Experimental Label Undervolt & Co Creates Online Video Art Party

We speak to cofounder Yoshi Sodeoka about the new collective.

Dazzling Odysseys: The Electric Mind- Johnny Woods

In March of 1963, Korean-American artist Nam June Paik put on an exhibit which many critics today hail as the start of video art. With a set-up of thirteen televisions equipped with magnets, he produced Music/Electronic Television, a display of distorted color visuals at the Parnass Gallery in Wuppertal. Since then, video art has evolved into an established creative form with a diverse, creative, and considered aesthetic.

In the 50 years that have followed, despite the creativity and originality of one video art project after another, artistic institutions still seem reluctant to take into consideration the impact of video art. In other words, video art projects aren't always promoted and presented to their fullest capacity, despite their stunning/stellar collaborations or tie-ins with musicians and well-known labels.

No gallery or distribution system seems to provide adequate support to the development of video art, an emerging scene bubbling over with talent and creativity. To that end, and to cater to and support video artists, well-established digital media artists Yoshi Sodeoka, Johnny Woods and Nicholas O'Brien have come together to found Undervolt & Co.

Dazzling Odysseys: The Electric Mind- Johnny Woods (Trailer) from Undervolt & Co.

Distortion III: Yoshihide Sodeoka (Trailer) from Undervolt & Co.

Artists in Undervolt & Co are chosen with precise criteria, according to the similarities or contrasts in their aesthetics and practice. The project will plunge viewers into an abstract audio-visual world as they browse exclusive videos uploaded to the label's website and online shop. The work range in style from psychedelic to 1980's glitch to near-overwhelming, saturated color

Among the first wave of artists to join the label are Jennifer Juniper Stratford, Jimmy Joe Roche, Spectral Net–an out-of-this-world group comprising of Birch Cooper, Brenna Murphy, Sabrina Ratté, and Roger Tellier-Craig, Johnny Woods, Cristopher Cichocki and Yoshihide Sodeoka. New artists will continue to be added.

Greetings From Baltimore: Jimmy Joe Roche (Trailer) from Undervolt & Co.

Lost In Linear Valley: Jennifer Juniper Stratford (still) from Undervolt & Co.

Undervolt & Co has aspirations of being more than a label--it would also like to establish itself as an unparalleled database of video art. The archival part of the project is important in its effort to centralize the world of video artists who hail from distant and scattered parts of the globe, creating a central platform of video creation in the digital age.

We asked Yoshi Sodeoka a few questions to better understand Undervolt & Co. 

The Creators Project: Hi Yoshi. Can you explain to us how and when the idea for the label came about?
Yoshi Sodeoka: It’s a long story. And I will cut the very beginning part of it, but the idea came from a need to find other avenues for sharing a certain type of video work. YouTube and Vimeo are great for a lot of things, but they are not really suited to presenting a substantive collection of work. Cat videos work great on YouTube, they are perfectly suited for that medium. Our artists’ videos are not. So, I wanted to give them a way to share their work in a collection of related pieces, with an easy distribution model. 

Around the same time, I chatted with some video artist friends, like Sabrina Ratté, Brenna Murphy, Jimmy Joe Roche and Johnny Woods, who all have a similar passion for making musically inspired experimental videos. I found out that they’ve shared similar frustrations about not having a good outlet for our kind of work. So, it totally made sense for me to figure out some sort of distribution hub with those guys on board. 

Cristopher Cichocki: Liquid Static 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the purpose of the label is to provide artists with things that traditional institutions can't. Can you speak about that?
It depends on which traditional institution you are speaking of. Art galleries are one example. They are, in most cases, not super receptive to video artists in the first place, and when they do represent them, they tend to want to keep the videos secret. They will make small limited editions of the work and sell them for large amounts of money which is fine. And some of our artists work in that way as well. We are coming from more of a mass distribution perspective. We want to make sure the videos are accessible to all who would like to see them, which could be a nice complement to the gallery model. 

As for other institutions, well, there is the entertainment industry. Most of our artists have made music videos or done live visuals. Although the possibilities for interesting creative collaborations there are great, it is always the musicians that come first in that relationship. We wanted to reverse that, and put the artist first, giving them a way to explore ideas in an unmediated way.

Distortion III: Yoshihide Sodeoka (still)

You are one of three people to lead this project. How do you divide the tasks?
Nicholas O’Brien is the senior editor who handles the writing and editing of the label. Johnny Woods is the director who makes sure everyone gets their work done, and assists in production of the materials. He is also an artist of the label. Lastly, there’s me as a founder/creative director and also an artist of the label. 

Which are the most important criteria in accepting a submission and what kind of work are you looking to support?
We are looking for artists doing interesting things with the relationship between audio and video, outside of the traditional music video. Most importantly, we are interested in publishing collections of work, which allow the artists to explore a certain idea in a substantial way. The YouTube model of 3 minutes or less is not good for the kind of work we release. Most of our current releases are around 20 minutes, and it is our hope that people will download and watch them completely (which rarely happens on streaming). So, I think the really important thing for the work is that it can sustain that sort of experience. We are not accepting submissions at the moment. Sorry. Let us find you. 

Spectral Net: Spectral Sequences Vol. 1

What is the common point, or aesthetic, shared among all the artists supported by the label?
We’d rather not define any common aesthetic. We have certain preferences in terms of taste, and I think those will be apparent over time, but one thing we want to avoid is setting out with some kind of aesthetic manifesto or house style. I think in the future, we may release many different kinds of work. A lot of these current releases use analog feedback and video synthesizers. Jennifer Juniper Stratford is a great example. But then we have Cristopher Cichocki who does not work in that way, and an upcoming release by Emilio Gomariz, whose process is purely digital. The style doesn’t matter as long as there’s a good concept behind it.

Can you speak to us about the technical side of the platform? 

All our releases are a collection of .mp4 files, a PDF booklet, and a .m3u playlist. We are doing it this way to ensure maximum compatibility and flexibility. This way they can play back anywhere, you can do whatever you’d like to the files, etc… We looked into other platforms, but wanted to avoid any kind of proprietary format or weird app gimmicks. The focus of this endeavor is the content, and we try to reinforce that by making the delivery as simple as possible. This is our method now, but it may change or expand into other formats in the future. We do have a DVD version of Johnny’s release. So, we aren’t dead set on MP4 download method. Streaming would be great, and we would definitely love to expand into that format, but only if we can find a perfect solution. 

Another important aspect of the download we like is that people have to go through some steps to watch our videos. If people have to pay with their credit card to download our videos, they must want to seriously watch it. That means more than a few casual Likes on social media. 

Do you already have an idea of the next wave of artists who are going to join the label?
Yes, we already have more than a few artists working on upcoming titles. We will be releasing more details as they are closer to release. We definitely don’t want this to be bloated with too many artists and titles though. We will be working with our artists in the same way a record label would, expecting them to come up with new titles in the future, so we are being selective with who we we work with. 

For more on Yoshi Sodeoka, read below:

Yoshi Sodeoka's GIF Psychedelica Will Make Your Brain Hurt

Yoshi Sodeoka's Music Video For Yeasayer's "Henrietta" Is A Feverish Jungle Dream [Q&A]