VISUAL: Sober Octaves (Extensive Interview)
Sober Octaves is a visual album exploring the complications of fighting against the status quo, from the perspective of three young black men. The project uses computer-generated interludes and live-action narratives to experiment with methods of storytelling.
Sober Octaves is written and directed by black students from Brown University with soundtracks influenced by their backgrounds of Ethiopia, Jamaica, and Louisiana. The film also deals with issues of social inequality and the delegitimization of the millennial experience.
QUAY: As creators, how did you expect the message to convey to viewers?
It wasn’t our intention for Sober Octaves to be fully digested in the first viewing. Leaving clues in the first two acts and interludes, the final act takes the narrative from an intentionally fragmented to cohesive story line.
We wanted to remind the audience of the dangers of compromising their individuality in a society where it is so easy to succumb to the pack mentality.
Felege: As an immigrant, I put the perspective of an outsider coming into America in the context of the interludes. Literally using different forms of media–home footage from Ethiopia and 3D animation–the stories are spoken through a different lens. The first interlude speaks about my glorified view of America, while the second interludes confronts issues of race I faced but wasn’t sure how to contextualize as a youth.
Antone: Growing up I was someone that asked questions about everything I was told. This open mindedness allowed me to find new opportunities to learn and grow in places that I would have been stagnant otherwise. In a world with so many distractions and misinformation it is important to always seek the truth as well as different perspectives, even if that means digging past the surface.
Javon: I grew up with family that instilled a strong sense of identity in me. That’s not to say that I always have known where I belong, or that I even have a place that I do belong. My mom, my teachers, etc. would always tell me that I was ‘different’ and that I had the potential to make something of myself that would change the world...and even when I doubt myself, I can’t escape that prophecy.
Warner: As I’ve grown older, I have become more and more aware of dangers of peer pressure. I’ve seen friends and family get swallowed up by the activities or beliefs of the people they chose to spend time with, and in the process lose parts of their own identities. I became distinctly aware of this towards the end of highschool and the beginning of college, and I wanted to capture the sensation of trying to avoid being pushed and pulled by the whims of others in both my lyrics and my acting.
QUAY: Throughout the film, what symbolism do the eyes hold?
Your sight is one of your most important senses, making it difficult for most to disagree with the phrase “seeing is believing”. It’s challenging for us to see certain aspects of the world and understand them in any way that’s different from how they look. Because of this, the dark eyes in Sober Octaves represent the preliminary stages of falling into conformity. Each of our characters has the potential to enter into these stages, depending on the course of action they take. Each individual faces obstacles that will position him in one of three levels: the fighting of, the submission into, and the contemplation of conformity.
QUAY: Why was the scene in the Uber the only dialogue aside from the songs?
The dialogue in the car was extremely important for us to include because of how relevant it is to black Millennials. The youth of our generation, more than any generation before us, have the opportunity to create, promote and successfully sell their art due to the advent of technology. Artists like Chance the Rapper and Jaden Smith are turning around the money they make from music and donating it to important causes like education and renewable energy research. We are in the middle of a creative and social landmark in history.
Yet in many other ways, our country still operates within the backwards racial borders of the past. Rap is still viewed as ghetto, as is wearing jewelry, baggy clothes, and hoods. Many older folks in the black community antagonize younger artists for their clothing and occupational choices thinking that they are keeping the culture honorable, when in fact they are simply perpetuating anti-blackness.
In Sober Octaves, we see Tom playing the game of respectability politics with Warner, and unlike most characters do, Warner fights back.
Putting your own experiences and traumas into the world in a form of healing goes against society’s desire to see us fall. Because we know what art can do, and specifically what black art can do, we make sure to let our music speak for itself. We don’t rap just to rap, we rap to speak messages into existence. In the words of Tone in Act 3, “The worth of your purpose on Earth ain’t purchased”.
QUAY: What is the message and how can it be compared to reality/situations that we deal with in everyday life?
Sober Octavesis meant to be cryptic. We want viewers to come back to the film and re-watch it, because it works the same way that everyday life works. The answers to our problems are so often right in front of us, but we’re blinded by the little things that are meant to distract us from the bigger picture and from understanding the world at large. We see our characters dealing with both literal sobriety when it comes to drugs/alcohol, as well as mental and emotional sobriety in terms of needing to stay level-headed and conscious of the situations directing their lives.
Being students in college, we have a very particular experience...we have a firsthand look at all of the distractions in the world while they culminate in one small bubble inhabited by a not-so-random group of teenagers and young adults. Whether it be seeing your friends lose themselves by fall into drug addiction, or seeing your friends lose themselves in the mix of trying to bring social justice to the world, the college student witnesses many extremes of change. To us, it’s important to figure out how to keep true to yourself no matter what decisions you make in this life...and it’s difficult to do that without a support system.
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