The annual "Mirrorball" series of bleeding-edge music videos and short films is a good way to keep up with trends in fourth-dimensional graphic illustration. What does that mean? That if you go the Museum of Fine Arts tonight or on selected playdates over the next month, you'll have the experience of opening a high-end design magazine and watching it burst into dazzling, uncontainable life.
You'll also have to slog through more than a few wheezy ideas, since a music video is often just a music video: gaudy clothes promoting the same old sounds. Think of the latest four compilations, curated by Aida LiPera and David Drummond of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, as candy samplers. The ratio of truffles to crunchy frogs is reasonably high.
Tonight and March 8 is "Fresh Tracks," 80 minutes that represent the series as a whole quite well. There are a handful of alt-radio stars here - Feist turns modern ballerina on Patrick Daughters's reinvention of "My Moon, My Man" - but unless you're so hip you stop yourself at the door you won't have heard of many of these groups. Music vids are a director's game, anyway, and "Tracks" introduces us to oddball visionaries like Encyclopedia Pictura, a San Francisco duo who build surreal otherworlds out of magnetic ferrofluids to accompany Grizzly Bear's "Knife" and Seventeen Evergreen's "Haven't Been Yourself."
Another star of "Tracks" is the UK's Saam Farahmand, who turns Simian Mobile Disco's "Hustler" into a bad-boy game of Telephone, featuring girls whispering secrets to each other while slowly upping the ante: It's naughty but nice. The show's most entertaining cut may be the hilariously testy Internet hit "Thou Shalt Always Kill," a spoken-word rap by Dans le Sac vs Scroobius Pip that lets the large, hirsute Pip lay down snotty but inarguable commandments like "Thou shalt not make repetitive generic music" (repeated three times).
The "Global Selection" compilation, playing at the MFA on Saturday and Feb. 20 and featuring vids from international groups, has an equally strong mix, although some of the songs (Goose's "British Mode") are just plain dull. High points are Groove Armada's "Get Down" (reimagined by the Pleix design/video consortium into a tale of happyface humanoid bunnies overrunning a video shoot), the lusciously animated T-shirts of Justice's "D.A.N.C.E.", directed by Jonas & Francois, and Oliver Pietsch's downright disturbing video for the Space Lady's "Domin, Libra Nos," which uses increasingly graphic movie clips of gunshot suicides. That'll clear the dance floor.
The Japanese electronica genius Cornelius has a dandy video at the end of "Global Selection" and also one in the "Made in Japan" compilation playing Feb. 13 and 16. Surprisingly, the latter is the weakest of the four "Mirrorball" programs, with an overabundance of F/X to surprisingly little effect. Only the Cornelius video (directed by Koichiro Tsujikawa) and the marvelous underwater fantasy animation that Hideaki Motoki makes of Ryukyudisco's "Uchina Experience" are keepers.
The fourth "Mirrorball," "Animation '07," plays Feb. 6 and 16 and is all progressive animation, like the title says. It's another mixed bag, but the good ones are great. In his video for Fujiya & Miyagi's "Ankle Injuries," Wade Shotter does for dominoes what Michel Gondry and the White Stripes did for Lego blocks a few years back. Director James Healy uses pixellation effects to tell an ambiguous creation story in Clark's "Herr Barr." In my favorite moment in all four programs, Swedish musician/illustrator Kristofer Strom creates an ever-morphing series of line drawings to accompany Minilogue's "Hitchhiker's Choice." Sometimes the hippest things are the simplest ones.