Director: Allie Avital
Producer: Andrew Krasniak
Cinematographer: Kate Arizmendi
Production Designer: Emma Rose Mead
Set Dresser: Ashley Brett Chipman
Assistant Director: Yori Tondrowski
Special FX Makeup: Jeremy Selenfriend
Animation / VFX: Milton Ladd
Editor: Allie Avital
Colorist: Jaime O’Bradovich / Company 3
Featuring: Macy Sullivan
Special thanks to Evelyn Preuss
What were your first impressions of one another’s work, and how did this collaboration come to fruition?
Allie reached out a few years ago about working on a video for “Counting”, which was already done and/or in the works (though not yet released). She was new to directing music videos, but I really loved the work on her reel at the time and have continued to be impressed as she’s evolved as a director. We eventually made the video for “Ego Free Sex Free” together, which I was super psyched on, and so we decided to work on more projects together. I think she’s one of the most distinctive creative voices in the game right now.
I heard “Counting” in 2012 and immediately reached out to Arthur about working together. He liked my work, so we developed a pretty special creative bond. I made a video for “Ego Free Sex Free” as well as his live tour visuals, both of which were inspired by his Anxiety album art. Since then, we had been brainstorming video ideas for the new record for over a year, and this video came out of that process.
The album is called Age of Transparency and explores the difficulty of making personal connections within this day and age. The physicality of this video is quite a literal response to that. How did this concept develop, and how does it thematically fit into the record, as a whole?
Well, despite the fact that I was fully involved in crafting the press release that said quote is paraphrased from, it’s probably the least interesting aspect of the theme of Transparency for me, though to say which is the most is kind of fraught. Guess I’m interested in thematics which lend themselves to a number of different of interpretations. Nudity and self-exposure is one form of “transparency.” Telling “the truth” is another. So is disrupting preconceived and culturally embedded notions of hegemonic “truth.” Blah, blah, blah. The record deals with different sonic or psychoacoustic spaces, like genres or relatable musical touchstones, and then my final role as a producer was to disrupt these stable modalities; flipping them on end and trading off between them. I suppose with the video for “World War Pt. 2”, we were going for cheap thrills on one level, but maintaining cognizance of what a funny looking little dude could communicate under these conditions in a human and emotionally salient way. Maybe I’m trying to be honest about what I represent to myself. Maybe it was a way to use explicit sexuality to expose the abject nature of bodies in relationship to one another. Regardless, the song is basically about the many burdens which we carry around with us. The video — which Allie really does deserve the majority of credit for — serves as an elegant (if not grotesque) visual metaphor for this. Ultimately, one way to attempt to be transparent without succeeding.
To be honest, this concept wasn’t really an intentional intellectual decision in that way. It was quite animalistic, really: I had an image of this small human clinging to another human in my head, and then I heard the song and decided that the alien pitch-shifted vocals should be sung by that creature. It was an instinctive concept that came from a very human, relatable experience of physical and emotional intimacy and dependency. I never really stopped to think about it until after the fact, as feedback started trickling in and people seemed weirded out and horrified.
– Arthur Ashin, Autre Ne Veut
“What’s cool about this concept is that everyone can relate to the image of an inescapable burden. I think Arthur thinks of it more as a self-imposed burden, whereas I’m more interested in illustrating a metaphor for dependent, blood-sucking intimate relationships, but it doesn’t really matter… it’s all the same, in a way. We only allow others to be a burden if we’re a burden on ourselves, and vice versa.”
– Allie Avital, Director
The body language between the two people is represents the burdens we carry with us through life. Does the placement of them within a home environment imply specific types of burdens — possibly emotional or domestic? Or is the interpretation wider than that?
Personally, I’m a bit of a homebody and a misanthrope, so domestic space for me is both a microcosm of my life and a good general representation, since most of the most important daily events occur there. That said, I’m also a fairly private person, so we chose somebody else’s house. Generally, I’d love to go wide with interpretations. None are fundamentally less valuable in my mind. Choose your own interpretive adventure.
We chose the domestic environment because it was grounding; we wanted it to be about Arthur as a person, not as an artist or musician. We were also thinking about Michael Haneke films such as Amour and especially Funny Games (the original, sans Naomi Watts), where the most unspeakable horrors happen in mundane, sunlit domestic spaces. What’s cool about this concept is that everyone can relate to the image of an inescapable burden. I think Arthur thinks of it more as a self-imposed burden, whereas I’m more interested in illustrating a metaphor for dependent, blood-sucking intimate relationships, but it doesn’t really matter… it’s all the same, in a way. We only allow others to be a burden if we’re a burden on ourselves, and vice versa.
How much time was spent exploring the “choreography” between the two people? What were some of the challenges you faced?
I’m not on the tall side, so finding a human who could function as the homunculus was the first challenge. Then, in doing so, we experimented with a number of different variations of how I could carry them that was aesthetically compelling, comfortable for both of us and transmitted the visual symbolism that we were striving for. Macy was incredible; she’s Juilliard trained and very professional. For me at least–on an emotional level–it was very comfortable and not awkward despite our being complete strangers. I hope she feels the same way as well.
