Self-portrait by Yoshi Sodeoka
We first came across NYC-based visual artist and musician Yoshi Sodeoka, when his ongoing series of videos inspired by prog-rock albums started surfacing all over the net. We were so enamored with and flabbergasted by his “concept albums” that we asked him to screen some of the videos from the series at our Paris event at La Gaîté lyrique from June 9-11… but not before picking his brain about what planet he was living on when creating these short films.
The Creators Project: You’re currently working on an ongoing series of videos, all inspired by progressive rock albums. How did this series come about? Why are you drawn to that particular genre?
Yoshi Sodeoka: Originally, this came from a rejected film installation proposal. Someone approached me to come up with a complex film installation project, so I teamed up with my friend Daron Murphy and proposed the idea of prog-rock/Greek mythology film concept—something ridiculous. I guess no committee members got it sadly. Maybe our idea was too mystical. So, we decided to carry on without anyone’s support.
The thing is that I’ve been revisiting all these great prog-rock bands lately. Bands like King Crimson and Soft Machine, and the obvious one is Pink Floyd. The list just goes on. I’ve always liked this type of music. I was kind of a closet prog-rock fan. When I was a teenager, it was all about hardcore punk for me and I use to play in bands. Punk rockers were supposed to be against those pretentious stadium rock bands, and also, there’s something about prog-rock that just wasn’t cool. It was uncool to tell friends that I liked Yes as a teenager. I wasn’t into their fashion with all the flares and capes like the ones Peter Gabriel wore in Genesis either. Too theatrical for me, and I still don’t care for that style.
But lately something about the philosophy of prog-rock synchronizes with my new experimental film ideas. Maybe it’s about that complex music structure and ridiculous mystical messages. The technical aspect of prog-rock is just incredible to listen to. Another reason is that I guess I got a little sick of making short, bite-size digital videos. Also, I’ve always associated my video art with music genres in the past. I did noise music with my 2005 DVD, Noise Driven Ambient Audio and Visuals, which was a bunch of short noise films. Then I tried integrating the idea of punk and metal into video art in my 2009 DVD called Video Metal. That DVD had some super fast, visually violent videos that are the complete opposite of prog-rock. Now, I am just in the mood for something else, something mellower, but strange on an epic scale. And since this idea is bigger than what I normally do, I think we could use some funding to finish it. We are looking into doing Kickstarter and things like that.
Trailer for Video Metal (2009)
The soundtracks for these videos are originally composed by you and Daron Murphy. How do you make the collaboration work? What role do the original prog-rock albums play in inspiring the music?
We don’t do any live jam sessions or anything. It’s always based on recordings we make individually in our own studios. We exchange Logic files back and forth and come up with a tune in the end, which works out very well. I find it difficult to collaborate with people when I make visual components, but not so much with music. I like getting new ideas from someone else with music. Daron always comes up with ideas and I usually don’t, so it’s great. One thing we tried to do for this project was to sort of channel all the prog-rock of our youth—well, maybe without capes and flares. And we reject anything that’s not over-the-top dramatic. Cheesy is better for this project.
You recently exhibited in a group exhibition The New Psychedelica at MU in the Netherlands. How has the idea of “psychedelia” changed since the 60s? How do you think it applies to your work?
The curator of that show Francesca Gavin said this and I totally agree with it. The idea of new “psychedelia” is not about drugs like it was in the 60s. It’s more about the artists’ reactions against information overload and overwhelming technology of modern days. But the effect that modern psychedelic artists try to give with all these streams of colors and flickering visuals might be in the similar direction to what psychedelic drugs did to people. For me, it’s about making mind-altering hypnotizing visuals with no weird chemicals involved. If people go “what the fuck” after seeing my video, that’s “psychedelia” to me.
Still from Radioactive Mountain
Tell us about your creative process, from the moment you get an idea to finishing a work. Do you always go about it the same way?
It totally depends. But when I’m starting a new project, I always try not to let new technologies overwhelm me. It’s always tempting to try out new cool software tricks, and new gear for some cool effects, but I step back and think, what do I want to express with it? I figure out the messages before anything else so the results don’t have to end up looking like just me screwing around with cool stuff that I had around.
What kinds of tools, gadgets, and software are in your designer tool kit?
Pretty usual main ones are After Effects and Logic with Mac Pro. I have no cool custom-made gear or software or anything. I like tools that are common and utilitarian. Then I have a couple of guitars and a bass and a few synths. I used to have a lot of analog midi instruments. But I’m in the process of stripping down my setup. I feel that less is better these days. But I still do have a lot of strange effects pedals for sounds, and I’ve got a WJ-MX10 Panasonic video mixer, which is covered with dust and spider webs right now. And I have a JVC VHS camcorder that I bought on eBay for under $100. And some unknown brand CRT television set, which I take photographs off of the screen for prints. All the gear I have is old and cheap.
Do you usually present your videos with live music? How do you feel when someone else remixes your work, like E*Rock did for Loomstate’s 41 Strings event? Were you happy with the outcome?
I don’t usually present my videos for live music. I’m not a VJ or anything, and I have no desire to be one, but I have become pretty open to the idea of letting someone mix my videos as a source for live shows when the opportunity is right. In my videos, I always put elements that are sampled from something else. Like some random videos from YouTube or digitized B-movies and so on. Then I totally modify it and make it my own. So I figured that by letting someone mix my videos it’s just a re-sampling project of my own materials. It totally aligns with my practice.
When the 41 Strings people approached me, I knew I wanted to do it. And I immediately thought of asking my friend E*Rock to help me out. He has already done live visuals with my videos for Portland band, Nice Nice a while ago. Plus he’s an established musician and visual artist that I can trust. And the thing I like about what E*Rock does is that he does cool stuff with old school video feedback tricks with his own twist. I liked that his lo-fi technique created something totally new out of my videos. So, I was very happy with the outcome.
Tell us about the works you’ll be screening at our Paris event.
I will be showing a few new pieces that are from that Prog-rock inspired project I just talked about. Some of those have not been shown online before. Then I will mix in some of my older pieces that are in my DVD Noise Driven Ambient Audio and Visuals.
Still from Violet Dark Spring of the Numinous Orb
What other people or media have been some of your biggest influences?
I’ve got too many names to mention for my influences, so I’m not going to get into it here. But as far as media goes, I like getting involved in both music and visual art—seeing art inspires me to make new music. Listening to music gives me inspiration for new visual art and vice versa. So those two seem to influence each other pretty well. Sometimes I don’t even remember if I wanted to be a musician or an artist. I guess I just couldn’t decide. So now, I just do things that are totally combined. I have a hard time fitting into traditional categories though, like is this fine art or music or what? But it’s just what it is. I just have to put myself in an “impossible to categorize” category for now, at least. But the distinction between visual art and music has been becoming blurry these days anyway. So maybe I will find my home soon.
As a video artist and musician, how has technology and the internet changed your work or your processes?
The greatest aspect of the internet for me is to be given opportunities to find and communicate with a lot of like-minded creative people internationally, and exchange new ideas with them. Then they inspire me to make more challenging work. I think that’s pretty cool. Just imagine achieving that with snail mail and long distance phone calls.