Look up! There's a slightly satanic looking contraption strapped to a telephone pole just higher than your sightline and it has a tempting headphone jack beckoning your crusty earbud. Do you take the risk and plug in? Perhaps you're waiting for a bus on the westside, or trolling the art galleries in Chinatown, but as a dim light begins to blink, sound fades up out of nowhere, and you are instantly transported. Close your eyes for a sonic stroll after a night rain in the streets of Morocco, Paris, or even an otherwise drab suburb of Chicago. This mysterious, cinematic music sometimes borrows its bass line from hardcore, samples and mixes like hip hop, and transforms into its own via a classic-sounding woman's voice, reminiscent of early Portishead or Bond girl Shirley Bassey. Yet it is delivered with a modern edge. These anonymous tunes, identified only by a black or white heart pierced by an upside down cross, could quite possibly provide the perfect cure for a case of creative block and are only discharged via a secretive, bomb-like metal boxes found on the streets of Los Angeles.
Congratulations to the lucky few who have previously discovered the work of Cross My Heart Hope To Die, an L.A. multimedia collective made up of Andrew Kline, DJ Muggs, Brevi and Sean Bonner. For the rest of us, they have officially launched the next step of the CMHHTD project with a proper gallery show at Subliminal Projects in Echo Park, (up through August 23) and an EP release, Vita E Morte, both two years in the making. If their names sound familiar, they are all local luminaries. Andrew Kline is a 20-year member of Strife, an iconic hardcore band originally hailing from Thousand Oaks. DJ Muggs is a founding member of Los Angeles' Soul Assassins and is the legendary producer behind Cypress Hill (he's working on an album now). Brevi, the vocalist and empowered lyricist behind the project is a featured hip hop talent on tracks with Xzibit, Snoop and 50 Cent. Sean Bonner is an eclectic savant, who has successfully dabbled in music, with his own label Toybox Records; art, with his gallery sixspace; and tech with Safecast, a non profit that monitors and publishes environmental data.
"We chose the road we're walking down now when everybody got involved," Kline explains. "We all chose the name together; we came up with the idea for the music boxes, and doing the whole campaign. Before we ever released a song anywhere, we had these street boxes we were placing all over the world."
Hidden in Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Rome, Prague, and Vienna, or wherever Kline or Bonner's other work sent them, Bonner created the unique circuit technology for the battery powered music boxes. They're automatically triggered to switch on as you plug in your headphones, and yes, the patent is pending. Second generation gallery boxes have been developed specifically for indoor presentation purposes. They hold a slightly advanced circuit system and their industrial switches are a new, fun addition. For these, the headphones are supplied and you have to hold the button to play. Despite the release of the new EP, CMHHTD reserves some tracks specifically for their own musical dead drops. Fifteen boxes currently reside on the streets now, with plans for up to 20 more installed in L.A. in the coming weeks, marking the Subliminal Projects show.
However, CMHHTD wasn't content with just fulfilling their promise to dominate on the music side. It was important that their collaboration was an interactive experience for them as well as their audience. Consequently, it doesn't stop unfolding, via photographic art prints, thoughtfully crafted objects, video installations and a dynamic multimedia live performance.
The photographs, taken by Kline, Bonner, or clipped from existing CMHHTD videos are treated like sound files and printed. These images, mostly from nature, are databent, a process where the context of the digital image file is analyzed as pure data. This data is then imported into an audio editor and the file is modified as if it were a song being edited. The file is then re-exported as raw data and an image editor is 'tricked' into opening it. They are essentially photos being treated like songs. The resulting visual glitches are then high-quality printed and titled for the CMHHTD tune that it best represents.
Pushing the interconnectedness envelope between art and music, life and death even further is CMHHTD's "90-seconds" series. Here, the horizontal EKG-like images of audio data are taken from an individual CMHHTD song. Each print represents what 90 seconds of a song looks like if only the raw data, perhaps its heart beat, is examined without contextualizing it as an audio file. These sound files from the songs are then printed like images and framed like traditional works of art. The resulting piece is signed by everyone in CMHHTD.
More tangible art-like objects can be found as 3D-printed skulls, a collaboration between CMHHTD and actor/author Will Wheaton referencing the Dada movement. These fun, plasticine sculptures successfully continue the show's memento mori theme, like silky, alien eggs grown in bell jars. Their dayglo colored shells are embellished with nail polish drips in appropriate contemporary goth colors: black, vamp purple, gray and gold.
The Cross My Heart Hope To Die approach, much more than an expensive marketing ploy or sophisticated art hack, is meant to creatively challenge the way people discover their work, (or not), referencing the days of internet-free record store visits where cover art would be studied and even the thank-yous in the liner notes would be read. Next wave technology tasked with producing a beautiful, at the very least, interesting analog result. Later, the project is off to Tokyo and Vienna, but the ideas, like the four talented, energetic, people who make them, are inspired locally.
"I think that Los Angeles is one the few places where something like this could ever happen," Bonner offers. "There is such a wealth of creative people doing different projects and different things that sort of work together. In a lot of other cities, you don't have that kind of collaboration. Everybody's very guarded, worried that other people are going to steal their ideas. At least I find people here are much more excited about working with other people."
Photographs courtesy of Sam Graham Photography