On April 15th, MTV EUROPE introduced a new program called Ultratech. Ultratech is transmitted twice a week: on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings. For the most part, it is an uninterrupted plethora of ecstatic images, a frenetic music video that lasts thirty minutes. At first sight, it's one big tune out factor, however it seems to have had many positive reactions from the kids. The soundtrack is a scratch/sample/ hiphop/ rip-off/DJ mix, made by Dave Durrell of M*A*R*R*S (Pump up the Volume). MTV is looking for a sponsor in consumer electronics and if that succeeds it will be the first permanent abstract disco TV program in the world!VJ video!
This is Ultratech, on MTV. Ultratech is broadcast by INTELSAT F11 satellite, location332.5 degrees east, downlink frequency 10.97 gigaherz. Ultratech video is transmitted with positive FM modulation. Exposure to the Ultratech signal should not result in neural damage tohumans. Ultratech, the future is here...
The voice-over on Ultratech's trailer (and leader) expresses the kind of belief in progress which has been less than fashionable in the Culture of the last few years.
Ultratech's maker, JON KLEIN: We see Ultratech as a very global idea because there is no language, here is no plot, there are no characters, which means that everyone can relate to or not relate to it. It's just sound and light. TV taken down to its essence... It's like listening to a painter from the turn of the century... We're just trying to push people a bit. And we're trying to make people rethink what television is about. I think Ultratech is a bit brutal, it's very confrontational television. It's almost saying: look man, can you handle this or not? You know, I really hope that, say ten years from now, they'll say: the first real Nineties show was Ultratech and they started it in '88. A super-conductivity researcher who's just passed the 200 degree barrier would talk like that. If an artist were to use that sort of language he could expect to create a pretty pathetic impression.
It is fortunate that KLEIN is a TV maker and not an artist. After a career with ABC in
ew York, he is now On-Air Presentation Manager of MTV EUROPE,the European
branch of the global chewing gum for the eyes music video network. That means that
he is responsible for the design of the MTV programs that are made in London. Not
simply for the three-piece suites and standard lamps that surround the VJs but also
for the leaders, the trailers and the idents(short videos which identify the station).
Sometimes these intermezzi are particularly flavour some chewing gum. KLEI makes one third himself and farms the rest out to (mainly British) video producers with the directive: Use any technique that you always wanted to use but thought too wild for television. That's dangerous talk but along with a pile of visual froth it has produced a couple of fine specimens of the use of animation and special effects. MTV's programs must not tax the intellect too much nor may they proffer musical pleasure of a too advanced nature yet the programs' design and the bits in between are livelier than anything you'll come across on most other channels.
The Ultratech program is a by-product of the idents. It was a result of experiments that STAKKER COMMUNICATIONS (from Manchester) performed for KLEIN on a Fairlight 6000+ video effect computer.(KLEIN: It's only six thousand pounds! Why buy a car If you can have a Fairlight! It takes you much further... ) When he saw the material he decided to make a whole program out of it.
Effectively the program is one long break. The program's aesthetic is analogous to that of DJ music which came out of the 1970s hip-hop, rap and break dance. This aesthetic is primarily based on the effect of the break, a passage in dance music which mainly consists of changing tempi combined with a couple of bars of a percussion solo or, for instance, some guitar licks. The break is the most exciting and orgastic moment on the dance floor: the public shrieks and faints. Break dancing was simply dancing to these passages (acrobatic version of an epileptic attack - related to fainting). Rap was the talking by the DJ during the break.
Here too (as always), you try to extend the climax and make it more intense. The
disc jockey was already well-trained in the seamless playing of records one after another.
Now he began to play the breaks one after another and to repeat them. He began
to put the best bits of various records together (including the intros) and create rhythmic
effects by means of turning the record back and forth on the turn-table by hand.
And this was how scratch was discovered. A halfway decent DJ no longer played complete records but appeared on stage as the virtuoso editor of other people's material through which he would rap. By the end of the Seventies, GRANDMASTER FLASH was one of the best-known exponents of this trend.
Nowadays, it is quite normal to take other people's sounds for your own music. In addition, sampling keybords can be purchased for a couple of thousand guilders for discerning people who are not so nifty with the turn-table but used to play piano at home. Ultratech's music is the natural extension of the original scratch.
Borrowing is not simply limited to music. As we know, appropriation has taken off in a big way in art - and it's been going on even longer in architecture. Video caught on particularly fast. For instance, DARA BIRNBAUM made her re-edits of KOJAK
and SUPERWOMAN in the 1970s. The reedit and cut-up aesthetic developed still further in England with the scratch videos of GEORGE BARBER, GORILLA TAPES and DUVET BROTHERS. An extremely advanced example was INGO GUNTHER's 1985
These video-makers are mainly attributed with Post-Modern Strategies. They appropriate images, confront them with other images, with their opposites or themselves in order to change, elevate or deconstruct their significations. The content of the images
used is particularly meaningful.
In Rotorama, the images (which are taken from TV) are actually buried under each other and forged into a sort of world view, a sample of the TV monster by means of a rapid 3-D effects. Although there are no hard cuts in Rotorama nor is there any question of a cinematographic montage a la EISENSTEIN, there is a constant process of montage in the sense of the editing of source material. On average, two different images are used at anyone point throughout this tape.
The editing of different source materials is also a very important factor in the work of
someone like RAFAEL MONTANEZ ORTIZ. Where GÜNTHER takes the power of the
communication and information industry as his subject matter, ORTIZ discusses the actual process of editing. Using a modified laserdisc player, he makes real time re-edits of
breaks in classic films: crucial moments where the film's progress is broken by (for
instance) an explosion, the main characters' first kiss, an exchange of fire or a collapsing roof. These re-edits follow a simple principle: a fragment of about half a second is constantly repeated and progresses through the film so that it always begins and ends one frame later. Hence, everything lasts ten minutes longer yet maintains its original
speed and everything happens ten times. The effect is something between that of a coroner and a paper shredder. It creates insight into the process of editing, a mountain
of streamers, repugnance towards the action, a different aesthetic. The aesthetic of
editing, making it concrete.
Different artists take different subjects which they approach using different strategies. But they all get off on montage. On the delicious and exciting process of editing. And JON KLEIN (who avidly followed video art in New York and is particularly a fan of INGO GÜTHER) gets off most of all. Ultratech is faster, more colourful and has more beautiful effects. It is hot video TV par exellence. The absolute autonomy of the television image. It flickers, turns, swells and shrinks. The image flies through itself and multiplies, it depicts itself and blows itself up. The hardcore of concrete television. It is perverse. I watch twice a week.
translation ANNIE WRIGHT