Sundance festival director talks film

By David Orlikoff

Danny Perez is a visual artist with a powerful aesthetic. He considers himself 21st century, which is a much nicer term than post-postmodern. His work is expansive, textured and dark, bordering on absurd and psychedelic. It involves the audience with its raw emotion and visceral effect on the senses.

He has been a longtime friend and collaborator with the band Animal Collective, finding their unique sound a perfect playground for his images. In the past he has directed two music videos for them, lately, he has been very busy. Perez just had a major exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum with Animal Collective and continues to screen what they are calling a Visual Album after its premier at Sundance this year. ODDSAC, as it is called, is a collaboration between Perez and the band, featuring 53 minutes of his unique visuals and their new music made just for this project. ODDSAC comes to Chicago with Perez and members of the band March 17 at the Music Box Theater. The Chronicle had the chance to talk with Perez by phone while he was pulling into a Wal-Mart parking lot and asked him about his current successes, his evolution as an artist, and where he hopes to grow from here.

The Columbia Chronicle: How did the exhibition go at the Guggenheim? The pictures online look amazing.

Danny Perez: I was pretty satisfied. Everyone involved had to jump through a lot of hoops to get it done so I think in the end the timeframe I had was pretty ridiculous. Just the fact that we got anything up is pretty sweet. I liked it. I think I achieved what I wanted to achieve. I don’t honestly know if it’s what other people wanted or what they were hoping it was going to be, as far as it not being a concert. It was cool, it was a good opportunity to move forward with some aesthetics that I’ve been trying to get into lately. So I’m satisfied in that regard.

The Chronicle: How long did you have to set it up?

DP:Three weeks man, three weeks. We didn’t have any time. I was working 14 hours a day in the shop with a team of people just round the clock trying to get this thing done. And the situation was constantly changing as far as the logistics with the museum. It was definitely a challenge and no small feat so. It was a test.

The Chronicle: You said you achieved what you wanted artistically, what was that?

DP: I think it was either the desire to have it function beyond just an art show with stuff on white walls and be an exhibition where we wanted to create something that could be ever-changing, as far as the lighting and the video and all these other elements. And something that would appear different from the top floor or the bottom floor. So I think in that regard we were able to present this odd form of controlled chaos that I think is indicative of a lot of my work.

Was the project all your doing or do you collaborate with Animal Collective at all?

The visual end was basically all me, and the audio end was all them. And we worked together as far as what the tone would be and how these things would go together visually and sonically. But the visual end is all me as far as its being based on my designs and I work with a team of people that I have to fabricate all the stuff and lay it out. And at the same time I’m working the video elements that work in conjunction with the more sculptural elements. It’s a lot of work and a lot to manage and keep cohesive when it’s being made in all these different areas with different people and such.

The Chronicle: But members of the band were living statues at the exhibition, were you directing them, like on a film set, how to perform?

DP: Well as far as the Guggenheim thing it’s literally just them standing in place which in and of itself is kind of difficult for a human being to do. But I think when I’ve worked with them in the past on those shoots for music videos and the movie, we definitely approach each other a little differently and I’m kind of aware of what they are capable of as far and not being shy and such. I think there’s an advantage with them as far as, they are performers and they are used to performing on a stage. So I can push them a little differently than I would an actor as far as what they’re capable of but then at the same time there are things that they aren’t aware of as far as normal things that an actor would go through to get stuff done.

The Chronicle: How did you get started as an artist? What has your evolution been?

DP: I started off in film. I went to film school in New York and at that point I was working towards making more narrative movies, but at the same time working with animation and more visual elements as far as costumes and such. But basically after college was when I was spending a lot of time on the road with Black Dice and Animal Collective and that really informs a lot of my opportunities and my aesthetic. So just from doing visuals over the years, and having more of a relationship with musicians than filmmakers, even with the medium of film I feel like that kind of informs my editing style and the way I interpret how things should move across the screen. So if anything, music has been and continues to be super influential—I would argue I am more influenced by music then by other media. I met Animal Collective around 2001 and that was their first tour, and that was my first tour. And we met and we’ve just been friends since, and from hanging out over the years just watching movies together, being on tour, I think we have a lot of similar tastes and I can tell when I’m designing something, I can tell with their tastes if they are gonna go for it or not and I can kind of fashion towards that. And visa versa, I think the fact that I’m very well versed in their music allows them to fashion things in that regard. There are certain songs I do like or don’t like, and for a certain scene they can say, oh I don’t think Dan is really going to like this movement or visa versa.

