On October 22nd 2010, synnack and 0xf8 Studios released a full-length DVD on Force of Nature titled "init.system" (buy it). Creating a full-length DVD of all original footage is a massive undertaking that represents over 2 years of hard work. Similar to the Making of v2.5 blog post, I thought I would share some of the process, theory, and history of this epic journey.
In 2007 I began collaborating with Jennifer McClain to create a custom video backdrop for use for the synnack live performances. As with most "laptop bands" I wanted to add a more visual element to the performances to make a synnack show more of an "environmental happening" than "look at me make noise with my computer". Unsatisfied with the idea of using typical "VJ" style video of overdone effects and spinning logos, I sought out a video collaborator who shared the same interest in doing something completely different from the standard industrial band video junk I'd seen played out so many times. Jennifer was a good friend of mine already who had founded the [:angeldustrial:] dance performance group in 2000 and was looking for a new artistic outlet herself. She had originally begun producing and editing video with the goal of incorporating it into the [:angeldustrial:] dance performances. As a lifelong technophile with access to decent HD camera equipment, her interest in collaborating on the synnack live video progressed into something we knew could expand beyond a typical club or concert setting. In 2008 she became a full-time partner in what we call 0xf8 Studios.
My original idea for the live video, which became much of what you'll see on init.system, was to shoot a series of shots that make up scenes that could be re-ordered dynamically (or perhaps randomly) to result in a different "film" at each show. I didn't have much of an idea for what these shots or scenes might be of at the time, but knew that we would have to write, shoot, and produce this footage ourselves. Both of us refused to use any sort of standard stock VJ footage. This was to be something purpose-built and unique to the synnack audio material.
To start, I wrote up some thoughts on how we might approach these shots and based them loosely around the work of Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Joseph Campbell's writing on comparative mythology had a significant impact on me as a teenager and I thought it was a good framework to create these types of shots that would lend themselves to dynamic storytelling. The original notes I took and sent to Jennifer should still be available online on the 0xf8 site. It makes me laugh lots now. Especially since I actually thought to instruct her to avoid goth makeup. lulz.
Outside of the hero archetype, I wanted some specific objects that would tie the different shots together, so that when randomly triggered in a live setting, they would enhance the feeling that these shots went together. I asked Jennifer to pick 3 objects that would be repeated in most of the shots she took. She chose a cell phone, alcohol, and a toothbrush. *shrug*. Outside of that, I pretty much left her alone on the content. I didn't want to hire Jennifer to execute my ideas so much as collaborate ideas between us. So this was the framework and direction that produced much of the video that made the DVD. The actual scenes themselves were conceived, shot, and directed entirely by her throughout 2008 and 2009 using a Panasonic AG-HVX200 on generous loan from her job.
Several friends were asked to participate as the primary actors and actresses who had all danced in the [:angeldustrial:] dance performance group previously. All hail Regan Miller, Matthew Connor, and Karla Clute for the time commitment and patience with us.
The resulting story contained on the init.system DVD is perhaps best summarized using the text from the init.system back cover:
"synnack init.system is a video anthology exploring themes of creation, revelation, demise and catharsis. Set to tracks from synnack's "v2" release, init.system is split into 3 acts; each focused on a different phase of an unknown protagonist's journey. Adolescent trauma, abnormal curiosity with familiar objects, and pseudo-spiritual revelation are highlighted in Act I "init.being". Act I features videos for "Ants in the Water", "L3D", and "Nauvoo" and introduces the 3 main characters and the rising tensions between them. In Act II, "init.descent", these tensions escalate to a violent and destructive outcome in videos for "Her Room" and "Underneath Outside". The anthology concludes in Act III "init.restart" which is set to "Rize (5mg)" and provides a hallucinatory abstraction meant to represent a moment of twilight just after the protagonist's ultimate end."
Editing and Post Production
For most of 2010, we spent multiple nights a week working these ideas and footage into the final videos. Ants in the Water was already done. Jennifer had created that one early on in our collaboration for display at a charity event in Boston. The rest came out of these many sessions in 0xf8 Studio.
