The Avalanches’ Since I Left You was created from roughly 3,500 samples of other songs, a paramount achievement in the world of sampling. “Frontier Psychiatrist” is the song that utilizes the most “upfront” samples; that is, instead of it being a bassline or synth part in the background, the samples are snippets from films, commercials and other media. These voices shape the narrative of the song, and somehow create a story (an absurd one at that) from a multitude of different elements. The idea shouldn’t work in practice, as cutting and pasting sentences from an array of short stories isn’t like to produce a new, navigable story. But it does, and the music video for it speaks to this idea, where disparate elements coagulate to build a whole performance.
The roughly thirty or so samples are all given life, grouped together onstage for a theater production. Some of these are direct interpretations, such as a psychiatrist and his drooling patient, while others are much more lenient imaginings of where these samples came from. For instance, the repeated line of “what does that mean?” is asked by an old man whose head is on a turtle’s body. There’s no context for this image, nor any clue in the line that this is where the sample comes from, but it’s entirely possible that the director of the video had this image in his head when he first heard the song. These visual connections come out of nowhere when we hear a song, and like nouveau disco paired with the Muppets or European techno set to flying dogs, the music video forms these correlations. After the viewer sees them, their visualizations are skewed toward what has already been created for them.
In another example, the sample representations are subverted, such as the black cowboys, or the skeleton with a golden eyeball, representing the “man with the golden eyeball.” The only time the samples interact is when the bird, whose squawk is scratched by a DJ, is chased around by the monkey playing drums, before they end up dancing a jig with each other. Nothing about this last sentence makes sense on first or third glance, but this is the world created by the Avalanches, and the viewer is conditioned over the course of four minutes to not doubt what is seen. The samples are performing for the viewer, and the viewer’s imagination is subdued for the length of the video.