Artist Insight: The Creative Process of Seb Choe
Seb Choe is a musician, filmmaker, visual artist, and architect. Based in Brooklyn, NY Pronouns: They/Them
Where are you from originally? Tell me a bit about yourself.
I’m from a small lake city in Washington State called Redmond. I’m Korean. Spent a lot of time in the woods and at the skatepark growing up... was playing in bands the whole time. Very inspired by the punk scene in Seattle and would go to a lot of shows.
How did you first become interested in visual culture, art, music, photography? What is your journey to all of this?
I started out playing in more traditional punk bands which grew into a solo project where I was experimenting with multimedia. I was making a lot of loops with synthesizers and samples, and would make video collages to project while I performed to make it less boring. From there, I became interested in working between different types of media in an experimental, fun way. In making those early collages, I learned how to edit video really precisely. I started making experimental films and playing with narrative and documentary. Eventually that led to doing a few music videos, and along the way I would do the album art. I was moving between different mediums and wanting to control the vibe of whatever I was working on at the time for a cohesive vision.
Once I started studying architecture, I was still really interested in working with poetry, photo-collage and music, so I tried to blend those. Learning how to make architectural drawings, digital models and renderings was cool because it was another medium to incorporate into my practice.
How did you decide to study architecture? To me your architecture renderings are artwork and I think of them all as aesthetic pieces.
I was originally studying neuroscience because I was really into lucid dreams in middle and high school, and I was trying to find out the science behind energies, realities, feelings and memories. But it was missing a lot of the creative vibe that I was on in high school. At that point, I was being exposed to more radical politics in terms of the people I was hanging out with, and I wanted to do something with a justice component. I took an architecture studio and really liked having the built environment as a site to work on and to be creative in, but at the same time having a lot of real-world parameters and political conditions to take into consideration. The program at Columbia was quite conceptual so there was a lot of leeway way to do weird stuff with other media, and I was inspired by what some people in the graduate school were doing.
To me you are truly a multidisciplinary artist-- you work across a lot of different media. Talk me through your different pursuits right now with film, architectural design, music. How are they influencing one another?
Rather than seeing them as discrete media I’m usually kind of project-focused and choosing whatever tools fit the job. Like one thing that wasn't in that list is organizing and educational work, which for me is just as creative a pursuit as photography or rendering. For the past two and a half years I've been working with the Rikers Education Program, working with incarcerated young men on hip-hop production or architecture and neighborhood planning. More recently I've been designing a small park in upstate New York with my friend Emily for a non-profit that reclaims blighted properties and turns them into community spaces. Most recently I've been helping out with The Architecture Lobby, which fights for fair labor practices in the discipline.
All of these projects end up demanding the use of different media, and it becomes more about having a set mission, finding the tools which will work, and then sometimes learning them on the fly. So I'm not really a purist in terms of what media I'm using. They always end up bleeding into each other and informing each other, but I don’t want the media to always dictate what I'm doing.
SB: How would you say your work has developed over the last year?
Graduating from college in this particular political climate was nuts. Coming out of an institution where you are thinking about things on a theoretical level but then seeing all of these things happen around you has been a really intense context to be immediately surrounded by. I consider myself very lucky in my day job to be able to respond to some of those things, but in terms of my art practice (not that it's necessarily divorced from my “work” practice), moving out of Harlem and moving here to this apartment in Brooklyn has been really crazy. There is so much more space to actually do music and go into the backyard or throw a show in the basement or collaborate with my roommates on music. The change of space has definitely been a really big thing: I have so much more time.
Also being in Gold Medal has been really big, because in the past I've been operating musically in a lo-fi way, just doing what I know how to do. I've been learning a lot from my bandmates, who are all pop masters. Just learning more about arrangement, production and mixing and how to do those in more innovative ways has opened up a whole new landscape in my music, which has all happened in the past year.
What project are you most excited about right now?
Very excited about this project I’m doing called Truth Pieces. My last record as Broken Spear was called True. I thought I was coming upon this one method of sampling that was the most true. I felt like I was coming upon something, but then in the past year I've kind of just thrown all of that away and been like NOOO there’s no truth that I’m coming towards! It's all about finding the truth pieces. The fragments and shards. Each one is perfect in its own universe or context, but outside of that it’s not posturing any absolutist perspective. But within itself is so perfect and makes so much sense.
