Hyper Real Visions: Pictureplane and the creative art of keeping it crazy
Certain artistic forms benefit from rules, from order, from a sense that sober and vigorous thought must be committed in order to create resultant works that are sensible and prudent: detective novels, serialized television dramas, sprawling indie-rock concept albums about obtuse historical incidents. But the truth is that all art that attempts to make coherence out of the inchoate madness that is our waking nightmare that is the real world is, let’s just say it, a lie. The truest art, then, is that which exposes the lie, the big lie — that revels in madness and happenstance and fearlessly tears at the thin membrane that separates our cozy day-to-day somnambulistic reverie from the gaping maw of senseless madness that is, in so many ways, the true reality of our existence. Travis Egedy is such an artist: the tireless focus of his work, whether in his visual or conceptual work or the music he has created under his nom de guerre Pictureplane, is about being the doubting Thomas, reaching out and touching the wound that is reality.
“I keep it crazy, basically,” Egedy explains to me, not really joking. He is currently in the confines of a tour van zipping through a desert of the American Southwest, on a tour opening for psych-rockers HEALTH that will see him hit the stage of Allston’s Brighton Music Hall this Tuesday, November 24. “As an artist, I’m more interested in chaos, rather than some ritualistic thing, for what I do; I think when things become too controlled or ritualistic it starts to lose its fun, for me.” Egedy’s new record, last month’s Technomancer, via Los Angeles-based independent record label Anticon, displays this penchant for chaos, within both its lyrical fixations and its sonic restlessness.
Pictureplane, to many, is seen as a kind of poster child representation of “witch house,” a circa-2009 musical genre niche, coined in jest by Egedy, that turned into a for-real underground phenomenon that proved to have a very short shelf-life. The stereotype of witch house was a gothic sense of morbid occultism and downbeat synths mixed with hip-hop beats, usually presented as a faceless artist that used a lot of obscure ASCII symbols in place of having a pronounceable name. Pictureplane, however, had very little to do with the self-seriousness of that microscene; his 2009 single “Goth Star”, from his Dark Rift album, in many ways poked holes in the shrouds of gauzy depressiveness that marked self-styled witch house, with its undeniable hook and its inexplicably effective use of a sample from, of all things, Fleetwood Mac’s ’80s hit “Seven Wonders”. Egedy wasn’t afraid to mix mainstream pop in with dark synth attacks and gritty hip hop production, and the net result tended to sound like a kind of demented offshoot of ’90s house music. If all the songs were about aliens, that is.
“I don’t consider myself some kind of serious occult magician or something,” Egedy explains, “but I guess I can be sometimes. I think play and playfulness and fun should be a big part of what you do as an artist. There’s a lot of contradictions in my music, mostly because I tend to embrace a lot of things simultaneously. My music has always had a darkness, and I’ve always been attracted to that, but at the same time it’s always been bright and rainbow-colored!”
His sophomore outing, 2011’s Thee Physical, saw Egedy attempting to pile these contradicting impulses into a powerful artistic statement, using his music and his existence as an artist to question reality itself, to ponder what it really meant to feel. “Real Is A Feeling”, a buoyant and hopeful number from Thee Physical, conceals with its spritely house sound a craven desire to tear a wormhole in the nature of reality; the album came with a manifesto that stated, in part, “Understanding/remembering thee psychic field as playing field in an infinite galactic game.” In the video for “Negative Slave”, Egedy dances on LSD at the top of the pyramids at Teotihuacan, in footage filmed on the sly with a pocket camera. “My music comes from a place of thinking that anything is possible,” Egedy explains sincerely. “Pictureplane’s genesis is in me being in art school in Denver, basically in the DIY warehouse scene where I started performing in 2005 and 2006, in a space called Rhinoceropolis. There were no rules, there were no genres, I was just experimenting and I still am.”
Technomancer is an evolution in Egedy’s sound, and on the surface it would seem to be a darker vision than the surprisingly chipper tone of much of Thee Physical; filled with apocalyptic imagery, tracks like “Riot Porn”, “Harsh Realm”, and “Death Condition” would seem to see Egedy entering a more troubled mindset, making bleak music to mope to. But a close listen reveals that Technomancer isn’t darker than Egedy’s prior work so much as deeper and more layered — if there is more heaviness, there is also more light, and it’s all crammed into the same amount of space as his prior work.
“For this record, I was listening to less dance music,” he says. “I wanted more of an intense synth record; I mean, if you think about our current landscape, where everyone’s listening to so many things at once and on the internet everything is kind of smushed together and postmodern, it kept making me think about a fusion of certain sounds: I wanted to make weird darkwave hip-hop synth music because, basically, I’d never really heard that kind of music before.”
In a sense, then, Egedy makes the music that he feels is necessary for the times he lives in, where our modern lives give us access to breathtaking highs and lows all compacted in such a way that the experience of the extremes bleed into one another. “This is, really, a perfect time to do what I do; the world needs artists now more than ever, so the fact that I can travel around with my art and share my ideas with people and have that resonate with them and make them question things a little bit is really valuable — I don’t take it for granted.”