The Brooklyn based artist Cory Arcangel (*1978) is a master of digital manipulation. In his work, Arcangel explores the practices and myths that have built up around Internet culture, pop music and experimental music by means of processing visual and audio material with the use of available computer programs but also with adapted or self-developed, manipulated programs. In addition, the artist highlights the rapid obsolescence of technologies and codes.
On the occasion of his first show in Berlin, at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, I met up with the eloquent and amiable young artist to talk about his upcoming performance, pop culture and gadgets:
Hili Perlson: You have two major shows open within days of each other. One in Paris, at Thaddaeus Ropac, and one here in Berlin, entitled “Here comes everybody” at a distinguished state-run museum. How did this come about?
Cory Arcangel: One of the works in the show, “a couple thousand short films about Glenn Gould” (2007) was gifted to the museum and they decided to show it together with related work.
HP: Gould was as much an engineer of sliced up recordings in the studio as he was a celebrated classical pianist. He made some explicit views on authenticity and creativity, which, within the context of music, were considered radical at the time.
CA: Gould was one of the first musicians to use different takes for his recordings, which was a huge deal for classical musicians at the time. He became a sound reader, and tape slicing became a part of the recording vernacular. [In the show] I look at it as an historical trajectory of that kind of manipulation in music that leads, in the end, to youtube.
HP: Is that why the piece is compiled from snippets that you downloaded off the Internet? The images alternate at a bewildering rate, one image for each note. And then each note is played on a different instrument.
CA: I used the first variation from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which is a very fast piece. When I was making the art work, there were no editing programs that allowed producing a video with this speed, so I had to write my own software in order to make it.
HP: For another piece on view here you manipulated the computer game Guitar Hero to play a song that’s made up of only two notes. Do you see yourself as a hacker, too?
CA: Well, no, I’m a fine artist. But maybe in the original sense of the word hacker, meaning to hack different technological elements up and poorly fit them together, then yes. I’m interested in the type of technology that has no context except for online. That’s why my website looks the way it does. Out of context, some of the things are almost made for the internet, and I think it’s funny. I encourage that. Like for example in the Arnold Schönberg piece [in the exhibition] I used images of cats and kittens because I knew it was going to get passed around on websites with names like “cute kittens” and leave its context. I love the internet.
HP: Schönberg is considered to be one of the fathers of atonal music, and John Cage is, in turn, considered to be amongst his most well-known students – at least in the art world context. Does John Cage’s use of chance play a role in any of your pieces?
CA: No, that’s interesting, but I rarely work with chance actually. There’s one work in this show which I had made using a pen point printer – it’s what they used before there were inkjet printers, I found it on ebay one late night and bought it. It took me seven months to figure out how to work it! Then I wrote a program to make the pen point move in different patterns on the paper, and made countless tests to try it out. Then I looked at all these tests and realized that this was the piece. I’m done! So that’s the only time I worked with the use of chance.
HP: A lot of your work deals with obsolete technological developments, or even useless gadgets.
CA: Yes, with technology that demonstrates its own possibility. I’m personally not interested in the “wow” factor; I tend to be suspicious of things like that. Like in my performance “Music for stereos” where I play different songs on bad stereos. It’s about tacky gadgets demonstrating their own ability.
HP: Is the music you’re playing on the tacky stereos also tacky?
CA: It’s a music history research project. The music shows a continuum, the genealogy of current Top 40, shopping mall pop “punk.” It’s a kind of hyper melodic diatonic pop punk filtered through early millennium teen cultural poles… This crossover pop-punk from The Ramones, to The Strokes, Blink 182, April Lavine, Taylor Swift and culminating in Lil’ Wayne’s “rock record” Rebirth. My audio performance is an argument for the possible boundaries of this style. This is not the story of punk, not even close, we’re talking the real deal Britney Spears style top 40 trash – with affection.
“Here Comes Everybody” at the Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin, 30 November 2010 until 1 May 2011.
Image is Everything, at Thaddeaus Ropac Gallery, Paris, 24 November – 24 December, 2010