We were lucky to work with Macy Sullivan who’s a Julliard-trained dancer, and was super professional yet easygoing about the whole thing. We had one “rehearsal” in Arthur’s living room where we practiced different ways for her to “mount” him, which was pretty hilarious, but it was never weird or uncomfortable. I liked that “the creature” was more or less in the exact same position on Arthur throughout the whole video… it made the image more iconic-feeling and painterly.
One of the technical challenges of the shoot was that both of them had genital coverings made of latex and glue, so they would stick together. Also, Macy couldn’t pee for most of the shoot! If she did, it took two hours to redo the latex. They were both troopers, though. It was pretty funny that one of the cues during shooting (in addition to “roll camera”, “cue playback” etc.) was “Macy, mount up”!
Arthur, you were quoted as saying that Age of Transparency “is a term for the place we’re in now, where truth and transparency are just ways to sell things and honesty is its own kind of performance.” How did this marketing idea first enter into your respective lives, and what were your gut reactions to it?
I wouldn’t trust quotes, even if I was involved in the crafting them. But really, the whole conceit of social media/networking is built around the idea that we’re sharing our “likes” and interests both by specifically describing them and also through our clicking and linking behavior. The marketing jargon is just a way of trying to label this current epoch in order to find different methodologies of selling people things. Not dissimilar to the motivation for marketing and publicizing albums. I mean, this is an old trick. Public Image Limited and Aphex Twin play with these constructs as well. This is also built on the fundamental appeal of things like reality television and YouTube channels. There’s a historical lineage here… which is to say, I can’t really recall my initial reaction to the construct.
I think about the “performance of honesty” a lot in the context of mainstream pop culture. Our relationships to celebrities have this new veneer of “intimacy” now, since your average twelve-year-old can comment on some image of Miley Cyrus in her underwear hanging out in bed with her dog and get a “real response”, and it becomes this feedback loop of raw “reality”.
As a music video director, your job is often to actively manufacture that same feeling, which of course takes just as much creative and technical calculation, if not more. Videos such as Beyoncé’s “7/11” are designed to feel raw and effortless, and we’ve hit such a saturation point of gloss and perfection in music visuals, that the only logical next step is to scale back. Everyone is going handheld these days because people get off on feeling “close” to their subjects.
The nudity and “grotesque” nature of this music video make it feel raw and honest from the get-go. In that sense, and because music videos are obviously promotional tools, its existence is referential to the album theme in an almost experimental way. How have reactions been to this music video, and how effective do you think the “age of transparency” is in this case?
I keep falling into your narrative traps as I respond to your questions I’m accidentally crafting perfect segues to your next question. This isn’t your first time out, is it?
Most of the reactions have be something along the lines of “WTF.” The YouTube comment section is a goldmine of gut responses and the same basic jokes reframed over and over again. Almost makes you believe in a collective unconscious. To address the first half of this question, I’d say that its just an attempt to create a sort of modernist microcosm of the same sorts of tricks that early relational aesthetics artist were using or brands use to try to lend cultural credibility to their products. So, in some sense, this is a tried-and-true branding practice and not experimental at all. Some people, who are hoping for album sales, were more dubious initially and would agree with the assertion that it is.
I find it really mystifying that the response to the video has been so intense — multiple people telling me it’s given them nightmares, and people truly disgusted by it. It’s really been hitting a nerve, which is fascinating since those same people are totally immune to the over-saturation of sex and violence in media these days, and this video just has a person clinging to another person and then getting fused together. Maybe it’s the simplicity of it that’s horrifying to people; I’m not sure. The cinematographer (Kate Arizmendi) and I were texting about how we’re both perplexed about everyone saying, “It’s sooo weird.” What’s so weird about it?
To answer your question though, I’m not sure about the effectiveness per se, but the response has been very strong and polarizing, which I think is always a good thing. Either way, it’s better than the response being lukewarm and “meh.”
If efforts to be honest and transparent inevitably lead to failure due to their impossibility (for everyone is an “island universe”, to quote Aldous Huxley), do you consider it a valuable effort to try and undertake nonetheless? Why or why not?
Some days it feels extremely important to try and present the most honest representation of myself possible, but then there are the moments where previous “successes” in that regard feel misrepresentative and then the whole effort seems like a waste of everybody’s time and energy. Not to mention the fact that since this is happening in the public sphere, it’s just a terribly narcissistic exercise in the first place. I mean, shit, I think the fact that I’m going to send in this interview unedited is really the closest I can come to being “honest,” but then that just lends credence to the notion that we don’t have agency in the space between our instinctive responses and our judgement. This may be true, but then we’re getting into nihilistic territory and then the answer is that none of this matters at all.
Of course. Ultimately, even the trolls want something truthful to relate to.