Going Analogue – Interview with Ben Soundhog

January 29, 2017

Last week Gallops dropped the music video for their new track “DarkJewel”.
I was immediately drawn to the pulsing bars of primary colour, broken by bursts of violent static and glimpses of barely recognisable images.

In a job where I have to have such a meticulous eye for detail, I loved the rawness and lo-fi, fuzzy analogue look. The abstract compositions looked like glitched out flags of imaginary countries.

I knew that there must have been some hardware based circuit bending going on here – I’ve tried to digitally emulate this look and the only way to do it properly is with breaking into archaic electronics.

I reached out to the video’s creator, Ben Soundhog, to find out more about how he’d put it together.

RF: Hi Ben. Start by introducing yourself and tell me a bit about your background

BS: I don’t really have any ‘previous’ when it comes to video work, and I toil in a garage by day. I’ve been a frustrated ‘artist’ for a while now, making music in various forms and under various names for 20 years or so, but nothing earth shattering. I got into making up videos for some of my stuff in recent years, usually messing around with existing and ‘found’ material. I’ve always been a keen observer of other people’s productions though, with a particular interest in the more abstract and experimental stuff of the ’60s and ’70s. I used to be quite involved with programming 8-bit computers in the ’80s, and still like those rougher digital things a bit, but old-style analogue video and film techniques and equipment are more pleasing to me these days. I’ve become a bit of a luddite in my middle age, I suppose. Seeing the work of ‘Cracked Ray Tube’ (James Connolly/Kyle Evans) was a real eye opener recently, and got me into doing it for myself, sticking a few wires into things they weren’t supposed to be stuck into…

RF: How did you come to get involved with the music video project?

BS: I’d uploaded a few of my experiments onto the internet, and was a bit surprised when people took interest in them. I did a full (unofficial!) video to compliment a Pye Corner Audio piece – which got a little bit of attention on the dreaded ‘social media’, and someone from Gallops asked me if I could do something similar for one of their numbers. I was quite worried about being entrusted with something so important, especially as I consider myself to be no sort of video director whatsoever and the experiments I’d done thus far were rather cobbled together! The band had been around for a while around the turn of the decade, then split up just after their first album came out. It wasn’t common knowledge that they’d got back together again with a revised line up when I was asked to make something, so I had to keep it all under my hat for a while.

RF: So was what you produced for the Gallops video specifically built for that track, or was this a progression of previous experiments?

I also wanted to make it as violent and restless as I could, to match the pretty heavy soundtrack.

BS: I used the same basic techniques than I’d used for the PCA video, but it was all done from scratch to the demo version of the track that I’d been sent. I was a bit concerned that it might be a bit of a stretch to use the same visual device for seven minutes, so I had to dig deep to find enough interesting patterns. I also wanted to make it as violent and restless as I could, to match the pretty heavy soundtrack. It’s funny, as fast cutting and overly busy visuals are a real turn off for me usually, but in this case it just had to be full-on.

RF: Tell me about the process of making it. What kit was used?

It’s almost all done with discarded electronic junk I’ve accumulated over the past 20 years. I’m like a magnet for redundant technology. The main part of the video was made using an early ’80s BBC Microcomputer and Microvitec ‘Cub’ RGB monitor. These came from a primary school a long time ago, and were literally fished out of a skip (two other computers and screens went to the tip, sadly). The BBC was really only used to provide a sync signal to the monitor, and for the brief title at the start of the video). I made up a ramshackle video lead with 1/4″ jack sockets spliced into the red/green/blue connections, and plugged cables into them from a PC sound interface. This was then used to send audio waveforms to the monitor, generated by ‘virtual’ oscillators controlled by Ableton Live. The whole thing was built bar by bar in sync with the track, so it played as one continuous piece in the end. A spanner in the works here was the fact that the sync of the screen would shift over time, I assume due to slight fluctuations in the mains frequency or perhaps things warming up inside, so every time I came to work on it I had to effectively retune everything. Very annoying

I recorded the results with a mid ’80s Sony Video 8 camcorder (rescued from someone’s loft), done in full three times with the audio leads changed around so as to switch the colours around. It was hard to get a good result onto tape, the camera had difficulty coping with the amount of action and sudden changes in brightness on the screen, and I’d have liked to have tried a better camera in hindsight, but I couldn’t lay my hands on one quickly enough, so there we go. It is what it is.

The band asked me to screw them up to the point of abstraction

Other than that, I did some fairly basic video feedback stuff using a Samsung 8mm camcorder and a Hitachi CRT television (again, intercepted on their way to the local tip), noodling around for hours and choosing a few little bits out of the results. I’d wanted to include some shots of the band, which I pinched from some short Instagram videos, and initially I mucked them around using an Edirol V4 video mixer which I managed to borrow for a few weeks, using the camcorder/TV for feedback and also looping the mixer output back into itself. However after presenting a rough cut to the band they asked me to screw them up to the point of abstraction, so I ended up recording them to VHS, detuning the RF channel on the TV and pulling the aerial lead out so it was just hanging on for grim death! I then ran the resulting mess through the colouriser on the V4. One of my absolute favourite pop videos of all time is something that the late Barney Bubbles did for ‘Is That Love’ by Squeeze, and that was all done with ‘modified’ televisions, so I suppose there’s a bit of a homage there. You might be able to trace all this back to me seeing that video on the Max Headroom show in the mid ’80s, actually.

RF: What digital post did you do? Im assuming you edited digitally, but did you do any further effects?

BS: Indeed. I like doing things the hard way to some extent, but didn’t fancy editing it on an analogue system! Again, I was stuck with what I had, so everything had to go via a DVD recorder to get it into the computer. The limitations of the format certainly showed themselves up here, and I had to discard some of the more crazy feedback shots because they ended up way too blocky. I used an old version of Sony Vegas to do the edit, which was probably the easiest bit of the process really, as it was mainly just cutting between the three passes of the Cub monitor visuals, and dropping in the other shots to pepper it up a bit. There were no extra effects added at all here though, it’s all just as it came off the DVD recordings. I had originally planned to squirt the whole lot back to VHS again, and re-record it whilst physically meddling with the tape to cause tracking errors, but I decided against it as I didn’t want another yet another low bitrate digital encoding stage added. Maybe next time if I get a better capture device… I’m certainly hoping to carry on experimenting, time/space permitting, and would like to do more projects like this. Gallops have their next video in production now, and though I’m not directly involved, I’ve contributed some material which I hope they can use as backgrounds or similar. I recently got an early ’80s Sony Trinicon camera, and the video feedback I’ve managed to get from using it so far is just lovely! Watch this space, perhaps.

RF: Finally, what music is currently inspiring you?

Obviously I should say ‘my own’ but I’m not that blatant. I’m a massive consumer of sounds, right across the board. My particular weak spots are garage punk and psychedelia from the mid to late ’60s, and late ’70s/early ’80s synthpop in various degrees of accessibility. If we’re talking new stuff, then I think I’ve been listening to the work of Cavern Of Anti-Matter more than anything else. It pushes all my buttons in the right order (I’m also a lifelong Stereolab fan, so maybe it’s not so surprising). I’m finding a lot to love in the more experimental side of the electronic world at the moment, guitar based music seems to be in a very dull commercial rut, but hopefully that’ll change sometime soon.

RF: Thanks man – awesome work!

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