BB Video: "A VOLTA" from NASA Project: Narco-Cholo Game Ultraviolence

(Download MP4 / YouTube | Warning: NC-17, cartoon nudity/ultraviolence)

Boing Boing Video proudly presents the world-premiere of a third video, above, from the N.A.S.A. music project (here was our first, here's the second) -- "A Volta," featuring Sizzla, Amanda Blank & Love Foxxx. Video by Logan, with art by The Date Farmers. Executive Producer: Susan Applegate.

NASA, short for "North America South America," is a music collaboration project assembled by Squeak E. Clean (aka Sam Spiegel, brother of film director Spike Jonze) and DJ Zegon (Ze Gonzales, professional skateboarder).

Buy the album, The Spirit of Apollo, here. More than 40 music artists are featured, including David Byrne, Kanye West, Ghostface Killah, Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O and Nick Zinner, M.I.A., Santogold, E-40, Tom Waits and Kool Keith. Music videos for the project involve a similarly diverse team-up of visual artists and directors.

Logan, the folks who directed the video for this track, create TV commercials and music videos, content for video games, and experiment with animation and visual effects. We caught up with Alexei Tylevich of Logan for a conversation about how this unusual music video -- kinda like GTA: Juarez -- came together with the Date Farmers.

The text of our interview follows (+ more after the jump).

Video #2, embedded below (Download MP4 / Watch on YouTube): Logan's mockumentary web-film about the making of this NASA video.

[Q] XENI JARDIN / BOING BOING VIDEO: When I was struggling to explain your "A Volta" video to others, I found myself referring to it as an "8-bit narco nightmare." What's the story we're seeing here?

[A] ALEXEI TYLEVICH / LOGAN: I hope that the "narrative" is not taken too seriously. It wasn't meant to be a great "story" but just another structural device to keep the viewer occupied. It's a music track with a "plot" thinly stretched over it. I thought it might be clever to turn this video into a mini-film with a semblance of a plot. A plot that has the same level of strategically naive incompetence and misdirected energy that is implied in the work of Date Farmers.

At first there was no plot, just a setting: an isometric metropolis inhabited by deranged inhabitants, full of senseless violence and anarchy. Then it sort of evolved into a semblance of a story. We started imagining what these characters could do and the plot sort of developed on its own, little by little.

[Q] Can you walk us through the creative process behind this video? A collaboration between Logan and the Date Farmers, but -- how did these characters morph into digital form, what came first, the music or the story or the look and feel... how did it all unfold, who did what?

[A] It began with looking at the Date Farmers' work, and trying to figure out a way to bring it to life that would not fight against their aesthetic. It's always hard to adopt an accomplished visual style from a static medium without compromising it.

Their world is devoid of perspective, decidedly two-dimensional. Their visual vocabulary is a mix of pop culture references and cholo folklore, a violent combination of corporate iconography, found objects and jail tattoos. The smelly back alley of our collective subconscious soaked in pop culture detritus. It's pretty disturbing, but somehow endearing at the same time. They don't seem to be taking themselves too seriously.

Besides paintings and collages, they make these robots out of scrap materials. There's a whole series of them. The lineup in its entirety is like a medieval bestiary.

Video #3, above (Download MP4 / Watch on YouTube): A soft-rock introduction to the Coachella Valley, CA-based art duo of Carlos Ramirez and Armando Lerma, better known as The Date Farmers.

(Interview continues after the jump...)

[LOGAN] ...I actually preferred NOT knowing the full intent or story behind each character before making up scenarios in which these robots could exist and interact.

What is the cinematic equivalent of the Date Farmers' pictorial universe? A blunt storyline, trite genre referencing and Scarface quotations. Compulsive borrowing and regurgitation of pre-existing elements. Lack of any sort of narrative syntax and the overall "flatness". "Poor acting" on the part of the characters that have no range and no faces. Canned robotic voice-over. A patchwork of elements and layers that make up a saturated cacophonous experience of visuals, music, plot, voiceover and subtitles...

And so on and so forth. What would normally be considered negative connotations could actually be used to attempt a different approach. It was really liberating.

[Q] How did you come to collaborate with the Date Famers?

[A] The idea of our collaboration with the Date Farmers I believe came from Syd Garon and Sam Spiegel, who chose the pairings of artists and directors for each of the tracks on the NASA album.

I am not quite sure what criteria was used to make the pairings. Maybe they thought we had some similarity in our work, or maybe it was just the opposite. Or maybe it was a random juxtaposition. We didn't get to pick the music track from the album either. I guess the whole thing was conceptualized as a bit of an exquisite corpse. In any case, I am quite pleased with the way it all worked out.

I recently saw the Date Farmers work at a group show and it really stood out. It has freshness and immediacy that makes it instantly recognizable as theirs, despite the fact that a lot of it is based on found or appropriated imagery. They seem to have found a magic formula.

