Jerry Paper, “Chameleon World”

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Step inside for an interview about the Chameleon World video game.

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Sasha Geffen | September 8, 2014

On the fifth track of his new album, Big Pop For Chameleon World, Jerry Paper advises you to “go into the system preferences inside of you.” “Don’t be afraid to change the settings,” he continues in “Synthesized Mind”, turning routine menu-diving into a bizarre form of self-help. Similar metaphors run all throughout the record; this is a “chameleon world,” after all, a place where you can be whatever you want on a whim.

Big Pop For Chameleon World is the first album I’ve heard in a long time that makes the most sense inside of an accompanying computer game, Chameleon World, a psychedelic adventure story where you guide Jerry Paper on a quest to rid his body of impurities. You beat levels by talking to giant animals and puking into a jar, all while Big Pop plays in the background. But the music, a synthetic lo-fi pop which by itself is fairly undemanding, clicks into place as soon as you’ve got a mission to accomplish. Start negotiating with huge, ornery cockroaches, and suddenly a song like “The Real Feel” gets unexpectedly urgent.

The video for the song “Chameleon World” makes a good primer for the album’s universe. Lucas Nathan, the host body for the entity called Jerry Paper, shows up to pretend to play all the instruments he synthesized on the record. He’s joined by a pair of digital avatars that resemble him as the video breaks up into smaller and smaller windows, like a personality fractured into its own digital representations.

Watch the premiere of the video and read our exclusive interview with Jerry Paper below.

I love that there’s a computer game attached to this album. Could you tell me a little about your history with games, and why you opted to make this a multimedia release instead of a just traditional audio album?

Jerry Paper: My most vivid memories of playing computer games as a kid are sitting with my dad at his desk playing puzzle-based adventure games like Myst, Neverhood, and Starship Titanic. I loved the exploratory nature of these games. As a kid, they seemed like real glimpses into foreign worlds. All my friends were into the classic Nintendo and Playstation games, and I made an effort to like those, as a little bozo trying to fit in will do, but they never really clicked. The only Nintendo 64 game I was nuts about was Harvest Moon 64, a game where your grandfather dies and you inherit his farm.

What was the process of developing Chameleon World like? Did it come about after the music for the album was finished, or were you working on both in tandem?

I actually kinda stopped thinking about computer games for a while… until Cole Kushner emailed me asking to do a video for me. He sent me a CGI vid he did for some mutual friends of ours and it friggin’ blew my mind! I had just finished the music for Big Pop and was really into the idea of using mostly CGI for the visual aesthetic of the record so there was no doubt that we’d collaborate in some way. After some brainstorming for video ideas he made a passing remark that he could turn the final product into a video game quite easily when all the environments were built, and I was just like, “Who gives a fuck about a video? Let’s make a fuckin’ GAME.”

It seemed like it would be foolish to not do it, especially considering that the themes of the record are largely based in the nature of reality and the nature of things that imitate reality. It seemed particularly fitting to generate a world that the user could explore as opposed to something passive like a video. As we got further into the development of the game, we decided to move away from straight-up “exploratory environments” to more of a vomit-based adventure game. The progression was pretty natural, really.

Why were you attracted to the idea of things that imitate reality while you were making this record? What made that an interesting theme to explore through music?

It’s a theme I’ve been interested in for as long as I can remember, and this record was my most focused manifestation of that. It’s something I think about too much, and something I’ve wanted to explore with my music for a while but has never really presented itself because of my equipment. Using a digital synth with a whole bank of “imitations” of “real” instruments just really made sense to me, and to leave my old standby sound that I’d gotten a little comfortable with.

I’ve really always been interested in ideas of simulacra, in the notion that there’s something that’s “real” and then there are other things that are “fake.” The separation seems so bizarre to me, and I was trying to investigate, to some degree, where is the line of difference between the real thing, the fake thing, and that which is a completely different thing.

