Somnambule - Writing About Music

Warp Vision ~ The Videos 1989-2004

Music is music is music. Or so Apple and Real and probably Microsoft would like to have the music-buying public believe. But what about the lyrics, the graphic design on the posters and the labels and the inlay cards and the tickets and in this case, rather more pertinently, the videos? At a time when the increasing popularity of the iTunes music store and its competitors appears to be gradually divorcing music from its visual elements, it’s good to be able to sample these pleasures in compilations like Warp Vision. There’s ample space for video to boost or warp (sorry) the experience of music. Of course video also has the much more frequently exploited potential to drag great music down to earth with dreadful, pretentious imagery or, perhaps worse still, tedious miming and/or bad acting. This is mostly absent from Warp’s dvd which appears in the same year as Ninjatune’s Zen TV retrospective and ~scape’s DIN AV dvd.

LFO’s eponymous 1990 track (which, rather marvellously, managed to reach number 12 in the UK charts) kicks things off. Its video comes on like a techno Jan Svankmajer, all stop-frame, fast-cut animation. Nightmares On Wax’s Aftermath from the following year features the artwork of a then unknown Jarvis Cocker who mixed surreal Easter Island-size heads with some serious dancing and related antics in the depths of a boiler-room. On was another chart entry and another memorable visualising by Cocker which looks like a fusing of Salvador Dali and Mexican street art. It’s one of Aphex Twin’s gentler, more pastoral tracks and could well prompt an access of nostalgia on the part of slightly older viewers. After Sabres of Paradise’s enjoyably off-kilter East End marching band meets beatz hybrid comes the label-defining work of Aphex Twin. It may be difficult to add anything new to what’s already been written about Chris Cunningham’s work, but it’s undeniable that he honed in on one of the key elements of Richard D. James’ work, namely the will to unsettle by twisting the commonplace and the pretty into something other. On Come To Daddy and Windowlicker Cunningham punches into James’ chest and pulls his id out for the audience’s delectation. In the freezeframe, the non-linear edit, the stutter and the blend are found effective visual analogues for the challenge of electronica’s dysfunctional ethos. These effects are further explored in the director’s cut version of Come To Daddy. Warp vision also includes the complete contents of the Gantz Graf DVD including Cunningham’s Second Bad Vilbel and Alex Rutterford’s painstaking 3d of rendering for the title track.

Warp Vision is not only the first Warp compilation, it also effectively charts the label’s history from an early definitive take on UK techno (LFO and Nightmares On Wax) through to its popular peak (Autechre, Aphex and co) in the mid 90s and then on to its hit and miss diversification in the late 90s. The music of Beans and Anti-Pop Consortium in this latter period all too clearly fails to find the sort of effective visual accompaniment which graced their predecessors’ work – Beans’ miming in a snowy forest being a lowpoint in imaginative musical envisioning. There’s also an inevitable feeling of déjà vu with the creative recycling of the the Cunningham-esque wasp imitation trope for Chris Clark’s Gob Coitus and the playground rebellion of LFO’s Phreak. To be fair, there are some charming exceptions including the delicious cartoon for Luke Vibert’s highly infectious I Love Acid, the blurred nostalgia/alienation of Ed Holdsworth’s video for Prefuse 73 and Mira Calix’s Little Numba by Sam Tootal (whose ideas are almost identical to Henrik Friberg’s videos on the Swedish electronica DVD, Collecteana).

It’s impossible to vouch for the interface, the package design or the extras as the promo copy of the DVD fails to supply any of these. Despite its occasional misses and the implied question mark hanging over the future direction of the label, Warp Vision is a cornucopia of visual and musical treats which proves to be essential viewing. Cheap at twice the price.
Colin Buttimer
September 2004
Published by Milkfactory