[Q] Did you all work in the same space at any time, or was the collaboration virtual?

[A] We were free to choose and remix anything from their body of work. The Date Farmers weren't really involved in the making of the actual video. We borrowed the robots, photographed them and recreated them in CG. A lot of their paintings and textures were used in the model of the city. They saw the video for the first time at the February Flux screening at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, after it was finished.

Photo (courtesy Flux): Left, Alexei Tylevich of Logan; Right, Carlos Ramirez and Armando Lerma, aka The Date Farmers.

[Q] The theme at hand -- extreme narcoviolence -- is, sadly, very timely. This piece is fictional / fantasy, but did real-world news stories influence this piece?

[A] Maybe on a subconscious level but not intentionally. In retrospect it seems like an obvious parallel but it wasn't originally meant as any kind of commentary on current events. I guess everything is ultimately interconnected. I wouldn't want this video to be viewed in that context because the real events that are taking place are not that funny.

[Q] Part of what I love most about the video are the messed-up isometric perspectives, the loopy, angular, dizzy POV shifts. As if you're navigating this world from the perspective of one of these 8-bit narco characters -- after a few snorts or puffs of something stimulant and hallucinogenic. Was part of the aesthetic intent here to simulate that kind of charged, psychically-altered state?

[A] The look was really important to me. I immediately thought of the isometric approach simply because the Date Farmers' work has no perspective -- it's really flat. Even the dimensional figurines are "flat". Their faces are crude and not articulated. Their behavior is not motivated by any sort of emotional response, it's just pathological.

The camera movements had to be repetitive and mechanical to illicit the sense of anxiety and paranoia. I wanted it to have a Q*bert feel with a bit of "Street of Crocodiles" mixed in, a video game with a stop-motion feel which seemed right for the track. The subtitles where designed to be part of the stimulation overload... like watching Santo movies on VHS late at night.

# # #

(Special thanks to Susan Applegate and Syd Garon)


  1. @Brett, indeed! @Brett, @Robulus, what we were saying in the BBV studio when we put this together was — have you noticed how great the sound design is on this? It’s very simple in some ways, but the sound design is absolutely everything, and really lends a depth and scope to the viewer’s experience.

  2. This is a disturbing piece of work. Your intro comments seem only to appreciate its formal qualities (which are impressive) without regard to the horror and nihilism of the content. What say you? Commentary on the violence of international drug trafficking? Irony of media treatment of that violence? Why do you feature this video here? Why do you think it is worth promoting?

    Thank you for your attention to these questions.

  3. Um, Belchfire3000, read the whole interview. It’s a work of art, a violent flight of fancy, not a documentary. And contrary to your characterization, Boing Boing is not a promotional service. I don’t “promote” things in these video episodes (unless you’re talking about ads we’ve created) — this is an editorial exercise. Boing Boing is a blog where we explore things we find interesting. Boing Boing Video, same thing, only through video.

    That is what say me.

    If you expected nothing but gentle, soft, upbeat content here, you were misinformed. Sometimes we blog about (or produce original video episodes about) disturbing or violent things. This is art, and it’s somewhat hard art, and I think it’s beautiful, timely work.

  4. That slight chromatic aberration on edges is an interesting touch. And the orthographic angles.

  5. xeni, gotta say…

    I love the video, watched it six times already. sent links to a few friends. and I’m glad you posted it on BB. But I have to call you on saying that BB is not a promotional service – all of you compile wonderful things from around the world, but a fair share of content is update’s on Cory’s books, guest blogger’s books and this video that you produced.
    I am glad you brought this video into the world but the promo thing is something we know and accept on BB – and you seemed kind of prickly about that in the above post.

    with love and respect.

  6. duh, whoops,

    I just realized Xeni’s producer credit was for the BB excerpt of the Volta video – not the actual video.

    Forget what I said – or, at least the partial promo comment stands.

    mea culpa – colour me douche

  7. @burningcanoe, I am glad you dig the video. But as for the whole “you run a promotional service” BS, I find this insulting.

    First, I didn’t create this music video. I produce the Boing Boing Video series, I’m the Boinger who manages that daily video program, and the NASA folks were kind enough to allow us to show their work on BBV. Read the credits.

    The comment about Cory is a cheap dig, and off-topic. I can’t speak for Cory, or why he posts what he posts, but I respect his choices and his fundamental integrity, and neither are at issue here.

    I do not operate a promotional service, that is not what Boing Boing Video is or has ever been. To say as much is an insult, and I don’t accept it. That is also not what I do on the blog. If we are in the business of promoting things, rather than the business of publishing video + writing about stuff we’re interested in, that implies that we receive compensation from the folks whose wares are being promoted.

