Kenzo Digital is New York-based multi-talented creator that works in video, audio, and mixed media to create both artistic works and commercial products. Aesthetically informed by early 90s hip-hop, his latest and most well-publicized work, City of God’s Son, is a CC-licensed “opera for the blind.” The project finds Kenzo sampling and remixing numerous sources to create a vivid sound-scape that invokes imagery and a cinematic narrative through audio.
Today, in conjunction with our interview, Kenzo is releasing the most recent addition to COGS titled City of God’s Son: Cinema for the Blind. The piece features interviews with blind musicians on “sight through sound, synesthesia” and the film itself, crafting a fascinating perspective on how our senses work in conjunction with (or without) one another. You can watch the piece, which is released under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial license, in HD at YouTube – check out a still of the video below:
We caught up with Kenzo recently to pick his brain in regards to the project generally, his approach to creation through sampling and reuse, why he chose to CC-licence this project, and much more. Read on to find out what he had to say.
photo by Tommy Agriodimas | CC BY
Can you give our readers some background on yourself and the project? What inspired you to create City of God’s Son? You call it a hip-hop opera and a ﬁlm for the blind – what do you mean by these descriptions?
I am a digital artist, video artist, director and music producer based in NY. Early 90ʼs hip hop was always a big inspiration to me growing up, it served as the soundtrack to a lot of my childhood and adventures growing up. I was really into grafﬁti as a kid, and used to sneak out of the house all the time and run around with my friends or sometimes by myself and go bombing. I considered the city at night to be kind of an altered reality. No one was around except for the junkies, prostitutes, and gangsters who occupied the same streets that by day would be bustling with business men, school kids like myself, and delivery men. I loved the fact that in my mind only a few people were privy to seeing these same streets during the day while I was entrenched in my civilian life (school and family), and at these late hours were things were pretty wild, and as a kid of course I was very excited by that. What really inspired me as a kid was also the fact that the only traces of my existence in this alternate reality were the tags and grafﬁti art left behind. Music played a huge role in this. My walkman was probably one of the most essential things going out at night, as the music was a key component to setting the mood and getting myself in the proper frame of mind to create. By experiencing the city this way, and listening to the music, everything through the night played out cinematically. So much so that it would leave these super visual impressions in my imagination that I could recall and trigger through the music.
Musicʼs relationship to time, both as a medium and a device to manipulate time, in addition to a listenerʼs historical relationship to a song is what “City of Godʼs Son” seeks to expand and explore. “City of Godʼs Son” is a hip hop opera in that it is an epic, a greek tragedy, and like opera, understanding the actual lyrics and slang is not necessary to understanding the story and experiencing the drama of the story. Understanding the slang and verses deﬁnitely adds another level of meaning and depth to the story, as well as a knowledge of hip hop music history. “City of Godʼs Son” while seemingly a strictly music focused project, is equally about gangster cinema culture as well, as references to everything from pre-code Edward G. Robinson gangster ﬂicks, to 70ʻs Japanese gangster ﬂicks like “Branded to Kill”, to “Le Cercle Rouge”, “Clockers”, “Goodfellas” and of course “City of God” litter the story and soundscape, as some of hip-hopʼs most inﬂuential artists of this generation collide with the gangster ﬁlm icons that helped deﬁne their genre. It is about weaving the various mythologies from each medium and creating a new language called “Beat Cinematic”. It is a ﬁlm for the blind in that it exists in the listenerʼs imagination and recalling of their own psychological associations to music, ﬁlm, and sound. I speciﬁcally wanted to play this for blind people because I wanted to see how blind people reacted to a ﬁlm made to be experienced sonically. I am interested in how a blind personʼs mind works like a visual sampler depending on whether the person was born blind or lost their vision along the way, and what those visual impressions mean to them now. It is also a ﬁlm for the blind in that my own artistic journey into music production was inspired to make this project. As a completely self-taught disgustingly bad keyboard player, creating the music for this project was in and of itself a very blind process in that I had to really feel out my entire way through this new world of sound.