When the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch, aka MCA, died last week, it was a sad day for music fans all over the world. But it hit particularly close to home for local video artist Benton-C Bainbridge, who did two world tours and many TV performances with the Beastie Boys, providing live visual accompaniment using computers and oscilloscopes. (See the video above for an example; Bainbridge performed, co-created and co-designed all the visuals.)
Bainbridge splits his time between The Bronx and Hillsboro Village, where he now lives part-time to be near his son. Along with business partner V Owen Bush, Bainbridge runs Glowing Pictures, which provides just about every video application you can imagine for education, technology, story-telling, live performance and more. He's shown his video art at the Whitney Museum, MoMA, Lincoln Center, and on five continents.
Best of all, his first Nashville show, Super Long Play!, opens tomorrow night at Seed Space with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. In this week's Scene, Laura Hutson writes:
Benton-C Bainbridge has been working on an interactive installation that might be the perfect Seed Space gallery show — lo-fi, anachronistic and totally engaging. ... This is his first local exhibition, and he’s enlisted the help of local performers to create a stack of 50 VHS tapes with 14 hours’ worth of footage that creates, according to the artist statement, “an ‘electronic sketchbook’ of real-time recordings of rehearsals and studies … painted with live electronics.”
In an interview with Country Life, Bainbridge recently shared his thoughts on Nashville, video art and his work with Yauch and the Beastie Boys. We got a sneak peek at some of Super Long Play!, and Hutson took some still shots that are interspersed throughout the interview:
So this is your first show in Nashville, correct?
Yes! And, I'm thrilled that my first Nashville show is at Seed Space.
What brought you to Nashville, and roughly how much time are you spending here?
My 6-going-on-7-year-old son brought me here. He's much happier here than he was in NYC. I'm splitting my time between Nashville and New York, when I'm not on the road. I'm looking for more local gigs so I don't have to travel so much; please get in touch and let's work together!
Describe as best you can what you mean by "live visual performance art." Is it improvised?
I play video like a visual form of music. Just like music, the work can be improvised or composed. I started in high school, where I'd surround my fellow students with TVs and projectors, musicians and costumed actors to create immersive experiences.
In some of the tapes in Super Long Play! I demonstrate how I make all the images. You can see me and my friends playing the gear on camera, warping and melting as we layer effects. Often I played along with music, video-jamming with tunes.
Even though I made this work in my studio, each tape is one nonstop live recording: a studio jam.
Tell us about the origin of "Slap Benton." (That should be made into a gif, btw.)
I bought a slow motion camera and me and a group of dancers ran around Bloomingdale's shooting brief movements. At one point we went outside and slapped each other, hard. It hurt.
I know you worked with the Beastie Boys. What exactly did you do?
I made visuals for two Beastie Boys world tours, and I was their VJ for most of their TV performances from To the 5 Boroughs through The Mix-Up. MCA wanted a VJ who worked with oscilloscopes to make abstract squiggles from their music. My first gig was for the 2004 MTV VMAs, and the raw energy of visuals played live hadn't been seen on American TV. The Beastie Boys really pioneered the integration of live video into stadium shows.
And how long did that collaboration last?
I was consulting with Adam Yauch on some projects for Oscilloscope late last year. After Beastie Boys stopped touring, he was still very active with his movie projects.
What was it like to work with them?
Fun. Exciting. Never a dull moment. They would play surprise sets at a little D.C. club or a squat in Rome, between stadium gigs. Every show was different. They were live and raw onstage, cool and funny offstage. They were always trying out new ideas to give their fans more thrills. I feel the Beastie Boys are under-acknowledged trailblazers of interactive entertainment.
Any thoughts on what it was like to work with Adam, and how his passing affected you?
Adam was quiet and strong; he pushed hard for what he believed in. We've lost an innovator, a great American artist and a righteous human being. I'm sad, but I'm also inspired that Adam stayed with us for so long after he was diagnosed, and he gave us so much in his last few years.
This past weekend I've been thinking about how grateful I am to have worked with Adam. To get the job with the Beastie Boys, I showed him what I could do with their new (at the time) single "Ch-Check It Out" — run through an oscilloscope to make squiggly patterns that bounce to the tune.
For the last tape in Super Long Play! I re-create the oscilloscope tricks to "Ch-Check It Out" and then speak on camera about memories of Adam. Albeit with some audio hum — those are the perils of low-fi!
Have you seen work by any Nashville artists that you really like?
I've already seen so many great artists here, so I'll just name-drop those I had the privilege to work with in SLP!: Erin Law, Perrin Ireland, Tony Youngblood, Ryan Hogan and this odd guy who called himself Johnny Invective.
Any Nashville bands you've had a chance to check out?
I go out to shows all the time. My favorites thus far have been the Wooten Brothers, the Gerber Brothers and anytime the drummer from JEFF the Brotherhood gets onstage to DJ, drum or otherwise perform. Clearly I'm a sucker for “brother" acts.
What kind of impression has the town made on you? Obviously it's a lot different than New York.
Hmm, I hadn't noticed any difference! (j/k) Well, the American music scene here is far stronger, with the exception of electronic dance genres. There's a huge technology arts scene in New York that is still emerging here. My neighborhood grocery store in Nashville is much better than the one near me in the Bronx.
In the Bronx, we also have lots of nature, horseback riding, a gorgeous botanical garden and a slow tempo. Manhattan and Brooklyn are a different story ...
What neighborhood are you living in here?
Hillsboro/West End. My favorite part of town, other than Chestnut Hill and the Warner Parks.
Is there anything missing from the art scene here that you thing you'd like to see more of?
More hackers, please.
Favorite Nashville restaurants?
I mostly just bounce around between the great spots in Hillsboro Village. The best meal I've had here was venison at my friends' home. They have a buddy who feeds the deer on his property south of town.
What can folks expect at the Seed Space show?
Over the past two weeks I made 50 VHS tapes at my home studio with my collaborators, including my son Ezra. We would pop in a tape, hit "REC" and jam for 15 minutes without stopping. This is the electronic equivalent of a sketchbook.
When I met Bill Etra, one of the first video artists, he told me that the medium would finally arrive once the tools were as cheap as a pencil and paper. I spend much of my time wrestling with bleeding-edge technology, so it's liberating to work with yester-gear — as my son says, “Old school is better.” I'm not nostalgic for VHS, but playing with obsolete hardware sure is fun!