Archie Bronson - White Relief Music Video

Since the ’70s, Alice Cohen has made a name for herself in the independent music scene through a number of genre-hopping projects, most famously The Vels and Die Monster Die. As the decades go on, her music career has become more focused through her solo releases, but she has branched out through visual art. Cohen is an exploratory creator who manages a universe of collage-crafty stop-motion animations which, as of late, have become increasingly collaborative and ambitious. In this retrospective, we speak with Cohen about her creative process as well as take a look at highlights in her last half-decade of music video work.

Archie Bronson - White Relief Music Video
Archie Bronson – “In White Relief” Music Video

When creating a music video for a band, Cohen’s process begins initially with a discussion where both parties offer up their own ideas and expectations. Following that, an amount of trust is required, as Cohen uses her instinctual approach to interpret a band’s musical ideas in a visual way.

“I… assume that they trust my instincts, since they’ve seen my work already and have an idea what it looks like…” explains Cohen, who says that she follows a similar process of creation for her own work as well as those of others. “I’ve never had to explain or translate to any of the people I’ve worked with; if they don’t like the way a section look, I will change it or take it out. But we will decide ahead of time the vibe we are going for, and then the details develop as we go.”

Cohen had been fascinated with collage art from a very young age, but it was around 2007 that a friend suggested she “make the collages move”. He told her then of an Intro to Animation class at the School of Visual Arts; Cohen ended up attending the same class for several years, and all of her first animations and music videos were made at SVA. Eventually, this class led her to create a studio at home, where she currently works.

Most of Cohen’s videos have their basis in stop-motion animation that is then processed extensively with color-keying and layering. Equal parts raw, vintage, and feminine, the bulk of the found images she uses are drawn from thrift stores, flea markets, old books, and random objects left on the street. Like her process itself, which is most often guided by a “feel” as opposed to rigidly planned processes, Cohen prefers to leave the bulk of her process up to random discovery and experimentation.

“I don’t print things out from the internet but instead like to find the actual raw materials, ‘by chance’,” she explains.” Then I cut out the images right from the book, or take the books to a copy shop and make tons of copies — blow things up, or reduce them, colorize them, all on the copy machine. Once I have the cut outs, I plan scenes — make backgrounds, and see how I will arrange the cut-outs on top.”

 

“I like images that contain mystery… strange rooms from old books and glamorous ladies of the ’30s and ’40s… and the way printing and inks were different in the past. The colors and papers have a richness that you don’t see anymore… What appeals to me is the potency in the image — the object itself, or the mysterious atmosphere it holds. A truly beautiful image has the power open up this whole inner world; it’s like a visual ‘key’ that unlocks and fires up your imagination.”
– Alice Cohen, on images she gravitates towards

 

Because animation is an extremely time-intensive project, Cohen generally keeps her videos close to heart until they are in their final stages, at which point she offers them up for critique.

“I will often do one or two revisions… but since it’s animation, and a very time-consuming process, I’m not willing to completely overhaul a video,” Cohen says, “but luckily have never been asked to… It’s usually just a matter of taking something out, or adding a bit more of something in.”

Up until recently, Cohen’s work has been fairly lo-fi and only minimally incorporates footage she has shot herself, but her process and visual style are slowly changing. Her most recent music video for Archie Bronson’s “White Relief” shows a fine degree more polish that her previous efforts, for which Cohen is glad.

“I consider the way I work to be pretty primitive and intuitive, but I do try to put as much finesse as I can into the way I do things,” she explains, crediting much of the polish to being able to hire an assistant this time around. “I conceptualized different sections for the video… a city street scene, a garden with statues, a jungle scene, and an outer space section – so this allowed me to organize these various groupings of cut-outs and backgrounds. I also put together some long, scrolling backgrounds, which allowed for longer, continuous pans of certain scenes, which made it a bit more interesting I think.”

In the near future, one can expect Cohen’s work to become even more expansive and deliberate, as she has newfound desires to work more with film, costumes, actors, and make-up, as well as create semi-narrative pieces and impressionistic documentaries. Her short film, “Perfumes of Venus”, has been released recently, and fans of her music can expect a new release in 2015.

 

“Most songs have a structure, so I’m thinking, ‘The verses should look like this’, ‘The choruses should look like that’, etc. There’s usually a “feel” to the intro, where I like to establish the tone of the piece, and sometimes a climax for the ending… so all those dynamics come into play. Imagery and content is part of it; pacing and flow is the other part of it. The only real philosophy is just to visually capture the song and vibe of the band. Some videos do take on a ‘life of their own’ while others are more straightforward. Sometimes a band will have a sort of ‘story’ or theme that they want to see, but more often it’s impressionistic. I like to have a surreal, psychedelic or dreamlike quality usually.”
– Alice Cohen, on structuring and visualizing her work


Alice Cohen’s Retrospective Music Video Gallery

Below, we run through a hand-picked selection of Cohen’s music videos as she gives small insights into their creation.

Archie Bronson – “In White Relief” Music Video (2014)

“The words ‘white relief’ were what stood out visually to me at first. My initial thought was to have live human faces with white make-up, but later came up with the idea of white marble statues, which appear throughout the vid. There was also a line about sand, so I got actual sand to animate… coming out of the statues’ eyes, and having statues arise out of sand, or crumble away to nothing was a running theme in the video, which seemed to fit with the lyrics.”

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