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RANTAPOD - video on demand (VOD) performance art for mobile and handheld devices


I started RANTAPOD as a continuation of my concerns with performance and especially performance using the digital networks. I did quite a bit of Performance Art in the 1970’s. Performance Art is different from Theater. It comes from a different tradition. The processes of conventional art such as painting and sculpture inspire performance art. The notion of performance art is that the creative activities, the steps along the way to making an object, are as revealing as the final product/object. Indeed, for the artist the process is more important than the final product. Performance art reveals the process.

The other inspiration for performance art is the media-logos or if you prefer the spectacle of media. Guy Debord first posited this in his book, The Society of the Spectacle in the mid-twentieth century. Debord recognizes that mass media, Television, Radio, Films, Magazines and so on are propaganda for a capitalist consumer society. As such the media logos, the system of signs and structures of mass media, can become the subject of an artwork. The spectacle can be performed.

My first ever rant performance work was done in 1978 for a group videotape by Davidson Gigliotti called, Chant Acapella. The piece he recorded was a rant/rap called Rich Sucker Rap.MP4 It was a punk performance work. I used the notion of repeating words and phrases as if they were drumbeats. In a certain sense this is exactly the structure of poetry, words set to a beat, but I was inspired by rock and roll rhythms and the repetition of machinery.

When I began working with computers I was attracted to synthetic voice. I began to experiment with synthetic voice on the Mac platform. Working with Peter Sinclair, together we developed the piece called A SoaPOPera for Laptops. This was a sort of theater piece with four characters in which four separate computers would speak the lines using synthetic voice. One of the outcomes of all this experimentation was that I was able to make the voices sing, rant, rap, do skat singing, and onomatapoeisms. As one works with synthetic voice the desire is to make it sound like a human. Language of course is leaned from other people. I discovered that I could push the voices to talk and sing that are unnatural for human beings. I also discovered that I could mimic and learn the way the computer spoke. The computer became a tool for me to disengage from my voice and the content in order to alter my way of performing.

In 2000 I started working with stripped down video performance for handheld devices (PDA’s) such as the Palm Pilot. The series of performances were political rants often talking back to the official news that was being presented by the mainstream mass media. The idea was to present alternative positions or critique the mass media.
The series was called Palm Rants and was included in an online exhibition curated by Patrick Lichty called (re)distributions.

The next development was a performance piece called Rant/ Rant Back/ Back Rant. The work continues my engaging the media-logos spectacle by gleaning newspeak catch phrases, saving them as the content for a performance and then ranting like a crazy person who shouts the news on the street. Peter Sinclair does a co-performance where he grabs audio samples of what I am saying and then he adds them to the live sound mix. I then respond to what he throws into the mix.
The words and catch phrases become rhythmic loops or phrases. This harkens back to my early rap piece although Peter had no knowledge of that work when we started the rant performance. Indeed, there is an apparent structure within mass media and communication that seems to proscribe the repetition of phrases. Essentially this is the idea that if you repeat a phrase many times it will gain the aura of truth.

In 2005 I started a vlog called RANTAPOD. I decided to go back to the roots of video-performance art, essentially an artist doing something in front of a video camera. For RANTAPOD, the final product and how it is distributed is quite different from early video art. RANTAPOD is made to be seen on the internet or it can be automatically downloaded onto an iPod via iTunes or an RSS feed. The work can also be presented in a Museum/ Gallery setting using a data projector or it can be presented on an iPod. At the moment I am trying to set up a mobile phone site and a WAP gateway.

The RANTAPOD performance has been evolving over the past four months. In the beginning I had a musical intro and an outro that was somewhat like mass media. The performances were very short meditations one or two minutes tops. Often they were snippets of ideas that were unfinished. I didn’t like the boxiness of 4:3 video and tried various masks to get a letterbox effect. I liked that but I finally hit on a 16:9 codec using the h264 compression for mp4. The ffmpeg encoder stretches and distorts the image. This looks something like a Cinerama image before its projected through the correcting lens.
For an early, I encoded the Rich Sucker Rap as a sort of inspiration or benchmark. This caused me to reflect on the performative aspects of what I was doing. I decided to do a rant about the New Orleans hurricane and aftermath. After I did the rant I ran it through some video effects and then started to experiment with duplicating and over layering the sound track. I borrowed the audio techniques from my podcast Art Dirt Redux. The doubling up and repetition of the rant was inspired by Peter Sinclair’s sampling techniques when we perform together in Rant/ Rant Back/ Back Rant.

As I consider what I am doing, I have come to understand that I am using myself to create a media object. I am becoming a digital object that can be duplicated, sampled, cut apart, endlessly multiplied and put back together. Part of this media identity is tied into the evolution of the digital language. Instead of using found copyrighted material, I am sampling myself. This can be seen in the latest rants. I use post-production editing to isolate words and gestures. I then cut them up and repeat them and assemble a music-like rhythmic rant. I also use some simple video color techniques; I solarize and posterize the image. This gives RANTAPOD the look and feel of early experimental video. It’s a retro look that has a certain hippie, flower child, techno-utopian aspect to it. The cut up sampling, duplication and remixing are all current techniques but using them in a political rant or a philosophical meditation is not. I have been using these techniques as an antidote to mass media and the music industry. It expands the lexicon of digital media.
The problem with American mass media is the problem first put forth by Debord in the Society of the Spectacle. All media are geared towards the market. Media exists to sell goods and services. In this way the public discourse has been transformed into a discussion of consumer choices. Make no mistake the political arena is the same. The media is used to sell a politician. Advertising and film have adopted a position of competing to create the latest special effects. Digital tools accelerate this race. There is one problem; no effect or technique is ever explored to discover it’s full meaning, use and potential. What this creates is a system of hyper-fashion that is all about briefly catching the eye and then moving on. Visual culture as a whole in America exists on a surface structure. Thus it lacks richness and meaning. Visual culture in mass media is all about selling. It is not about understanding the world, defining what it means to be human or any of the normal functions of art and culture.
RANTAPOD is my attempt to re-introduce these concepts into the media-logos.