Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa

Sunsets, pizza, and rotoscoping.

New York Live Arts presents

Marjani Forte
Nov 15-19


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Experimental musicians Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa got together to discuss the laborious creative process behind their new video for “Pastel Ice Date,” a song from Savage Imagination, their recent album of joyfully cracked electronics.

The two, who will be on tour in November, chatted about the video, Phillip K. Dick, and Noh theater.

After we ate pizza and before we sat and talked about our video, “Pastel Ice Date,” we went up to the roof and saw the sun set.

Dustin Wong Whoa! We have to take a picture of this!

Takako Minekawa I feel like I’m getting sucked in …

DW It’s like a fluctuation in space, like a wormhole?

TM Yeah, that’s it. There are a lot of different worlds inside. It changes every second.

DW That patch of sky in the middle has such a beautiful color! It’s the same blue that we captured on video, the video we were working on for “Aether Curtain”! That one cloud looks like a Dr. Seuss dragon, or a palm tree.

TM The wormhole is gone! It funneled into itself!

DW Wow, look at that purple!

TM I guess we were making skies, too.

After a few minutes, we went back to Dustin’s apartment and re-watched our video for “Pastel Ice Date.”

TM What do you think?

DW Since it took me a long time to edit this, watching it again, it just kind of went right by me.

TM I mean it did go right by, but there are many …

DW I mean I have no regrets!

TM Great! (laughter)

It’s kind of like those clouds we were just looking at, it changes every time I watch it.

DW Each element moves on its own, and these movements are looped, fairly long loops and each loop is in different time …

TM Yeah, when I’m watching this particular video I might be watching just one thing, and this one movement has the movement of the body and the movement of color.

DW The colors really are the soul and life of this video I think, if it didn’t add your colors, if it remained black and white, just the line drawings, it would of been fairly lacking.

TM I think it has its charms.

DW When I was rotoscoping it felt like I was working at a factory.

TM Drawing one frame at a time, take a break, draw some more, take a break …

DW And while I was doing the tracing you were adding the colors, when I watched you apply the colors onto the process looked so organic, I really enjoyed that.

TM Because you drew and I colored?

DW You brought out the energy of the traced figures.

TM Without those outlines I wouldn’t have been able to. When you asked me to add color to the drawing, I really didn’t have a footing on where to begin. So I went about it without really thinking.

DW I think we really needed that intuitive energy. I’m so glad you were able to work on it freely.

TM Thanks for letting me! (laughter) But it took a little bit of time and courage to add the colors, the drawing looked so pretty already!

DW Oh, really?

TM Once I’ve drawn on top, I can’t erase it. If I accidentally go, “Oops!” I can’t go back. In the beginning I didn’t really think about animation, I just felt like placing the colors wherever as I pleased. But when I saw your drawings changing little by little, I try to be a little more conscious about animating. Once I started getting a little hang of it, I was able to make things pour out and come back from the figure skater’s hand. I was beginning to be able to imagine the movements in my mind, trying to feel out the colors. What I’m feeling out, I don’t really know.

DW I noticed a lot of vegetation: auras, flower essence?

TM Yes, essence, the things that emanate from the body. Things coming out of hands, going far, coming back, I loved drawing those things! And when I saw it actually animate I was so happy!

DW It was really moving for me too. It took months to rotoscope the main figure skater, and when I saw it being animated for the first time, it made me really happy.

TM I got really excited to witness what I was imagining in my head. It wasn’t just excitement, it was blissful.

DW I think this video took the same time it took us to record and to mix the whole record. I think it took about four months, we started in April and finished in August.

TM Drawing and editing …

DW The main figure skater, the skating couple, and our faces. The abstract colors that fill the space, did that take about three days?

TM Actually I think that only took me about a day to finish.

DW That particular bit was similar to the process for the video for “Party on a Floating Cake.” We scanned the image and blew it up and had the video editing software scroll down really fast from top to bottom, giving the illusion of animation.

TM When I was drawing the image I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to be used, but I tried to include a lot of leafy imagery. Elements?

DW When the distorted guitar chords come in and the background shifts there are little crevices that allowed the images underneath to creep through from time to time. It was really fun to see what kind of imagery would emerge by pausing it randomly.

TM Yeah, pausing the video at random moments is one of the fun aspects to this video! Whenever you pause it, it’s your moment!

DW Let’s check some of them out!

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TM I didn’t really know how the drawings that we made were going to turn out, but when I saw you layer all of them together, I was really impressed!

DW Really?

TM I’ve never seen rotoscoped images layered together like that. How did you come up with that?

DW This song is loop- and layer-based, you know? I thought it would be cool for each melody to have an animated component. But it’s a lot of work to make that many animated components, and when you have that many elements on one screen it gets too crowded. It was really difficult to navigate a certain visual composition towards the end since whenever a certain element moves to a certain spot of the frame I have to have that space occupied by something else, making sure it doesn’t cover the faces as much. My computer, with all that workload, got so hot—

TM It was right in the middle of summer.

DW —I ended up putting ice packs on my computer!

TM You were even talking to it, cheering it on like, “You can do it!”

DW The great thing was that, when I was rotoscoping, I was able to listen to a lot of audio books.

TM What were you listening to?

DW Philip K. Dick’s VALIS, a lot of science fiction short stories, and beatnik poetry. And I just had Battlestar Galactica playing in the background.

TM This one’s interesting: my face kind of looks like Cirque du Soleil.

DW It also looks like a mask from Noh theatre?

TM My face doesn’t have any eyebrows so it’s kind of scary.

DW Why? Because it’s Noh?

TM Yeah.

DW No way! It’s beautiful.

TM The texture from the tracing paper is retained too, huh?

DW I definitely wanted that to be there. When I tried to boost the contrast for the graphite, it became more pronounced and it didn’t look like a drawing done by pencil.

TM I really like the sequence of eyes that emerge on to the frame too.

DW Oh yeah? Why is that?

TM It’s strange, they are just eyes and eyebrows but …

DW Like a creature?

TM Yeah, a strange energy.

DW I really needed something that mimicked the movement of the melodies that the guitar and the keyboard were doing.

TM I was pretty surprised when you just cropped the eyes out from your face. It’s simple but pretty effective.

All these different things are being layered on top and there are these fleeting moments that go by so quickly.

DW When you are watching it you don’t notice all these fleeting moments.

TM Yes, you can’t see these moments.

DW Right, the textures, details, and the different accidental drawings that happen.

TM I think it’s a very subliminal experience.

DW The things we can’t we see, we can see.

TM Yes!

DW It could be that those multiple eyes emerging represents that idea.

Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa’s Savage Imagination is available now from Thrill Jockey Records.

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