Friday, October 31, 2008

Avalanches- "Frontier Psychiatrist"


The Avalanches

“Frontier Psychiatrist”

2001

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.

Most importantly, the video’s one of the funniest I’ve ever seen, from the ghost choir to the mariachi band that leads out the video. When I listen to a song, sometimes it is an array of images that juxtapose or complement each other, usually based on the lyrics. It seems impossible to ever put what is thought to film, because so often what I see in my head is such a wide arrangement of images, without any conceivable through-line. But in “Frontier Psychiatrist,” that central element that binds every piece together is the inherent absurdity of each of them, proving that illogicality can be the most logical reasoning.

10 comments:

Ashley Joyce said...

My friends and I jam to this song in the car all the time, it's phenomenal. As a Baltimorean I feel compelled to also mention that the opening dialogue about Dexter being expelled from school is from John Water's Polyester.

Sir Riverhorse said...

"where disparate elements coagulate to build a whole performance".There is something coagulating, indeed, and it's brown, flush it down. This is horrific stuff, and yet you've made some decent points, and then some. Impressive.

Anonymous said...

As a geezer who barely gets the concept of sampling, I had no idea what was going on here. I can't agree that 'the viewer is conditioned over the course of four minutes to not doubt what is seen.' I may not believe that someone went to the trouble of putting this all together, but every image and sound makes me doubt what is seen.

joshkramer said...

this video is worthy of the song and indeed a visual match to the audio sampling so effectively employed by the Avalanches

Cecilia C-W said...

Drew, maybe you have the disease artists of all pedigree lust after, synesthesia. I like the idea of your mind conjuring up images based on the notes you're hearing, especially if an E-flat makes evokes the image of your grandma playing drums and an A evokes the image of a gorilla chasing/dancing with a bird. That said, this video makes me feel like anything is possible. Goosebumps!

Steve Erdman said...

sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you, in this case anyone viewing this blog is eating the bear. This video was TNT. As someone has said above me, the match of a sort of "video sampling" effect really works well for the piece on many levels

Drew Rosensweig said...

To Riverhorse, I have to say that you're entitled to your opinion, obviously, but to call this shit seems to put you in the minority. This video, in addition to the Avalanches' album, are among the most critically-recognized pieces of music/video this decade. I think that by taking the idea of sampling, which had been around decades before and taking it into overdrive, the Avalanches predated the mash-up craze of the past 5-6 years. The video aptly displays the absurdity of this idea, but that's like, my opinion, man.

Lindsay Z. said...

I definitely like the idea that the visuals are such a literal compliment to the song. Most music videos usually try to get a little more abstract and depart from the lyrics of the song, but since this song is kind of "abstract" to begin with, a literal interpretation makes this video even weirder.

Drew Rosensweig said...

I do think that your statement, Lindz, does reflect the genius of the video: it is already weird enough aurally, so why complicate that off-nature with a heavy-handed and complex video?

Anonymous said...

The Avalanches smartly flipped their whole album with this one track and I think the video only furthers their point. I think that you are dead on when you talk about subverting the idea of sampling. Samples are often random bits of cultural detritus lumped together and pitched as making sense in context, but they rarely do make sense in their new environs. This video at once plays on the bizarre juxtaposition of samples and the fact that you can easily forget about how disparate the elements are when they are compelling and entertaining.