DPV First Anniversary Special – An Interview with Harvey Benschoter

1 May

You might be able to trace the roots in the animations of Harvey Benschoter back to that joyous sense of anarchy we find everywhere in the likes of Monty Python or Frank Zappa. But there is a very important difference today, which he points out in the interview he was nice enough to give us last week.
While the basic forms of psychedelic culture might have developed with the determination and within the limitations of a counterculture, not only its artefacts but also its attitude of transgression and exploration has now mingled with everyday’s expression. Here on DPV we have seen psychedelic commercials, lots of psychedelic music clips, psychedelic video games e.a. (just browse the categories on this blog). Psychedelic culture is no longer a cosy niche but a major part of our cultural consciousness, the very way we percieve and live our everyday life.
But with the limitation of the countercultural stance it loses its clear definition and purpose as well. So beyond reaction, let’s sharpen our awareness once again.

Just as flashing light effects and pulsing color patterns have become a common sight, the most common and available things might become the sight or sound or smell that will blow our mind.
Henry Miller once put it that way: getting drunk on pure water.

How did you encounter the weird and the psychedelic in the first
place and what kept you coming back for more?

I guess I was first exposed to things weird and psychedelic through music, much of it through skateboarding culture. I was introduced to a lot of great music early on like The Dead Milkmen, Butt Hole Surfers, experimental tracks on Ministry albums, early Cure b-sides, and an old Frank Zappa mix tape my dad gave me. My interest grew from there. For whatever reason, I’m naturally drawn to weird stuff. Maybe it had something to do with how bland so much of mainstream culture seemed to me. Now though, mainstream culture itself often seems bizarre and psychedelic, even if unintentionally so. Sports mascots, television commercials, and Christmas light displays, are a few random examples. Whatever sparked my interest, I think it now has less to do with reacting against anything, and more just that I see value in weirdness for its own sake.

In comic strips and animation psychedelic themes seem to be around from early on (Little Nemo and Dumbo or Fantasia come to mind).
How are these things connected for you or how did these things come together in your own work?

There’s something inherently strange and dreamlike about animation as a medium (and comics too, for that matter), so it would be surprising if those kinds of themes didn’t show up. Part of it, I’m sure, has to do with the cultural climate those early works were made in, but I don’t feel qualified to really speculate about that too much.

Psychedelia is all about exploring the subconscious, amplifying and distorting it. And that’s something I’m interested in doing with animation.

There are a lot of ways to travel the brainwaves widely available these days.
Is there a way you clearly prefer, a way you think is underrated or
one you’d simply like to point out?

Well, I don’t take any drugs. But there are other ways to alter consciousness, as you mentioned. I never could get the hang of meditation. Music, or really, sound in general, is a powerful way to alter consciousness. It’s also a great way to generate visual ideas. When I’m working on an animation, I start with the music I’m synchronizing it to, and create a basic motion guide, which is just an abstract animated sketch of how it feels to me. Everything else is built on that.

I guess there’s always sensory deprivation chambers too. Not sure if anyone still uses those. If you watch the movie Altered States you might get the idea that going into one of those tanks will make you enter a primitive caveman state of mind, and that you’ll end up running around killing and eating zoo animals. At least that’s my memory of the movie. It’s been a few years since I saw it. Pretty ridiculous movie, by the way.

(Vile house was winner of the 2007 Chicago Underground Film Festival in the category “Best Music Video”)


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