To combine Ants in the Water with all of this footage she had been using for the synnack live performances into a more static DVD/film release that was cohesive, I drew inspiration from a longtime fascination I have with the Mormon religion. I'm not Mormon myself; I grew up Roman Catholic and currently have no religious conviction to speak of. But there's something about the story of Mormonism that fascinates me. I had seen a documentary once about the history of the early Mormons, and many of the stories and events stuck in my head as interesting ideas for artwork to come. The track "Nauvoo" on v2 for example, was named after the town in Illinois where early Mormons settled after being driven from Missouri by the Missouri State militia who attacked a Mormon settlement, killing twenty people in what was called the "massacre at Haun's Mill". For the DVD, the epic journey of the early Mormons across the US certainly actualized many of the hero mythologies that originally inspired the footage, so in a sense, Mormonism provided a needed link to circle back and unite the videos into a single body of work.
To help with this, we asked Karla Clute to create a series of original photo works inspired by pivotal events in Mormon history. In the editing process these photos were woven into the footage.
All editing was done in Adobe Premiere CS3. Cycling74's Jitter was used for some videos to process and effect footage that was then imported back into Premiere. Adobe Encore CS3 was used to create the menus and final master.
I did the artwork, design, and layout for init.system myself. The cover is essentially a screenshot of a scene from the Ants in the Water video. The title of the DVD and the 3 "Acts" comes from my techodorkory. The program that essentially boots most unix-like operating systems is called init. As the overall story of the DVD involves a catharsis, I thought that combining the unix boot sequence with mythological themes served as a good metaphor. I actually hated this at the time I thought of it because it just seemed to me too stupid and obvious. As with many things, though, after a while of referring to it that way, it stuck and I was unable to see it with any other title. In the end the metaphor fits so...
Video-specific memories and notes:
Act I Init.Being
Ants In the Water: Originally debuted at Bloodfeast 2008. Effects by BorisFX and GenArts Sapphire were used. Thanks to Nancy Bowers for use of her bathroom and fancy antique tub. This video stars Karla Clute as the adolescent version of her character later seen in subsequent videos. Outside scene shot in Round Park in Wakefield, MA.
L3D: The L3D video was created during the editing sessions in 2010 by combining various unused footage, mostly from Round Park, and processing it with Jitter. This video introduces the male protagonist figure who is obsessed with ordinary objects he finds in a park. Jennifer claims the toothbrush was my idea but I claim no knowledge of that. heh.
Nauvoo: The footage here is part of the original material shot for the live performances but organized to fit the DVD narrative. The general story that unfolds in this video for me is metaphorical of the revelation of Joseph Smith, who founded the Mormon religion. In the video, the male figure awakens to a call, whereas Joseph Smith had an angel appear to him in a dream. Photographs of him with multiple female characters both appear to reference a memory, as well as foretell the introduction of another female. This video was mostly shot in a spare bedroom in Jennifer's house. If you look closely, I think one of her cats makes an appearance too.
Act II Init.Descent
Her Room: In Her Room, the male protagonist is older now and seems to be with the female partner shown in the photos in Nauvoo. I see this video as the beginning of trouble that plays out in the next video. There is also an interesting sub-story in this one where he knocks on a door, yet already knows no one is in there. Is there an unseen character? A ghost? Is he remembering the "other woman" introduced earlier in the story? I dunno either but thought it was interesting. His obsession with toothbrushes that started in L3D is revealed to be related to germophobia. This video was shot in Jennifer's living room.
Underneath Outside: Tensions building in the earlier videos climax into self destruction as the male protagonist's partner abuses alcohol (and him). Shit goes wack, and stuff. This video is shot in Jennifer's kitchen, bathroom and various hallways.
Act III Init.Restart
Rize (5mg): In 2009 Jennifer attended the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria. Inspired by what she saw there, this video was created mostly in the editing sessions using footage she took in Linz and Prague on her handheld Flip and Vado cameras and manipulated and effected during editing. Another photograph by Karla Clute makes a subtle appearance, which ties the otherwise abstract footage in with the story. I see this video as an epilogue of sorts that resolves the tension seen in the previous videos.
Though this seems like a really long blog post, it doesn't even begin to describe the experience of making these videos or their complexity. To close I'd like to express a heartfelt thank you to Jennifer McClain for putting up with me and spending so much of her personal time on this project. I'd also like to once again thank Regan Miller, Matthew Connor, and Karla Clute for their appearances and Andrew Laffin and Misha Sand for putting up with us both throughout all of this. Without the support of family and friends, I can't imagine creating something this special.
If you found this blog post interesting enough to actually get to the end, you either already own this DVD, or you really should! (Purchase init.system)