The Low Res Music Program

Last night I went to "Feel Surreal," a night of music videos which is
part of the New York "Low Res Digital Film Festival"
( Friday and Saturday night will be the "Main
Program," a series of digital video shorts. The festival, which claims
to celebrate the future of low budget film and video making through
emerging digital tools, has already toured LA and San Francisco, and
will continue on to London, Rotterdam, and Vienna.

I have to admit that I am a bit disappointed with this first installment
of the festival. When I saw the heavy sponsorship by Apple, Adobe and
Wired, I should have guessed that the work would be something other than
"low res."

Last night's program was essentially a glorified version of "Flux," the
excellent dance music video show which the Low Res producers air on New
York and San Francisco public access TV. The videos were all for super
stars of electronic dance music, such as Future Sound of London,
Underworld, Meat Beat Manifesto, and Ken Ishii. While these artists may
not make it onto American MTV, they are indeed major stars abroad,
receiving heavy air time on channels such as Europe MTV and Germany's
VIVA. These videos are both high res and high budget – facts which are
potentially at odds with the festival's aims.

Worse still, many of the featured videos were not only boring, but
didn't even use digital tools in significant ways. Not one, but *three*
of the videos centered around light trails, achieved mostly in-camera!
Since when are time-lapse photography (pixilation), slow shutter speeds,
and strobe effects "digital video"?

Nevertheless, some of the videos used digital tools in ways which were
deserving of a film festival. There were three standouts: Ken Ishii's
wild cell and computer animation "Extra" (1995), Tomato/Underworld's
"Pearls Girl" (1996) and Future Sound of London's long-form "Dead
Cities" (1996), which had its world premier last night.

The first segment of FSOL's long-awaited "Dead Cities" is composed
entirely of stills and employs some excellent, futuristic type
animation, montage work, and techniques such as zooming into still
photographs. Later, "Dead Cities" degenerates into rather generic (and
ugly) 3D animation of abstract landscapes.

Tomato, the London-based design collective who is also the techno-band
Underworld, received rare audience applause for "Pearls Girl." The
video showcases Tomato's superb command of type animation, multi-layered
compositing, and fast cutting. Their work is remarkably both futuristic
and organic, mixing experimental film technique with cutting-edge
digital imagery.

Yes, Tomato seems to have stolen the show, but the audience was duped.
Tomato is far from an underground, low-budget group of digital video
artists. This year alone they directed over $10 million worth of
television adds. Furthermore, they usually don't even use Macintoshes
to do their digital effects, but instead opt for "The Flame" – a super
high-end Silicon Graphics system which is anything but "low res."

But the audience was most cheated by not seeing Tomato's best work,
which is in fact their advertisements for companies such as Philips,
Nike, Sony, and The Red Cross. Many of these spots don't air here in
the US, but are truly some of the best digital video out there, in many
ways better than anything shown tonight. I find this fact strange and
sad. So far, the best "low res" is in fact high res, high budget, and
exclusively corporate.

I hope tonight's program proves me wrong.