Interview With EBN’s Greg Deocampo

EBN’s reputation is known wider than 16:9 High-Definition. Shrouded in intrigue, the luminaries behind U2’s ZooTV video-satellite-jamming and their own mobile entertainment products, Emergency Broadcast Network has inspired a generation of live and off-line video musicians.

When it comes to video, the group practically invented culture jamming, and their infoganda-style videos alternately blur and expose the lines between video editing, broadcast television, and overt propaganda.

Determined to contribute to the post-9/11 need for emergency entertainment, EBN is re-deploying a newly enhanced network of special agents, field operatives, and embedded media correspondents– purportedly working in voluntary cooperation with the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security.

Long a developer and incubator of advanced media repurposing technologies, EBN recently endured significant neo-conservative criticism for supporting the application of “video sampling” technology to “DJ” music and culture. “The need to sequence, mix, and scratch video is clear,” declared EBN senior official Gardner Post.

A veteran of EBN’s original Gulf War coverage, and the inventor of both the Telepodium and Golf Bag Missile Launchers, Mr. Post recently revealed his latest video sampling efforts, a project salvaged from John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness (TIA) program: VBGP. Or, as it is becoming more widely known, “Video Baby Grand Piano.”

“The Video Baby Grand Piano is vital to our mission of making EBN available as an advanced, broadband entertainment platform for civilian electronic artists,” according to Greg Deocampo, a former EBN Special Agent with a reputation for technically advanced field operations.

Mr. Deocampo presently describes himself as EBN’s “industry liason,” responsible for working with the defense contractors implementing EBN projects– a role in which he has already sparked controversy from both the left and the right by refusing to disclose information regarding how U.S. emergency entertainment policy is formulated and pursued.

Washington watchdog groups point to a no-bid contract recently awared to EJ Enterprises for their Video Turntable hardware and ScratchTV software – core technologies used in a key Video Baby Grand Piano subsystem, as evidence of favoritism.

Deocampo denies any wrongdoing. “The EJ MIDI Turntable system retrofits existing DJ turntables in seconds to output standard MIDI. By using EJ Enterprise’s technology, we can build the best possible EBN Video Turntables. Video DJ’s spinning in pursuit of freedom deserve no less. To suggest otherwise would be unpatriotic.”

Justin Kent, president of EJ Enterprises and inventor of the EJ Turntable, could not be reached for comment, but a spokesperson for the company responded, “We enthusiastically disavow the use of any EJ systems for copyright infringement or political subversion. Any such allegations should be investigated by the proper authorities and dealt with accordingly.”

The Video Baby Grand Piano is on display through June 10th at the hot new Tribeca gallery, Gigantic Artspace. “EBN is proud to be working with the patriots at Gigantic,” said Mr. Post. “Curator Lea Rekow has enabled us to directly tap into and exploit a civilian infrastructure for disseminating emergency entertainment.” The VBGP will be back in the gallery through August, and will be used by an independent press organization covering the Republican National Convention.

Fusing the woodworking and cabinetry of a traditional baby grand piano, with an enormous six-speaker sound system, a pair of 64-bit, 200 gigabyte EBN Video Jukeboxes, and a pair of EBN Video Turntables, the Video Baby Grand Piano is a rare hybrid of classical and cutting-edge technology, a retro-futuristic music / video behemoth.

MVWire caught up with EBN’s Greg Deocampo at the opening of the Gigantic Artspace show, Tactical Action, where the Video Baby Grand Piano was being used in active field manuevers.

MVWire: People take it for granted, but at one point the piano was on the forefront of technology. Are you trying to equate video as a new type of music? Why link video to a musical interface?

Greg Deocampo: Gardner and I have been working with video to make what we think of as a new kind of visual art– dynamic, improvisatory, musical. We’ve never really come up with a good new word that is to “video” what “music” is to “sound,” but that’s what we’ve been going for… expressing, evangelizing, and enabling that idea has been a goal of our work in art and technology, for ourselves and as members of a larger community.

