What Happens When Shredders Fail to Shred

Flipping through the latest issue of the New Yorker this weekend I happened upon something you don’t frequently see in the pages of that august publication: A portrait of a guy in a Trivium T-shirt. Turns out the shaggy-haired dude in question is digital artist Cory Arcangel, probably most famous for making installation art out of hacked eighties Nintendo game code but also creator of a slew of other funny/weird bits ranging from a re-imagining Kurt Cobain’s suicide note with Google Ads to the unholy snarl that is Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” compressed 666 times. Arcangel has repopulated the Hogan’s Alley digital shooting gallery with the likenesses of the Pope, Col Sanders, Flav Flav and Andy Warhol, provided a glimpse of what it would be like if kittens were down with Schoenberg, proudly posted a voicemail message his brother left him from a Slayer concert on his professional website, and somehow convinced the Whitney Museum in New York City to exhibit a video compilation of amateur shredders covering Paganini’s “Caprice No. 5”:

This running metallic subtext makes more sense once one digs into the biographical section of the New Yorker piece and learns that as a child growing up in Buffalo all Arcangel wanted to do was “shred on the electric guitar”:

Arcangel told me that by the time he had turned seventeen he was practicing the guitar eight hours a day…In 1996, he was accepted to Oberlin as a classical guitar major. Soon after arriving in Ohio, he encountered his first high-speed internet connection. “I started to spend all my time in the basement computer lab,” he recalls “By senior year, all my friends had moved off campus, but I wouldn’t leave the T-1 line in the dorms.” He switched to a new major: technology of music. He says of his musical aspirations, “Basically, I burned out. At a certain point you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I really want to be a classical guitarist?’ It was amazing how much energy I had when I wasn’t sitting alone in a room with a metronome all day.”

Fair enough and probably a good career decision. (After all, it isn’t as if the second half of the nineties were particularly kind to aspiring Yngwies.) Nevertheless, the 1991 basement home video of Arcangel and his sister performing as Insecticide under the aliases “Death” and “Pestilence” — embedded after the jump — suggests the visual artist could have done at least as well in the metal world as Trivium, though perhaps it is the triumph and not the medium that matters most: Arcangel and his hipster cred have single-handedly sparked the long-delayed conversation on the merits of shredding in the lion’s den of highbrow art criticism. As his sister Pestilence advises in the video below, “You better not call me retard again.”