Rainbow Selection by electronic iconoclast/hardware genius VCR5 gives me so many feels. That’s because it’s source material consists of audio tracks pulled directly from the obsolete physical medium Joe Greathouse, a contemporary in age, and I experienced these television mini-series, music videos and movies on for the first time: namely VCR’s. VCR5’s mere existence supports the argument that many music critics have been making every time a seismic shift in recording happens, the medium matters. And in the case of Rainbow Selector’s 28 samples from films such as Legend, Willow, Sister Act, Star Wars and min-series such as Merlin, none of them would sound quite the same without the woozy, fuzzed-out qualities of VHS audio. The medium both provides unique tonal qualities and the context for this art project.
To be clear, Rainbow Selection is not necessarily an album, but rather a choose your own adventure style source for sampling by DJ’s, VJ’s and musicians. Rainbow Selector comes with a user manual that is pretty much required reading before approaching something like this, so here’s a mini-tutorial on how to utilize this as a musician or enjoy as a home listener. Rainbow Selector comes with two DVDs containing 14 three minute samples Greathouse has selected from VHS tapes and manipulated with VCR5’s ear for playful melody, maxed out 8-bit sound palate and bending pitches courtesy of VCR5’s 909 drum machine. To enjoy at home you have a few options. In the “Jukebox mode” you come to a screen with a Mortal Kombat style menu which allows you to choose 28 distinct characters pulled from classic 80’s and 90’s films, TV shows and pop icons. Each character contains a three-minute loop that can be listened to for audio pleasure, or if you sync your Korg ER-1 to the flashing dots, you are able to sample the audio and visual loop to use and re-use in whatever sonic pastiche you can think of conjuring. The samples range from ambient synthscapes to straightforward sampling utilized in hip-hop’s golden age. Greathouse also includes commentary of the source material - why he chose it, his opinions on it as a piece of ephemera – as well as bios of each of the characters.
For those who wish to remix or use Rainbow Selecton strictly for source material, VCR5 has included instructions on how to sync your korg ER-1 in the ”Instrument Mode” to endlessly manipulate the audio and visual material to create infinite remixes of Rainbow Selection at a higher fidelity than the Jukebox mode.
Medium matters. And in the case of VCR5 the medium of VCR cassettes not only inform the process in which Greathouse makes his music but affects the overall tonal quality of these samples. The extra bit of tremolo on synth and strings in epic sweeping soundtracks, the tracking lines and extra bit of fuzz on the image; these analog artifacts root sound qualities to our memories, creating an inexplicable link between medium and the intertwining ball of aesthetic, marketing, nostalgia and technology.