Remixing ACMI: design-based research strikes a chord

Remixing ACMI: design-based research strikes a chord

An RMIT initiative has remixed the collection of Australia’s museum of screen culture, ACMI, as digital media researchers and practitioners explore creative possibilities during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The project has engaged composers, sound designers and video editors from the School of Design to experiment and remix sections of ACMI’s collection.

Although the original videos had been available on ACMI’s YouTube channel for some time, Dr Darrin Verhagen and a team of creative practitioners have offered a series of creative mashups, now also available for the public to enjoy.

The videos were produced by Verhagen, Senior Sound Design Lecturer in the RMIT Bachelor of Design (Digital Media), with alumnus Zeyu Li on video editing and sound designer Adam Hunt on audio.

Led by Verhagen, the team created two clips showcasing the power of sound’s relationship with moving pictures.

Verhagen said he hoped the remixes would draw more attention to the breadth of ACMI’s collection through the power of digital media.  

“Both these videos try to find a balance of playful humour, darker elements and destabilising ‘WTF?’ moments,” he said.

“Some viewers find them intensely disturbing; some completely hilarious.”

Salsa Catastrophe’s music was inspired by Cuban musical glee and paired with the 1958 film The Car Stealers – an admonition from the Council of Fire and Accident underwriters about the inevitability of youthful idleness leading to crime.

“The smashup of those two seemingly unrelated components provides an initial provocation and relied on meticulously constructed audiovisual logic to knit them together,” Verhagen said.

The spark for the soundtrack to Kick Drum Mayhem! was a power noise distorted kick drum from Melbourne industrial composer Black Lung, which is then given the Shinjuku Thief treatment with Korean percussion and Wagnerian brass. Shinjuku Thief is Verhagen’s experimental recording project.

The soundtrack is then matched with Ivan Gaal’s 1974 cult short film Applause Please, which ACMI describes as a lampoon of TV as a brainwashing medium.

“The end result is so overblown it was felt that it could provide an interesting counterweight for the zany playfulness of Applause Please, freshly edited for our increasingly minimal attention span,” Verhagen said.

Commissioned by the City of Melbourne, the project gave work to freelancers Hunt and Li, who were affected by reduced income during the pandemic.

It was also a chance to showcase how creative practitioners at RMIT partner with industry to develop innovative solutions, while highlighting the creative practice aspects of design research.

“I'm interested in the connections between open-ended creative play and applied outcomes,” Verhagen said.

“But people don’t always realise the level of creativity and innovation that is at the core of the Digital Media program.”

Although the clips appear chaotic and freewheeling, the team used a high level of forensic detail to pull apart musical elements in order to influence the emotion and perception of the works.

This followed many discussions and revisions as the team got a handle on the audiovisual logic, due to the thousands of structural relationships between the sound and the video.

Photo of Ivan Gaal’s 1974 cult short film Applause Please. Photo: ACMI Collections

ACMI Collections Manager Nick Richardson said he was delighted to see the collection used in so many new and creative ways.

“Such projects demonstrate the breadth of our collection and allow artists to demonstrate creative flair and technical proficiency,” he said.

“Providing digital access to our collection is a cornerstone of our preservation efforts.”

RMIT became ACMI’s Major Research Partner in 2019, in an expanded four-year partnership building on the successful relationship established in 2016.

Watch the clips.


Story: Aeden Ratcliffe


  • Design
  • Media & Communication
  • Industry
  • Arts and culture

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