The Lab Rats of ESP TV
The absolute strangeness of ESP TV is enchanted swamp paste squeezed from a pastry bag onto the cupcake of your brain. Not to be confused with Psychic TV, it's a show recorded with live performance presented by a host in a gallery/loft/live space called Louis V E.S.P. in Brooklyn, in front of an audience, and simultaneously green-screen remixed, edited. Later, it's aired on actual New York public access television. With sounds, future subpersonalities, karaoke video aesthetics, clipped conceptualization, and video recording equipment invented before you were born, the people who make it are harnessing some cthonic rainbow biorhythm that a body strives to understand. Main founders Scott Kiernan and Ethan Miller are obsessive creative types who have no such thing as free time, always working on something and pissing you off as their friend because don’t they have like even an hour to grab dinner or a drink or something? Jesus Christ, put your project down for a second and let’s catch up. In fact, we waited forever for them to have time to talk to us about their laboratory.
VICE: ESP TV reminds me a little of the new wave segments of Night Flight back in the 80s, or almost like a demented version of Downtown with Julie Brown.
Scott Kiernan: Once it got going and we had some of the gear, we were definitely thinking of stuff like New Wave Theatre, TV Party, and the like....And the Robin Byrd Show is a direct inspiration for Bradford Nordeen’s Mary Boom character, who is a frequent host of the show.
Instead of the neon heart sign Robin Byrd used to have behind her we use an image of the broken neon Louis Vuitton sign hanging in our loft. That sign also gave the gallery its name. A friend worked for these fabricators who were gonna junk it after it was used at an event at the Bowery Ballroom. So she asked me if I wanted it for our place and I said sure. As they were bringing it over they broke the "uitton" part of the neon so that it just said "Louis V." They asked me if I still wanted it and I said, "Yes, I want it more now!" It says Louis V, like King Louis the Fifth or "Louis the Lazy," the do-nothing king of France.
You seem like the opposite of lazy to me. You and Ethan Miller do a lot. I mean, you live in the gallery too, right?
Yes, Louis V E.S.P. exists in a loft we live in the back of, with the front room being the primary gallery space. We have regular exhibitions and screenings, monthly if not more often. We're also both visual artists with full-time jobs who also play music (sometimes together) and run this place and produce the TV show.
We had talked about putting this on cable access but we had probably anticipated it as a one-time thing. We wanted to be live mixing and green-screening to a VCR, and set it up in a way so that the audience could see the show being made as we did it, projected above the stage. We wanted these people who were attending an opening to witness the making of the show, and to be in it. And we wanted the show to have a low budget cable-access look, which was fortunately unavoidable given our dedication to gear that most people consider out of date, as well as regularly chaotic tapings. But it was also really about performing the show.
Yeah, wait, what are you using to make this look so good?
All the gear is mostly TVs from the street or old cameras bought for a couple of bucks off of eBay or found in thrift shops. The mixers are these early-90s Videonics MX-1s, a popular semi-pro/home video enthusiast video mixer at the time. They are loaded with better than cheesy effects. No star wipes!
Why's it important to get it on cable access rather than just on YouTube or something, like everyone else?
There’s a bunch of reasons. Cable access, especially in NYC from the early 80s and late 70s, has its own traditions and heroes that we do play off of. There's also a certain community around watching something at a bar on a TV--usually sports, presidential debates, or disasters. I assume we fall into some combination of those three, with a firm grounding in the latter.
I’d agree with that.
We really wanted it to be the kind of thing where the bartender could just flick the remote onto our show at some bar in NYC and it would be there. Of course then we ran into the fact that Time Warner seems to own everything and charge ridiculous rates for bars to get their cable package, so it became a bit more difficult to find a place where that could happen, but we've found a few places.
It's also kind of cool to think that someone might just be home in their crappy NYC apartment on Tuesday night, flick through the TV stations, and see Mary Boom or some weird video mix of a local band or one of the videos we selected etc and be into it.
And aesthetically it seems pretty fit for cable access.
Yes, the show is taped on old gear definitely before the ubiquity of online anything. Most of it is from the early 80s or 90s so it also just looks right on a TV set. And probably not a flat screen either. But we realize that everyone else who wants to see it isn't going to be able to watch it that way so we do put them online, but only after they've debuted on the actual TV airing in NYC. We also host screening parties at places like Silvershed's rooftop, where we get a bunch of people to come out and do an ESP TV marathon with us.
There are so many awesome freaks on ESP TV... I was worried they weren't in NYC anymore. Thank you for restoring my faith.
From the start friends have been involved. Mary Boom with her partner Coco (aka Hayley Blatte) is a character Bradford created that's sort of a mix of Robin Byrd and a washed-up Chelsea gallery owner. Bradford was already a friend who does this excellent screening series in NYC called Dirty Looks. He latched onto the idea right away and was enthusiastic from the start. Other people like Rachel Mason (who also curated our current show at the Louis V E.S.P. gallery space, Organs in the Snow) got involved in the show through suggestions of trusted friends. All were so impressive that we've kept working with them.
You just had a taping. Who showed up and what happened?
I'm not totally sure who was there and who wasn't! I barely got to talk to any friends who weren’t performing/helping out because I was running around like a lunatic trying to make sure everything was running smoothly. Either that or I was sitting behind a monitor with Ethan mixing the video and chain smoking.
Come on, give me the dirt.
The last taping was great in the end, and we got great footage, but it was fraught with technical mini-disasters. Regal Degal's amp blew up two songs into their set. The projector had a meltdown during Erica Magrey's performance. YOU. ran strobe lights, which freaked the cameras out at first, but eventually ended up working out really well on tape.
It’s live. Tell me about the unexpected moments and highlights, please.
We had a streaker or three at the first Schoolhouse taping. Don’t know if that’s a highlight or a lowlight though. Guess it depends on how you see it. People at the tapings never ask us, "Hey, why don't you just use a laptop?" Instead they're curious to see what were doing or where all the messes of wires go. That's encouraging. The biggest highlight in general though is seeing that there are people who are into it and excited about this thing, which is very unscripted. People are dying for something that's a little messy and up to chance.
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