Plaid & Bob Jaroc
laid’s new “album” is a collaboration with animator Bob Jaroc. The duo began working with Jaroc four years ago, performing live together, presumably because the prospect of two blokes looking at laptops as an excuse for “live music” is rightly considered to be near-fraudulent. Greedy Baby was composed by Plaid as music first, and then passed on to Jaroc, who added the visuals, before passing back to Plaid, who made more music, and so on. It’s released as a DVD with accompanying CD—the DVD also features “extras” in the form of four old songs also put to visuals. When electronic musicians start working with visual artists on things referred to as “installations” and “projects” instead of “albums,” well…
“Dull” is the most redundant criticism that can be offered of music but for the CD side of Greedy Baby one has to give in to the temptation. For long stretches of this record (“project”?) little seems to happen musically, either melodically or dynamically, and this makes for an experience that can only be described as boring. Too often the uneventful passages, and even some of the eventful ones, are typified by pat Plaid sounds—the steel drums, that particular set of synth textures—rendering the music even more redundant. Admittedly there is a more orchestral, cinematic element to the musical composition than on prior work by Plaid or Black Dog (which is unsurprising given that it was composed in 5.1 with symbiosis between audio and visual content in mind). As a purely aural experience though, it’s not something you’ll be wanting to sit through more than once, I’d wager.
Of course it would be wrong to merely consider Greedy Baby on the basis of the music when it is and always was a project designed for multi-media performance. And listened to in 5.1 with the accompanying visuals, it becomes a more rounded, but no less unengaging experience. Jaroc’s visuals are meant to be confrontational and moody, and this they are. On occasion they're even beautiful and strange—the wrestling Mexican superhero (Super Barrio!) sequence is particularly surreal, while other passages recall the innovations of Canadian animator Norman McLaren, the visionary abstracts of Stan Brakhage, and the New Age ruminations of Godfrey Reggio. But there is an overriding concern: the question of utility. Just how and when are we meant to consume Greedy Baby, what are we meant to take from it?
If you were to encounter these animations and their soundtracks together on Channel 4 at 2am after a heavy night out, with repeats of Open All Hours on BBC1, Open University programming on BBC2, and Cell Block H on ITV, their disorienting, nausea-inducing powers might be just what you’re after. But the irritating phonetones and call-centre ennui of “War Dialler,” the sub-“The Box” zither atmospherics of “I Citizen the Loathsome,” and almost-rousing beats of “The Launching of the Big Face” will help you in getting to sleep, as well.
Because there are simply no tunes here—the musical side of things is purposely ambient, incidental, and repetitive—the lack of a coherent narrative prevents the visual side of things from assuming some kind of diegetic synthesis. Television simply doesn’t work as an ambient medium; unlike music you can simply look away and its influence ends. Greedy Baby doesn’t make sense sans visuals, and even with them it makes… little sense. It’s clever certainly, cool for sure, and amusing and a little unsettling on occasion too; it’s just not very interesting. It has made me want to watch The Triplets of Belleville again, mind you.