Glitch Witch: The Sylvia Black Show Comes To YouTube
Sylvia Black is an interdisciplinary artist and musician living in LA. Cell Vision correspondent Sylvea Suydam spoke with the artist about the debut of her new series The Sylvia Black Show—out now on YouTube—and her life of Glitch art.
If Max Headroom and Elvira had a baby, she would be Sylvia Black. The LA artist, musician, and producer has channeled her humor and curiosity about life into many projects, the latest being The Sylvia Black Show. It’s an amusement ride into her mind, and the debut episode, which focuses on AI, is the perfect introduction to her almost Seapunk aesthetic. Both in front of the camera and in the editing room, her funny, glitched-out personas are both didactic and chuckle-inducing.
I spoke with the artist about the debut of her new series The Sylvia Black Show and her life of glitch art.
CELL VISION: Can you give us a little backstory about yourself as an artist?
SYLVIA BLACK: My main focus has been music for many years. When I discovered at age 18 that you could actually get a degree in music, I went to Berklee in Boston for bass guitar. I'm a bassist, singer, writer, [and] producer. I've written for major acts, toured around the world, and am constantly recording for myself and others. But my first passion was theater performance. I wanted to be an actor since I was five and pursued it until it kind of broke my heart. There weren't enough roles for my type, so I kind of left it behind.
CELL VISION: What's your type?
SYLVIA BLACK: Black/Brown female. Times have definitely changed, but when I was a kid, I was hard pressed to find one audition a month for film/TV when I lived in Los Angeles at the time.
CELL VISION: Leaving acting must have been hard, but you've been making waves musically for a while. What've you been focused on?
SYLVIA BLACK: I produced a jazz noir album for Lydia Lunch, still to be released, and my latest album, Twilight Animals (also featuring Lydia Lunch), is out now. I play bass for a doom rock/metal band called Ether Feather, with Tim Young on guitar (of the Late Late Show) and Dylan Ryan on drums (of Cursive), and also continuously tour with Telepopmusik. They brought me to Russia, China, everywhere. It's been amazing. But touring gets old, and so do I. I love nothing more than spending my life shooting and editing stuff on my computer. I don't know who I'd be without a computer. My computer is def my bestie.
"I had the gear already for my job creating and editing political videos, so I had the know-how, so why not try something?"
CELL VISION: Is that what inspired you to launch this new series?
SYLVIA BLACK: Being in lockdown last year, I watched more YouTube than ever. But having some sort of a variety show has been a dream I verbalized several years ago, and my brain just started pulling the pieces together. I had the gear already for my job creating and editing political videos, so I had the know-how, so why not try something?
CELL VISION: So this seed grew out of lockdown? I think being pushed to be resourceful and creative during lockdown is something a lot of us can relate to. But for an ambitious project like this, where did you start?
SYLVIA BLACK: I developed a rough sketch of some characters and just kind of jumped in with not too much planning, and educational videos seemed like an easier place to start, so I could do what interested me and learn something, too. With YouTube in mind, I just let my dork flag fly in a stream-of-conscious type of way.
"I'm only a control freak until I get to work with people [who] can do better than me. I'd love to meet those people."
CELL VISION: I love that mentality, that drive to just go and make stuff happen instead of waiting for opportunities to find you. In addition to being in front of the camera, you're doing everything behind the scenes as well—writing, editing, graphics?
SYLVIA BLACK: Yes, I did everything involved in getting the video done. Not even another soul to press record or tell me if I had lipstick on my teeth. Soup to nuts, from the dress to the shoot, to the edit.
CELL VISION: That's impressive!
SYLVIA BLACK: I need that solitude to get to see what I'm made of. Then I can be more free with it and have a better sense of what I need and where I want to go. I'm only a control freak until I get to work with people [who] can do better than me. I'd love to meet those people.
CELL VISION: You’re hoping that other artists and collaborators will reach out? Maybe come on board?
SYLVIA BLACK: This show is really a call to other artists to join forces with me, yeah. A kind of “if you build it they will come,” self-starter-type endeavor. Ultimately, I'd like to work with a small team of people far better at this than myself with more resources, but it's been fun just to see what I can do on my own. It's been a real trial and error as far as the aesthetic goes.
CELL VISION: You have a great combination of humor and didacticism that shines in this platform—the first episode delving into AI, what it means, its implications. With such an extensive background in so many mediums, I wonder if you have a personal history or interest in AI yourself?
SYLVIA BLACK: I do have an interest in AI. I'm a big sci-fi fan, and AI is proving to be an area where past sci-fi meets reality. I am considering taking a six-month course at [the University of Texas at Austin] to learn about AI programming, but I haven't decided yet. Always learning, hardly earning... It's an issue.
I also do love glitch—audio, visual, or otherwise. It's like any delay effect. A copy and a corruption of that copy. It's captivating. When I would see Tim and Eric have a go at glitch, or Max Headroom, or even a skipping CD, it was pretty entertaining. It was around 2000 when I captured glitches on my TV screen and had them printed on translucent plastic sheets because I thought it was a thing of beauty. A modern-era abstract art brought to us by man, machine, and nature somehow.
"I have a strong imagination where I can shape a narrative. I used to write stories and read A LOT as a kid. I think that helped."
CELL VISION: So, we all have an inner monologue to an extent, but you've transformed that into a work of art in this episode. Do you talk to yourself this much in real life?
SYLVIA BLACK: I don’t talk to myself out loud, but I have a strong imagination where I can shape a narrative. I used to write stories and read A LOT as a kid. I think that helped.
CELL VISION: You really show off your... “assets” with your wardrobe (black bouffant and skintight dress, generous cleavage). Off screen, does fashion play a role in your life?
SYLVIA BLACK: Eh, I’ve gotten so lazy about my personal space and look. I don’t love the process of dressing up; I have a lot to deal with and yank around. I love fashion, but nothing fits, and I can’t afford it anyway, nor [do I] have the energy to make it. So my personal style is a mix.
CELL VISION: How would you describe it?
SYLVIA BLACK: I love hints of goth, camp, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! [(1965)], denim casual. I have a lot of black clothing. Hard pressed not to find black on any piece I have. I also enjoy beautifully tailored fabrics and prints in theory. Out in public, I don’t tend to show much skin or accentuate my shape. Pretty modest to the point of not wanting to be noticed. If I’m on stage, give me the works! Wigs are fun and easy! If I’m home alone, which is where I am 99% of the time, T-shirt or a robe. Stunning.
CELL VISION: You mentioned Russ Meyer, fantastic filmmaker and cult maestro! I definitely see the camp vibe about your work. What's the vibe chez vous? Do you surround yourself with art?
SYLVIA BLACK: My living space aesthetic is a bit ‘80s Miami cocaine glamour at the moment, lucite and tropical plants and colored lighting. There’s art on my walls—some of my own, some from others. I have a huge print of glitched out Siouxsie Sioux eyes that I made.
CELL VISION: What topics can we expect the Sylvia Black show to cover in upcoming episodes?
SYLVIA BLACK: Episode 2 is “all about boobs,” and episode 3 is “all about Texas”—I grew up partially in Texas and still travel there often. And of course, it’s no secret that I have boobs. And, speaking of Russ Meyer, I’ll be interviewing his longtime main squeeze and star of several of his movies, the buoyant and bubbly Kitten Natividad, for the “All About Boobs” episode.
You can watch 'The Sylvia Black Show' on YouTube, follow Sylvia on Instagram, or check out her music website via the links below.