The Chronicle: How was the reception of ODDSAC at Sundance?

DP: I think it was well received. I think there were a lot of Animal Collective fans and just general people that are interested in the category that was New Frontiers, which is kind of the experimental section at Sundance. So I think when people are going to that program they know what to expect. That was my first time at Sundance and I think everyone at the festival was really nice and supportive and I definitely got a lot of positive feedback. There were some people that weren’t into it and I feel like I can value a negative reaction as much as a positive one sometimes. I think it will be a divisive work ultimately, so for it to screen at Sundance is already a victory in and of itself.

The Chronicle: Are you and the band satisfied with it?

DP: We took our time with it and the whole time the point was to not rush it. We wanted it to be done when we were happy with it. And the project was such that keep it open ended. We are totally happy with it. We all stand behind it and it’s a movie that we really like to watch, which is pretty rare, to have worked on something for so long and still be able to engage with it on a new level and not get sick of it.

The Chronicle: So when you guys are hanging out having fun you’ll watch the movie?

DP: Well I don’t know about that, I mean I wouldn’t make it that indulgent. But at screenings we’re able to watch it and I’m able to see new things or hear new things just because of the way it’s put together. I think it’s the kind of thing that will lend itself to multiple viewings very well.

The Chronicle: Did Animal Collective make all new audio specifically for the film?

DP: Yeah, yeah. There was a little bit of a back and forth. It wasn’t like I gave them a final cut and they just had to score that. There were definitely cuts that were informed by the music in terms of how long or short a part could be that we were able to work into it. So that was another reason why it took so long, it kind of evolved and new scenes came up just from transitions and other scenes were cut short or made longer with the audio. So there was a lot of back and forth which is what we wanted to do the whole time as far as keeping ourselves stimulated and not getting bored with it.

The Chronicle: Is there a narrative in ODDSAC?

DP: There are narrative elements and I would argue there’s a psychological narrative or definitively some kind of arc there but it’s pretty devoid of the normal trappings such as dialogue and plot and structure and such. But there’s a narrative there to me. It has an arc of its own and I like to think it’s just moving in its own language. And that was kind of the whole idea to create something that could communicate, something different or something that we felt wasn’t present in a lot of movies or has just been barely scratched upon the surface of.

The Chronicle: Are there chapters or songs in it? Are there breaks or is it continuous?

DP: It’s pretty continuous. In that way it’s pretty similar to the way an Animal Collective live set goes. They don’t stop playing after a song and start and talk in between. And that’s something that’s also influenced me visually, that they will just have it all bleed into itself. And I think the idea is that in the end the cumulative effect is pretty distinct as opposed to if it was just episodic little vignettes. All the transitions and the areas between scenes are ??[rebru] just as much as the scenes themselves.

The Chronicle: Compared to the music videos you’ve done for Animal Collective, “Who could win a rabbit” and “Summertime clothes” is it more similar to one or both or neither?

DP: I’d say it’s closer to “Summertime Clothes” just because that’s the same crew that I worked on with it. The visual look and style and a lot of the fabrications are similar to that. If people are into that video it’s more of that, but at the same time because that was made for a song they already wrote the movie itself has more of an anxious organic state. So mine is a little bit darker territory than that but visually at least it’s similar for sure.

The Chronicle: So it might be similar, but better?

DP: I’d like to think so. [Laughs]

The Chronicle: You’ve just had your first film open at Sundance and a major exhibition at the Guggenheim, do you have any other artistic or career goals?

DP: I’m really happy and grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. Animal Collective have been really supportive and I guess just down the road I hope to be able to keep making work and eventually break into my own work, as in projects that aren’t collaborations but ones where I’m able to go the complete distance in whatever direction my whims take me.