April 20, 2017 | by Jocelyn Hoppa
The social fabric of our lives is in a near-constant swirl of bad political dust fuck. Post, stir the shit, repeat. It’s relentlessly deafening, words and vitriol blurting out into the middle distance. I often scroll in a desultory fashion, feeling kinda sick but mostly just numb.
So I slipped off a bit. I started watching the show Black Mirror, submerging myself in the weirdness and horror of the future instead. With each episode, however terrifying, my disbelief and skepticism gradually gave way to a total fascination with art’s interpretation of this thing we call “advancing technology” (not to mention philosophies around singularity).
I first landed on KyttenJanae, a digital media artist working in the 3D technological space. Her art imitates imitations of the future, finding meaning or feeling in figures otherwise featureless. The bodies she uses are taken from an online 3D resource download for “generic base mesh” body models, all slightly male yet lacking genitalia, as well as being fit, bald, and eyeless.
In KyttenJanae’s words from an interview in Kaltblut, “As I got more comfortable using these bodies, it became about trying to express emotions and experiences with them… captivated by the infinite beauty and infinite sadness in the world. We believe that the two both complement [sic] each other, and need each other to exist. The feelings they cause sometimes are so unbearable — they can be so overwhelming and unbelievable and crippling, and it isn’t really good or bad, it’s just a part of being alive. So, there’s a lot of core themes that come from this concept, but especially alienation, anxiety, chaos, and sadness but also glory, power, and beauty.”
Obviously, some of her art functions as meditations on mental health. How we’re self-medicating, softening the edges of these sharpened times, often armed with a valid prescription in hand.
Enter my number one rant (rage creeping back): The painkiller problem, and it has hit too close to home too many times. The American healthcare system is putting a loaded gun in people’s hands under the guise of caring for one’s health. I can’t, for the life of me, think of anything more fucked up than that.
KyttenJanae has this video, posted three years ago, and the only description is “Trailer of upcoming video game.” The first half features a CG figure riding atop a giant pill, moving along at a steady but unemotional pace. Pulling pixels, KyttenJanae’s game is a meditation on an increasingly fractured mental state, this figure figuratively gliding along a wonderland of meds and escapism.
I have to give her credit for beckoning me into this world. Playing during the first half of the promo reel is a track called “Dry Air” off of Tender by Podington Bear. Upon hearing it, along with watching the video, I dropped everything. It made me feel, at a time when it was hard to make me do so. And it made me miss friends I’ve lost to this shit.
If you'd like to play her video game, disappear here.
Podington Bear is where an entire well of music opens up. I had no idea what I was stepping my foot into here — a massive undertaking by a musician I’d yet to come across. Currently, he has approximately 40 records, most all titled with one word: daydream, foreboding, grit, etc., all part of his Sound of Picture Library.
Whether you know it or not, you’ve likely already heard Podington Bear at some point. Real name, Chad Crouch — record label proprietor (HUSH Records), visual artist, designer and former band leader of Blanket Music from Portland, OR — Podington Bear’s music has cropped up in a variety of commercial mediums since 2007.
This American Life, ads for Google, Microsoft, Chevrolet, MTV, Paul Frank Industries, Logitech, not to mention short films, video games, and internet clips, all feature his music, which he offers for free downloads and fair-pay licensing.
When this project started in 2007, Podington Bear set out to release three fully crafted songs a week via his podcast, his real identity remaining unknown throughout the 18-month project. In 2008, he revealed himself via a press release, and appeared in some interviews.
Via Wired, Crouch said he makes music with what he calls “the golden triangle,” that includes a Mac laptop, two octave keyboard, and headphones. Then it all gets shot through Reason or Live software.
It can be difficult to explain instrumental music, but I’ll just say each song is beautifully crafted. If music has a visual art equivalent, Podington Bear works in pastels, like so many interpretations of the future.
Considering the music Podington Bear makes for the Sound of Picture Library is keys and technology, the range of emotional content wrought from such a small setup is also noteworthy. Because of the headphones he employs, as a tool of isolation, the songs are delivered from any kind of environment, a seemingly small but important reflection on our times.
In a cold and indifferent futuristic society, where cars drive themselves and drones are sold at Urban Outfitters, Crouch’s lilting key work and tech inflections take a tiny little pin and deflate my otherwise reigning rage, cynicism, sadness, and dismay. Edges softened. A guard or two let down. Fascination taking form. Some technology might be, you know, alright.
I haven’t stopped listening either, stuck on Tender (there are worse places to get stuck, for sure): when I can’t fall asleep, when I’m preparing myself for a particularly gnarly day, when I just want to connect with a forced digital life that feels increasingly fragmented.
There is a zone of technological comfort, a cozy little corner of the world that Podington Bear created, and it makes my heart kind of swell and feel just a little bit more — I can float away and be somewhere else, on a subconscious-level kind of connection. When music elevates to that realm of magic, what else can you do but disappear into it?