Eclectic Method: Pushing the Frontier of Video Remix

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It’s hard to know where to start talking about a club act as innovative as Eclectic Method. They’re video DJs, a rare breed of performance artist, who have taken the tools of music DJs — turntables, scratching, sampling, live looping, live effects, and live remixing — and have added video clips, including a whole range of video effects, to the dance mix.

Live video improvisation is not especially new, but it’s only in the last couple years that big tech companies like Pioneer and Sony have caught up with the vision of real-time improv that the the three members of the group — Brits Ian Edgar, Geoff Gamlen, and Jonny Wilson — have been seeking to realize since 2002.

In those early days, they had to jury-rig every aspect of their show, running everything from two overheating laptops, and improvising under crazy constraints: for example, every track had to be split up, in advance, into 12 to 16 parts just because the software couldn’t handle the complete files. “We had to push a button every 8 to 16 bars just to play a single track,” Edgar told me.

But now, as Gamlen puts it, “they’re building the technology for us.” And with this technology — basically, two DVD turntables, two CD turntables, a cutting-edge AV mixer from Pioneer and Sony Vegas software — they work some real magic. They’ve made a number of canned mixes available on Vimeo, including impressionistic mashups of Back to the Future, Quentin Tarantino’s best films, and famous rock videos from the 70s and 80s. (For some of us, watching these is like reliving our childhoods over again in 15 minutes; all that’s missing is Sesame Street and Indiana Jones.) But to me, these finished mixes seem a little too carefully thought out, a little too “clever.” A live improvisation — like a juggler keeping sixteen objects in the air — has a special kind of energy, and it’s in these performances that they really shine. For a better sense of their electrifying live work, check out this mesmerizing demo of a 4-minute improvisation by one of the members.

I asked about their creative process. “The live show is completely improvised,” Geoff Gamlen said, so “it’s a different show every time we play.” Each member of the group brings his own selection of DVDs and CDs to draw upon for the collective improvisation. “I tend to get baffled by too much material,” Gamlen said, “so I will only bring a modest selection of discs. Perhaps 10 DVDs for a gig.” Edgar broke in: “I’ll bring 40, because I want everything to hand. If I think of a track, I want to know it’s there.”

Sometimes they dig into the archive to get into weird audiovisual territory: Gamlen described a recent event in Ireland, where he used the Oompa-Loompa sequence from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. “My god!” he said. “Imagine six thousand Irish people, singing along to the Oompa-Loompas!” (I did my best to imagine it, but I think I failed.)

Perhaps the best description of their act is something that Jonny Wilson, whom I was unable to interview personally, said in a Wired magazine article last month: “we rock a sick party with clips you saw on TV just yesterday, mashed up with a million memories from the collective media history we all share.”

[Note: If you live in San Francisco, Eclectic Method will be performing on Thursday night, 7/23, at Club Mezzanine, as part of an event devoted to the subject of creative re-use and remix culture. See the group’s events page for details on upcoming shows in San Diego, NYC, and Toronto.]

Jeremy Hatch is a writer, musician, and professional bookseller leading a cheerful, aimless life in San Francisco. He is the Junior Literary Editor of the Rumpus and has a blog which he updates once in a while. More from this author →