creating work that raises awareness of the means by which we communicate and ultimately exteriorize thought. It is an attempt to integrate the nebula of video with a concrete process of interpretation and injunction, thereby incorporating the properties of a medium into the narrative of its content. At very least, glitch-art functions as a reminder that the technology of digital production and information theory remains as an inexorable collaborator in all works of digital propagation and therefore should be treated as significant.
As for motivations, "beating pop culture down" works; "raising awareness of the means by which we communicate" overreaches. Deleting keyframes from night-time nature footage of bugs and so forth sounds great to me.

- tom moody 3-26-2009 1:15 pm

footnote: how to create compression artifacts

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