The record is going to be like 16 songs ranging from 1 to 2 minutes or maybe 2 ½ minutes, but all under the typical pop song length of 3 ½ minutes. Some of them are like seeing a snippet of a scene from a movie that suggests a much larger film, but it's just a piece from it and sounds as if it’s from a really highly produced thing. One of them is an advertisement for a contemporary ideology about ecology in a kind of funny, glossy way. Then some of them are just straight pop bangers or really dark violent soundscapes.
Not trying to stick to one genre- just making each piece really refined in its own way. I might make it so that each one has an accompanying video, piece by piece.
Another cool thing that’s happening is my friend Soleil is curating a series of shows at Kinfolk 94 in Williamsburg and she invited me to do a visual installation with the hip-hop duo Jazze Belle. Having a whole space to myself to just glide will be very new.
If you could do any project without worrying about constraints of time or money what would you pursue? What’s your dream project right now?
I would want to do a fully-fledged, holistic, experimental television series because I feel like television is something I'm really inspired by right now. The last film that I did (Angel Hill) was kind of a Truth Piece from an imaginary television series. If I did one, I would want to do the script, the music, the cinematography and also the advertisements in between the sections. There was this guy named Robert Ashley who made these TV operas that are really insane.
You get so much control because you're deploying all these different types of media and you have people's attention for a long amount of time. It would be really cool to do a television series that can fold in weird architecture projects or propaganda projects or like pseudo-anthropological projects. I feel like it would be ultimate freedom. Light energy. Having a crew of people to work with. The scale of this is something that is just unimaginable to me, but that is the dream.
What are your creative influences? What is inspiring you right now?
I’ve been really inspired musically by PC Music since they started. In terms of design, there is this cool Danish duo called Metahaven that does really amazing work. There is this guy named Eyal Weizman at Goldsmiths whose Forensic Architecture project is really inspiring. I was just in Seoul and a lot of the advertisements were super inspiring: the typefaces and the drop shadows. The bevelled edges. That is the more intellectual inspiration that’s.. stimulating. But stuff that is just like FUCK is all of the 90s and early 2000s television I’ve been watching the past few years. I moved from One Tree Hill and then watched My So Called Life-
Oh I’ve never seen that!
W. G. Snuffy Walden does the music for it and it’s a lot of ring-y guitars and Oneohtrix-y marimbas and these swells with 16mm footage of Claire Danes and Jared Leto having these really intense, emo encounters in this rural area. The music from One Tree Hill was John Nordstrom who was ripping off Explosions in the Sky and using these sliding, weaving guitars and piano swells which is really beautiful. Most recently I’ve been watching Dawson’s Creek, which uses more proper 90s pop ballads.
There is something about those television shows that is so immersive and perfect. They are these super zoomed-in micro-ecologies of human interaction. Like there will be just four locations. Four characters. Everything they do is so huge even though it is so meaningless because they are in Wilmington, North Carolina. Globalization just slips away and you’re brought into this angel zone with them.
I’m also still really inspired by Naomi Punk and Gun Outfit. They both come from a Washington punk background but are now arranging music and manipulating analog sounds in really innovative ways and both have really beautiful spiritual lyricism.
'Madder Movie' by Seb Choe. Companion film to "Madder Movie: Anime and Moe in Contemporary Japan" accessible at the Journal of Art Criticism www,.journalofartcriticism.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/madder-movie-anime-and-moe-in-contemporary-japan/
What are you listening to right now?
Pop 2, Charli XCX still. It came out almost a month ago. I was deprived of pop music in high school, so in college I listened to “Call Me Maybe” a lot and then My Everything by Ariana Grande, then like 1989 came out and I listened to that obsessively. I listened to that thousands of times. Then Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen came out and I listened to that thousands of times. Then I was just waiting for the next one and it was supposed to be Tinashe, but her studio album got pushed back so I was just floating, like “I need a perfect pop album to absorb and learn from.” But now we have Pop 2.
You can see Seb play as Broken Spear at Trans-Pecos on February 14th
To see more of their work visit www.sebastianchoe.com