Frank Ocean’s ‘Endless’ Staircase Video, Explained

Carl Williott | August 22, 2016 8:54 am

Frank Ocean‘s long-awaited Channel Orange follow-up finally arrived on Saturday (August 20), but the mystery surrounding the album has hardly subsided. For instance: Nobody’s sure if it’s called Blond or Blonde, nobody knows the extent of those “contributor” credits, the physical version paired with the zine is different from the Apple Music version and the whole Endless experience is still confusing as hell.

About that last thing, Pitchfork spoke to artist Tom Sachs, who was heavily involved in the Endless staircase project. Sachs says the 45-minute stream showing Frank completing the staircase which served as the visual album was cut down from 140 hours of footage (that’s nearly six days).

“I think it’s testament to the reality that things made by hand take time. We’re living in an age of non-handmade things. The iPhone is the best-made thing there is, but there’s no evidence of a human being involved with it,” he explains. “Frank’s music, which is very personal and literally has his voice, in the same way that all musicians have their voice, it simply takes time. And when you see the video, you see him building a stairway to heaven in real time. The 40-minute version is edited, but there’s something like a 140-hour version. That’s the whole thing. That exists, that’s the art piece.”

The key to unifying these three projects — EndlessBlond and the visual — could be the track “Skyline To,” according to Sachs:

“This version where there are three of them is kind of a compressed experience, where you see three Frank Oceans making the same thing. It’s not unlike the song on Blond called “Skyline To.” You hear what sound like a couple of Frank Oceans singing over each other. I think that’s his voice—I know a bunch of other people sing on it—but you hear him unapologetically laying two vocal tracks over each other, the chorus and the refrain. And they overlap in the same way you’ve got a couple of Frank Oceans building the staircase and a couple of times in the video they cross through each other, impossibly, without colliding.

If things that are made by hand take time, this stands as something that we all can learn from and take an opportunity in whatever our work is and our lives to do things by hand and do things that speak of the individual. Our personalities and characters are being homogenized through the greatness of the computer. But there is an opportunity every once in a while to leave your fingerprint on something.”

As for why a staircase? He posits that the transparent process of building it is more important than the structure itself, though he notes “The spiral staircase is also an endless column—a reference to Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s work.”

“Frank’s music is simultaneously complex and simple. But no matter how you slice it you can hear what’s going on. And there are sounds that are not musical sounds that are used musically to convey a mood. And all of that stuff is transparent and helps communicate how the music was made.

And also, that is one of the foundations of hip-hop and soul music—the transparency. Versus classical music where the orchestra of many, many people work together to create one sound, or with Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. There’s always been an attempt to make something where you can understand without thinking, to feel. There’s always been this transparency in hip-hop for lots of reasons. Even if you go back to the vinyl record, you can hear the flaws and the skips and the errors, and those are kind of the foundation of the sample.”

Sachs was also credited on the Boys Don’t Cry zine, but wouldn’t comment on his contribution until seeing the issue. Read the full interview here.