I am in Bungalows and Bears in Sheffield to meet a man who is a broadcaster, producer, performer and audiovisual artist. Not only has he worked on major blockbusters such as Mission Impossible and James Bond, he has collaborated with AV act, Eclectic Method, has released an album with Michael E called ‘Secrets Like These’ and has entertained many fans with his audiovisual remixes of Kill Bill, ‘The Bride Vs. Charlie North’, explosive scenes from ‘Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen’ and cleverly constructed his own videos, ‘Breakbeat Cooking’ and ‘Grow Your Own’.
This is Charlie North. Here we talk AV performances, embracing new technology, and why being ‘mugged by a gang of angry iPods’ is not always such a bad thing.
As we make our introductions, Charlie North asks if I know where he can buy VHS tapes. Though a surprisingly old school approach to video and music production, Charlie’s years of production experience suggest he is far from afraid of new technology. In fact, it is his ability to combine old and new techniques that make his AV work so interesting. Looking at his ‘AV Performance Showreel’ it is easy to see that it is not only his technique but his style that is eclectic, from the mash up of 1940’s ‘Second Chorus’ in which we see a dancing Fred Astaire to the modern homemade ‘Breakbeat Cooking’ the next. The interesting thing about the latter is that everyday noises: the tapping of spoons, the bubbling of water and the clashing of plates become sound effects, which are then remixed into a full length song.
I ask Charlie North how he creates these audiovisual tracks, ‘The way I tend to do it, is to work with small pieces of video. So if someone asks me to remix a film for example, what I might do is to break it down into very small parts then into even smaller parts again.’ He gives me an example of, ‘a particularly nice piece in Blade Runner where Harrison Ford is just playing one note on a piano.’ He summarises, ‘It’s a bit like collecting audio samples but instead of just keeping the audio, you’re keeping the visual element as well.’ Simple in theory, but the ‘difficulty’ comes when the two do not align, ‘You might have a great sound but visually it doesn’t look right.’ He refers to his remix of non-stop action film, Transformers 2, ‘I’ll have a really good explosion but the visual is people running away. Sometimes you have to jig it to make it work.’
On the subject of something old, something new, Charlie’s movement into video production began ‘when people stopped buying records.’ Realising his potential for creating both music and video, he decided to ‘marry the two together.’ Although, he has moved with the times, Charlie insists he treats his work in an ‘old school way.’ He explains that by focusing on the music first, ‘the visuals then show themselves’ afterwards which can create a ‘stuttered effect’. This intriguing effect can be seen in ‘The Bride VS Charlie North’, in which the Kill Bill character can be seen ‘rocking’ back and forth in various fight scenes. Charlie is positive about the changes that have taken place with technology in the last couple of years. I ask if audiovisual is becoming more accessible, ‘When people come to grips with the technology, more people will be doing it. I think it’s great!’ It just goes to show that old technology need not fear the invasion of the new. Well, perhaps a little, as Charlie vividly comments on the collision of old and new technology, ‘It’s like having your video collection mugged by a gang of angry iPods.’
So what does an audience make of Charlie North’s AV performances? Though he has played the Barnsley Lucorum and Bomfest this year, not everyone has received Charlie’s art form with open arms, ‘A lot of people will say, ‘I don’t understand.’’ He explains that rock audiences appear to ‘get’ him more than club audiences do. Another factor is that club venues do not always having ‘the facilities’ to support the visuals. It may be that people mistake Charlie for a DJ with visuals thrown in. After all, AV artists work in a completely different way to DJs. Charlie explains that club promoters do not always consider the preparation that goes into a show, ‘They want a continuous beat for a two hour set. Bearing in mind it takes two weeks to make one track.’ Aside from this ‘There are no rules’ to AV work.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_eORLNyMac
I ask if he adds much else to the remixes when performing live. The ‘Second Chorus’ remix, I’ve added nothing to that.’ Charlie says that he did however, ‘add beats’ to ‘Breakbeat Cooking’ as the original, ‘just wasn’t interesting enough for the dance floor.’ Following on from this, we discuss the assumption that AV performances are not ‘Live Music’. Charlie disagrees, ‘People have had a rigid view of what a band should be. If it’s a guy on a pogo stick and a guy with a didgeridoo … If it’s good, it’s good!’ As surreal as that sounds, he makes a good point. Furthermore, Charlie is delighted that artists are now ‘allowed to embrace technology.’ And that we live in an age where ‘You can have a laptop on stage.’
Finally, I ask Charlie about his other music, ‘The Charlie North Michael E Project’ from which the album, ‘Secret Like These’ has emerged. Many of Charlie’s chilled out tracks including ‘Early Morning Call’ and ‘Flying Home’ which are available to download for free from the website. He tells me he is influenced by AV music and artists such as Jon Hopkins and says he admires Imogen Heap, ‘because she embraces technology in her music.’ More recently, Charlie has remixed the track, ‘Outta Sight’ for New York based AV act, Eclectic Method, which features the vocals of Chuck D from Public Enemy, expected to be released next month. I suggest the idea that once someone has placed their art into the public sphere, the public are then allowed to interpret it as they like, to which he replies, ‘Since working with Eclectic Method, I’ve learned a lot from how they approach a project. It becomes a conversation. People can download and put their own interpretation on it. Creativity is no longer a monologue.’ To finish I ask which three words describe Charlie North. He replies, ‘Create, perform and remix.’