Video needs to be linked to a musical interface so that it can be performed instrumentally, reactively, interactively…As these reactions and interactions become subtle and fine, suddenly video can be made and played expressively…virtuosically…

With the goal of developing a kind of visual instrumentalism, attraction to the physical form of the piano became inevitable. It’s an incredibly evolved user interface. Two hundred years ago, it was also extremely high tech– think about what is involved in manufacturing and suspending the bass strings of a 19th century grand piano. Piano’s were made to express the mastery of the furniture maker as much as that of the musician– indeed, they were the first home entertainment systems and essential fine furniture. We wanted to invoke those cultural and sculptural qualities in our own work.

MVWire: Explain your decision to replace the keyboard with a pair of turntables. How does a DJ relate to video?

GD: The “DJ” as an artist, entertainer, and figure in the popular culture, over the last few decades has developed a musical and performance “grammar,” using turntables to manipulate the audio recorded on vinyl…because of the mechanical and esthetic parallels between working with audio and video, the DJ has the art and entertainment experience necessary to work well with video in all the ways they work with audio… if they can do so by extending the functionality of their turntables. Where the form of the piano invokes certain aspects of 19th century musicianship, the form of the turntable invokes and connects to more recent forms of musicianship.

MVWire: In the new Dilated Peoples video, there’s a video sample of ‘President’ GW Bush. A lot of people equate this style (sampling the evening news or political commentators) with the EBN brand. Can you discuss some of the ways using this approach impacts your work?

GD: Broadly sampling and remixing television, especially political news, makes it possible to reflect, and thus comment upon, the contemporary culture. It also makes it possible to make highly illegal art, which has allowed EBN to make work that has attracted an audience while repelling the money usually associated with one – an interesting aspect of our business model and brand.

MVWire: EBN has been out of the spotlight for a good five years. What made you drop off the radar, and why are you choosing to resurface now?

GD: Like many in government, we found that we had certain opportunities to leverage our skills and experiences in the private sector. Joshua L Pearson, EBN co-founder, composer, and front man, is now Senior Editor and Head Creative at Outpost Digital. DJ Ron O’Donnell is on special assignment in Texas. Gardner Post has been [THAT INFORMATION IS NOT AVAILABLE] where he [THAT INFORMATION IS NOT AVAILABLE] to great effect, and at signficant taxpayer expense. I myself have been conducting independent research into high performance distributed computing and communications environments for systems bioinformatics and public biodefense. I have been involved in several technology and media startup companies: IFILM.com, Tekadence.Net, ObscuraDigital.com…

Gardner and I have been seriously inspired by the growing community of artists making visual music; the VBGP is a context for us to collaborate with that community. And we’ve come to think that “EBN” may be a great collective platform for promoting and producing a certain kind of (danceable) visual music and social commentary– especially if it were more like a television network and less like a band. These are some of the notions informing the current “re-surfacing.”

MVWire: You were the original developer of AfterEffects, and much of the content of your live shows was made possible by technology you developed. How does this process inform your work?

GD: I aspire to a certain kind of tool and art making…like working on AfterEffects and then using it to make EBN video..it sets up a kind of feedback loop inside which things can get rich and complicated…

MVWire: So is the piano actually for sale? How do you feel about the tradeoff between art and commerce?

GD: The piano is for sale at Gigantic Artspace. The first of its kind and finished as collectible art, it is selling for $50,000.

We regard it as the first of a series, and have developed a production process that will enable us to relatively quickly make more, at different budget levels, for different applications and kinds of users.

Regarding the tradeoff between art and commerce…it’s like living, a series of choices that hopefully advance the pursuit of personal happiness.

MVWire: What is the next step for EBN?

GD: We continue to transform EBN into a network, a platform for the entire community of visual musicians to advance their work and attract and entertain an ever growing audience. We are developing entertainment and technology projects for a live tour, for a television show, and for online. We are exploring the development of a series of DV and HD effects and live editing tools extending the video turntable concept. We are also working on extending the piano to support Obscura Digital’s “Surround Cinema” technology, for synchronized multichannel video projection. We are settling in NYC, where we hope to work with like minded artists. We are also in the early planning stages of a New York Video Philharmonic Society.

In other words…STAND BY.

See the Video Baby Grand Piano on
NY1 TV.


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