A good example, again, would be the synth sounds that make up the record—my idea was to use mostly sounds that were made to imitate “real” instruments (like fake guitar, fake upright bass, fake harpsichord). Some of these sounds, though, don’t sound anything like the “real” thing; the fake harpsichord just sounds like a square wave with a slow release, or the fake shakuhachi sometimes sounds like a synthesized dog bark. I guess I just wanted to play with these associations, to try and raise questions about what sounds you’re hearing. What is the dividing line between a “fake harpsichord” and a square wave? Is it just the word association?

It’s interesting too because the premise of the project is that there’s a “real person” (Lucas) and then a “simulated character” (Jerry). You deal with themes of identity and selfhood a lot throughout the album and game—do you think having an avatar that’s not connected to your own personal, biographical details gives you more space to examine concepts of self?

Yeah, absolutely. I find that a lot of the time writing about how Jerry feels and the context of Jerry’s life I’m gaining a clearer perspective on my own situation as a human body traversing linear time. I mean, he is a cartoonish caricature of myself, he is a crystallized version of all of my vulnerabilities.

It’s a super cliché idea but there’s so much truth in the benefit of separation as a way of getting insight; “you don’t miss your water til your well runs dry,” or the idea that oftentimes loved ones can know you better than you even know yourself. I feel like so many aspects of human life involve a subconscious desire to escape our bodies (and in turn, our Selves), in that we seek a way to get out of the limitations that bind us. Being a body (or “having a body,” depending on your perspective) is so fucking uncomfortable; we constantly have to shit, piss, eat, sleep… there’s really no respite from the constant maintenance just to stay alive. And not only are we trapped in discomfort, but we’re also trapped in the limitations of our senses, in the particular space on earth we occupy, in our particular genetic makeup.

I guess what I’m trying to do with this record, and quite honestly with a lot of my music, is get people to start doubting their sense of relied upon reality and their deeply held beliefs. Not that I’m trying to assert that “reality isn’t real and everything you believe is bullshit” or something ridiculous like that, but I’m trying to get people to think more critically about the merits, joys, and problems of the inner world. It’s a neglected issue, I think, and one that’s so easy to ignore seeing as our entire perception of our environment relies on internal mechanisms that we can’t possibly escape.

Ultimately what I’m trying to say is that despite the fact that the limitations of our bodies are impossible to escape, it’s very, very valuable to keep trying.

I definitely felt that playing through the game. There’s one level where you “win” by admitting that truth is just a metaphor for shared beliefs. I loved that you got so philosophical in the midst of such a humorous, trippy environment. Why did you choose vomiting as the symbol of in-game progress? How do the broader ideas of spirituality and purity that run through the game fit into your explorations of self and simulacra?

I thought it would be funny to be so overtly philosophical, funnier than just nudging at it with an allegory. I chose vomiting for a couple reasons: 1) The main aesthetic I had in mind for the game, and that Cole seemed to really jive with, was a lot of very nice, colorful, peaceful hippie imagery smashed together with more unsettling, “real” body shit. Hence the vomiting, the cockroaches, the impure drugs in the “See An Idiot” nightclub, the mountain made of shit you climb in “Clarity Shmarity”. Just another way to try to shove the idea of the Body World in people’s faces. 2) Puking makes me laugh, and my general rule is if something makes me sincerely chuckle then I try to figure out a way to work it in somewhere. I don’t really want to give away the end of the game to those who haven’t finished it but the final level when you’ve turned in your Purge Jar to the toad and gotten the “ticket to transcendence,” the following credit sequence at the end is really the ultimate punchline and kinda sums up the joke of the game.

I’m sure you could probably guess it from everything I’ve been saying so the only hint I’ll give is that the goal of transcendence from Chameleon World can be very easily substituted for human desire to escape the body.

Jerry Paper’s Big Pop for Chameleon World is out now (vinyl comes with free download of the Chameleon World video game) on Orange Milk.

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