August 8, 2011
Gunhead’s Interview with Max Capacity
If you want to see all of Max’s work, head on over to his Flickr page. Just make certain you have plenty of time to check his 4000+ pieces of work.
GH - First off, since we’re a pretty technical bunch at CPR, how exactly do you make this art? I’m seeing circuit-bent game cartridges, distorted VHS tapes, and pixel art. How did you end up settling on these media?
MC - I use lots of different techniques. For me, the most interesting part is the crossover from analog to digital and vice versa. Lots of my pixels start out on a VHS tape, which I capture digitally and then convert using mostly homebrew and open source software for converting things to old computer formats, like C64 and ZX Spectrum. Then I usually do some post processing frame by frame and recompile as a video or animated GIF. Then I might send that back out into an analog TV and record it to a VHS and then recapture that VHS tape and make a new AVI or GIF. the process is endless, and I get all sorts of interesting by-products along the way. the serial degradation is extremely enjoyable to me
the reason I choose these materials is mostly a budget issue, in the case of the VHS and video game stuff. Everyone is throwing away their old VCRs, tapes, Nintendos, and I can’t stand to see those things thrown out. Lately I’ve been lucky enough to have nice people sending me their old video tapes rather than toss them.
For pixels, I suppose it’s another lo-fi medium but in a digital environment. One fascination of mine is the (my) inability to rip the pixel data from the cartridges. I need to learn how to dump the rom chips from cartridges. But in the meantime, I use lots of emulators to source my pixels.
GH - Now this would all be fascinating enough, but you tend to choose some pretty interesting base material, like the 1995 Johnny Mnemonic film, and the subject of your “Degrading Sex” set. How do you choose which films to process, and what do you look for in a movie when it’s being considered for your work?
MC - I honestly don’t choose much at all. I process any tape I can get my hands on. I recently did Sleepless in Seattle. I might not end up taking anything out of a particular movie, but I almost always at least capture it. Sometimes I might skip Star Wars or something everyone’s seen a million times. My favorite TV and movies, I almost hoard and try to go through them when I’m really motivated. I’m always worried I’ll miss something great.
GH - You seem to have a dualism of styles, where one is the more popular, colorful retro style involving a lot of pixel art; and the other is the darker, more futuristic look mostly concerning tape manipulation. Is this a conscious difference, or just one that’s kind of developed organically?
MP - I think it was something of a divergence. I started out doing more pixel work, but that lead to circuit bending NES cartridges and consoles. Then I wanted to capture what I had done in a cleaner more efficient way than taking pictures of the TV. Someone suggested an analog capture card. So that lead to the VHS work. I guess it’s the aesthetic. Both in pixels and tapes, I’m drawn to the degradation and entropy. A glitched NES cartridge, or an old damaged tape. I end up mixing the styles and processes to some extent, but there is still that divide.
I guess maybe it’s the duality in me, or the duality of humans. I’m anxiously awaiting the downward spiral of human civilization, but at the same time I’m secretly optimistic about the future.
GH – Aren’t we all! Well, all of us here. So being a prolific artist and having contact with stylish, influential young people with great drugs, would you say that Cyberpunk Culture is exerting greater influence these days? If so, could you speculate on the reason for this?
MP - Oh definitely. When I was younger, the entire cyberpunk genre was like a vision of the near-future that I was really hoping would come to pass. And I feel like it’s all happening now. I mean, I’m pretty much doing the same thing I did when i was 15. Drinking and smoking in my room on the computer. But now everyone else is too. I’m a big William Gibson fan, and it seems to me like reality gets closer to his version of the world all the time. I think maybe it’s the stale economies of the developed world, and the growing economies of the developing world, and Moore’s law regarding technological advancement. I still don’t know how the internet became cool though.
GH – Lastly, we keep hearing about how popular culture has lost all originality and is instead settling for bad remakes and sequels. What, if anything, do you see as saving us from this terrible fate? Do you think we need to go around spiking producer’s Pellegrino with LSD, or will something show up on it’s own?
MP - That’s not a bad idea! I think that we’re probably doomed for now. But I figure there will be some kind of reactionary movement eventually. Like the way realism was a reaction to romanticism. It’s probably going to get way worse until it’s so bad it forces a change. One small positive sign I’ve noticed is that Netflix streaming has introduced a huge number of people to old science fiction and horror movies they might not have been aware of. I’m hoping that will increase the general appetite for genre movies (and books). Maybe people will stop going to see X-Men sequels because they’re not worth the price of going to a theater, and they could stay home and watch Mutant Hunt or Short Circuit. Then the money might talk the executives into taking some risks.
GH – I’ll definitely be looking forward to that day. Max, it’s been great talking with you, keep doing what you do and stick around on the forums if you have the time.