Ray Concepcion: A Collage of Thoughts

The Brooklyn DIY documentarian on his long, storied relationship with Titus Andronicus

Ray Concepcion

Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles has a lot on his mind. Their new, Bob Mould-produced album An Obelisk, out Friday, looks at the top of such phallic pyramids and sees the consolidation of power at the tip of a spear, just like a centrifuge or gravitron carnival ride.

His gripes with the intersection of art and late-capitalist content commodification, meanwhile, turn this collection of songs into an urgent punk cycle about an artist searching for their personal responsibility and their role in the shitty, algorithmically-indentured music industry.

While Titus Andronicus are no ordinary rock’n’rollers for asking these questions, much of their knack driving subtext in their projects home through supplemental videos and documentary goes to a man named Ray Concepcion, a filmmaker and documentarian who came up to the mid-aughts Brooklyn DIY scene and helped compose a visual narrative with many of that era’s greatest acts. Chief among them is Titus Andronicus, for whom Concepcion has directed multiple visual projects.

Ahead of An Obelisk, Concepcion linked with Stickles to create a “comedy in theory” sitcom pilot, ST@CKS, that looks the music industry in the eyes with an appropriately deadpan level of raised eyebrows. After my chat with Stickles, Concepcion spoke to me over email about his relationship with the songwriter, Titus Andronicus, and Concepcion’s collaborative approach for one of the ambitious, subversive multimedia alum rollout stunts in recorded history.

 

VIDEO: Titus Andronicus – “ST@CKS” (Pilot Episode of “comedy in theory” sitcom about the music industry)

How did your time chronicling all the great bands from BK’s latest DIY heyday in the early aughts get you and Paddy so close?

Once upon a time — in a place that has been cemented into the annals of art history — there were a cluster of DIY spaces that provided a safe haven for some of the most creative and exuberant folks that I’ve ever met — it was an absolute pleasure to share the same air. The energy of that era was palpable and infectious. People that felt those empowering vibes were also aware that the energy was quickly diminishing. The bustle of progress was undeniable — the jolts of change were shaking the pavement. Preserving that era’s essence became a form of community service, knowing very well that nothing (good or bad) holds up.

At that time, Patrick Stickles (hereafter Stacks) and I had a mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s art, a feeling that lingers to this day. We also shared an affinity and absolute love for all of the happenings that were going down. We would constantly run into each other at shows, specifically Shea Stadium in Bushwick. These encounters allowed us to “chop it up” and get close. Naturally, these brief encounters planted a seed that blossomed into a friendship, a relationship that I am wholeheartedly grateful for.

 

How has your approach to working visuals with TA changed over the years.

Collaborating with Stacks and Co. is always a pleasure — it’s a call that is greeted with waves of enthusiasm. At this point, our union of vibes has reached a certain wavelength, its airy timbre shimmers with open-mindedness. It’s a certain kind waveform that peaks and drops in all the right ways.

Our collective approach to “visuals” reflects the zeitgeist and encompasses the weight of the world. ST@CKS is expounding the elements of one particular existence that stirs within An Obelisk.

The way in which we approach a work of art is constantly in flux. Adaptability (I believe) is the key to a gateway of vast possibilities, and we take our time to weigh those options judiciously.

Still from ST@CKS

How did you storyboard Patrick’s vision to capture the surreal exaggerations that make the film so dreamlike and, ahem, visceral?

A “collage of thoughts” would be an accurate descriptor for the process. To be fair and honest, I urged Stacks to give himself a “Co-Director” credit because his mind was all over the illustrated pages. We don’t like to commit too much to those pages as they are merely a template for visceral exercises. Our way of bouncing ideas is very natural — its primary objective is to substitute superficial “exaggerations” with genuine expressions that represent our core, whatever that disposition feels like at any given moment.

“Shoot for the edit” is one technique that allows the process to flow freely. It is one tool that allows us to break the shackles of contrived “rules” and gives us the space to create something that will resonate with whomever decides to take the ride.

 

How much does French New Wave, cinéma vérité and other distinctive styles/eras inform your work?

RC: A lot! (French / Czech / Japanese / German / American / Polish / Romanian / Cuban, etc.) waves and their offspring have seeped deeply into my core. I can chatter for hours about the influence of life, cinema, architecture, literature, etc., but for the sake of brevity — full stop.

Form is the essence of art, so my “style” (for lack of a better word) is really just an amalgamation of everything that exists in various shapes and waves.

During the early stages of prep for this particular project I dedicated a few days to really soak in Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. This film opened a few more doors to a very specific collection of ideas that have been ruminating in my head for a long time. Many of those ideas are present in +@’s “A Productive Cough: The Documentary,” but Chantal’s film resonated and touched my heart at the right moment as we were preparing the blueprint for this project.

Luckily, it also reached me at a vulnerable time in my life, a time that was spent reaching for an exemplary document of “Slow Cinema,” a way of approaching images and sounds that repudiate [this] era of instant gratification.

 

Justin Joffe

Justin Joffe writes about music, art, technology, and other cultural treasures. Reach him on Twitter @joffaloff.

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