Sir Sampleton: An Interview with Paul Slocum and John Michael Boling

by Paddy Johnson on August 3, 2011 Interview

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Stoners beware: Sir Sampleton is targeting you. At least that's what artist and co-creator of the Sir Samplteon video John Michael Boling says of the app's new commercial. Designed by Paul Slocum, the app allows you to record any sound, and then turns it into a scale of musical notes, which can be played like organ keys on your touch screen. Unsurprisingly, Sampleton is popular among children and those who like to inhale green substances. Slocum teamed up with artist and former Rhizome blogger John Michael Boling and artists Javier Morales, Julian Bozeman, and John Crowe to create an equally exciting made-for-web commercial, to the tune of 90s, late-night cable. A few days ago, I talked to them about the project.

Paddy Johnson:  So can you talk a little bit about the purpose of the video?

Paul Slocum: Originally I hired John Michael to do a promotional video for Sir Sampleton and also to do a website, so that was what started it.

John Michael Boling:  I hadn’t ever seen any one try to do a traditional commercial for an iPhone app, especially one that was never going to be broadcast on T.V., so I assembled a team of friends to come to New York and bang up the video.  It was myself, Javier Morales, John Crowe, and Julian Bozeman.  The idea was to make something that was strange in a sense that would be interesting, because if you pitch to people, they’re just going to ignore it, so we tried to offer some sense of off-beat, interesting quality that would have value beyond the fact that it was just a commercial.

Paddy:  There’s something slightly strange about watching a video that’s done in the style of an 80’s and 90’s infomercial, then hearing at the end “If you like this, touch your screen.” It is very asynchronous.

John:  Yea, we were trying to play up that aspect of it.  The point of the commercial was [to mimic] late-night T.V. infomercial, older music collections, and the endlessly-scrolling tracks of collections of music you could buy. We wanted to play up the strange juxtaposition between a really in-your-face style T.V. commercial and the fact that this is going to be made for an iPhone app and broadcast on the internet.

Paul:  We also discussed trying to get it on T.V., too.  John Michael had the idea to run it on Adult Swim sometime. They probably won’t, but it’s actually a great idea.

John:  Google has a pretty good service where you can actually buy T.V. time online, upload a Quicktime file, and they’ll play it at three in the morning on Fox News if you want it to.  I think that would be pretty interesting as well.

Paddy:  Are the rates for something like that reasonable, or kind of out of sight?

John:  I think they’re reasonable if it’s on a regional run, and it depends on the time.  I think the way commercial slots work is that the network will have their grade of commercial, then there’s the national commercial, then there’s a spot for regional commercials, pretty much on most channels at most time slots. So I think it’s fairly reasonable; you can get runs for twelve to twenty bucks for late-night.

Paul:  I think you can be really specific too. I was thinking “Well, we could just run it in Williamsburg.” (laughs)

Paddy:  It actually seems something that would be well-suited for something like Attack of the Show, because they’re constantly talking about internet culture, too, in a way that makes sense for T.V. In terms of the breadth of use, are you guys aware of who’s using it and what they’re using it for?

Paul:  No, not exactly. I get a little bit of feedback; I know that some people are using it for music, and it’s really popular with kids. But I don’t have any data on who is using it or how.

John: I have a lot of friends who are musicians who use it for writing up song ideas really quick, memo-style, just to sort of play something out.

Sir Sampleton at work

Paddy:  So if a lot of kids are downloading the Sir Sampleton app, do you think that this commercial will familiarize kids with Kurt Cobain?  Like the first things they’ll start to play will be hits from the 80s and 90s?

John:  There’s older stuff, I don’t think all the references will be immediately graspable by the younger people, but the purpose of the video was to try to activate the twenty-something stoner crowd I guess.

Paul:  I made it as an instrument for myself. I’d kinda been thinking about that with the features I’ve been adding. I’d want to use it as an instrument for my band.

John:  All the songs you hear we actually made on the Sir Sampleton. Javier and Julian basically took the samples themselves, worked out the arrangements, and played it all on the Sir Sampleton. We’re going to release mp3s of the [full] songs because you only see four or five-second snippets of them.

Paddy:  Are the songs going to cost something?

John:  No, we’d just put them out for free.

Paul:  Something interesting about making Sir Sampleton and the video was that we kind of figured out ways to make art and make a commercial.  We’re kind of doing what we want and finding a way to make money off of it.

John:  Yea, it’s a nice hybrid approach.  We didn’t approach the video as a commercial, but just the same as one of the art videos we’d made.  I still really like it.  The fact that it’s an advertisement for something doesn’t diminish its value to me.

Paul:  Ultimately, when you’re making art, you’re dealing with the same commercial issues…I think it worked out great, it feels like a fun project to me.

John:  We wanted the video to have value beyond that: like some one could not care to download it, and still get value from the video.  And it could continue to generate interest over time, because it has that sort of retro aesthetic.

Paddy: So based on what you're saying, it seems you're interested in reaching the stoner audience but you weren’t trying to make something so targeted that you ended up with a commercial for kids.

Paul:  Well, Magic Carpet I think is a better example of one that is specifically for the stoner audience. (laughs) I mean, nobody buys that, really, like a few people here and there.  But Sir Sampleton, I think, appeals to a lot of people.

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To me, it’s kind of a continuation of the software instruments I was making before for the Atari 2600 and Commodore, and I’ve been selling them online for a while.  They’re actually kind of popular, I’ve sold a lot of them, but obviously not that many people have an Atari or a Commadore.  So I was thinking I could make software instruments for a platform that lots of people actually have.

You can download Sir Sampleton on iTunes and Softofttechech‘s website.

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