    NASA didn’t pay us to run this video. It isn’t an ad. When we run an ad, we’ll let you know, because we’ll label it as an ad.

    This is not a “promotion.” This is an editorial decision I made about what I personally felt was an exceptional music video, in keeping with the greater “boing boing aesthetic,” to the extent there is one. And, some related stories about the creators that I thought would make compelling episodes of our daily original video program.

    That’s an editorial decision. Not a promotional position, not an act of advocacy or commerce. The difference matters to me.

  8. Xeni,

    My apologies for introducing the word “promote” here. I assure you I did not mean to imply that you were doing so from any commercial or financial interest, only that your blog serves to bring these things the attention of your . . . what is the right word? . . . readers. I greatly appreciate the work you and the rest of the BB crew do, which is why I so frequently look at the site.

    I confess that I did not read the whole interview before posting, but having done so (and having watched the other two videos [well, have of the mockumentary] and followed all the links) I can’t say that I am any more enlightened about the video or what, aside from the formal qualities — which I’ve already admired — caught your attention.

    For instance: ” Part of what I love most about the video are the messed-up isometric perspectives, the loopy, angular, dizzy POV shifts. As if you’re navigating this world from the perspective of one of these 8-bit narco characters — after a few snorts or puffs of something stimulant and hallucinogenic. Was part of the aesthetic intent here to simulate that kind of charged, psychically-altered state?”

    This is a fine, perceptive question but it is focused on the particulars of construction, composition, or what-have-you of the video (I don’t have much of a vocabulary for describing these things), not it’s content. I realize it is a work of art and that form and content are not easily teased apart, but when one chooses to create art that depicts real world violence — how ever abstracted via technique or materials — one takes on some measure of responsibility for what is said or meant by the depiction. Think “Guernica.”

    The mockumentary only seems to highlight a certain frivolity about the whole thing which makes me wonder about the intention of the artists involved and what they hoped to accomplish. I’ll point out the referencing of Pacino and De Palma (and presumably the movie “Scarface”): what is that about? Is it about me the viewer “knowing” that some real-world thugs adore the movie and feel the Pacino character is some sort of hero? That way I’m an insider w/ the video artists who are being, what?, ironic? dismissive? I honestly don’t know.

    I’m asking these questions sincerely. I can see that the video is technically accomplished and smart and clever. Is it more? Can you tell me how it is more for you?

    Sorry to go on so long. Appreciate you reading and responding.

    1. @BelchFire3000, I appreciate that you’re asking questions in good faith, and sincerely. I don’t want to devote the energy to write a detailed appreciation of the video — the blog post is pretty long, and I feel like I’ve already said a lot.

      I don’t feel like I need to defend the work, I’m not an advocate or promoter, my role here as the producer of this video series is to bring interesting things to light.

      I think some of the questions you’re asking might be better answered by Logan, or the Date Farmers, but my short answer is: the reasons I find this work interesting involve more than just the technical execution or animation process.

      I dig what the Date Farmers are doing with elements of prison art, Mexican popular culture, and California street iconography. I really dig the dark, frightening universe Logan constructed out of those characters.

      I think it’s okay for artists to create disturbing work, and not everything has to be of the merit or cultural impact of “Guernica” to make the violent content okay. Go back to historical accounts of the day when that painting was first shown, too! The work elicited strong reactions, and I have no doubt that some made the same criticisms you’re making here.

      As Alexei said in the interview, this was not meant to be a direct, linear commentary on drug-related violence. The plot came later, the feeling of the “space” came first for them.

      Art is sometimes an oblique, indirect reaction to factors in the “real world.” I think this is a good example of that.

      Dark, hard, nightmarish art is no more obligated to explain itself or apologize for itself than is upbeat, softer, inspirational art.

  9. Take a look at the characters Logan were given to work with. What were they supposed to have them do, sitting around holding hands and eating cupcakes??? The Date Farmers’ artwork and characters are about as random and irreverent it gets, and the animated video is perfectly aligned with that paradigm. :)

  10. The video is really amazing, both technically and creatively. Also very impressive as the director really got in tune with the original concept artwork of datefarmers – very hard to do.

  11. @Xeni
    The sound design was truly incredible. While I watched the video, I kept wondering what they used to get those echos and reverbs. I guess I’m just a hopeless audio geek.

  12. inspirational piece of art. congrats to the creators! the camera movement, the scenery, the sound design, the compositing… everything is just great!

  13. I just watched the video sans sound, and found the video delightful, although I’m a bit disappointed to find that the auteurs didn’t intend to make an explicit statement.

    I found the visual story to be incredibly worthy content on its own. I know BelchFire3000’s question was directed at Xeni, but I’d say that, apart from the technical excellence, the story felt very true from my perspective as a participant in the culture depicted.

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