By: Jem Kelly.
A key convention of the popular music concert is the co-presence of spectator and performer, with both sharing a physical proximity, a spatial being-together in the event. This chapter interrogates inter-medial pop concerts in which the presence of performers is intersected with, or replaced by, virtual representations, or animated avatars, producing new interactions of image projection, sound reproduction and perceptual conditions. I explore modes of performer embodiment in an emergent genre – the virtually animated pop performance – and ask how new relations between space, body and sound address the spectator in new ways. I examine features of this genre in the context of debates centred on inter-mediality, examining issues of representation and reception, actual and virtual presence, authenticity and identity, liveness and affective sound. I delineate examples of past music/sound-driven performances by the Velvet Underground and Madonna to illustrate generic conventions of the intermedial pop concert, and analyse new techniques and intermedialities employed by the animated pop group Gorillaz.
BEING THERE: Presence, Liveness and Inter-mediality in Pop-music Performance
It is not possible to define exhaustively the parameters of artistic performance, as the term has accrued multiple meanings for different contexts, genres and modes of expression including theatre, dance and live art, but aspects of the concept require investigation in the light of musical mediated expression.
Musical performance implies that something, usually a systematised musical work, is presented by performers during a live event before an audience. David Horn defines popular music performance as:
The sum of a number of smaller occurrences, which might include . . . the origination or the borrowing of a musical idea; the development of the idea; the conversion or arrangement of the idea into a performable piece; the participation of those (musicians, producers, technicians) whose task is to produce musical sound; the execution or performance of this task; the transmission of the resulting sounds; the hearing of those sounds.
This process of summation confers upon the pop-music performance a commonality with theatrical stagings, in that both activities are reiterations of past practices, or rehearsals. Musical works can be based on extemporisation or improvisation, but in pop-music performances, even those not using playback technologies, the work performed tends to be a re-presentation of that which has been composed, arranged and rehearsed in advance. This apparent limitation is conventionalised as the audience has come to expect a live rendition or authenticating representation of recorded forms of the musical composition. What is being authenticated during a live pop performance? Pop performance can be a representation of a representation, to the extent to which a recording of a musical work – the artefact that is commodified through multi-track recording techniques – attempts to document (represent) an originary performance. Alternatively, multi-track recording processes may aim solely to produce a sonic utopia or best version of an original composition intended to attain an acceptable, marketable, commodifiable musical fidelity. From this perspective, pop-music performance is a re-enactment in which the recorded musical corpse is revived and re-presented through physical action in the ‘hear and now’.
Co-presence of performer and spectator is an enduring generic convention in pop performance, proposing a shared experience, a sense of ‘being there’ in the moment. To be able to say, ‘I was at the Newport Festival in ’65 when Dylan went electric’, for example, would confer a cultural credibility based on the speaker’s embodied experience of the event in the presence of the artist, Bob Dylan. It would also reflect an aspect of the debate around the incorporation of electronic technologies, associated with rock and pop in the 1960s, into the folk music genre – in Manchester, 1966, a fan shouted ‘Judas’ when Dylan replaced his acoustic with an electric guitar – and of the incursion of electronic technologies into the live music performance paradigm.
As with theatrical performance, the element of liveness has been fundamental to pop concerts, but the latter form produces a sense of presence closer in register to live art than to theatre when it works against representation in favour of immediacy, intimacy, self-expression and certain kinds of performerspectator interaction. For example, it is a convention at pop performances for the audience to request the band to play a beloved song during the encore, but it is difficult to imagine a similar interaction in theatrical performance, unless especially conceived to do so. On a tour staged during the late 1980s, Elvis Costello took this practice to an extreme, basing his performance on audience members spinning a carousel as a means by which to select songs from a list of hit records. This illustrates the importance of the recorded musical work in the framing of pop performance, which is in part intended to revivify recorded forms through replay by physically present musicians. Differentiation of pop performance and theatrical event is more problematic than it might seem during multimedia performances, as registers can be modulated by technological interventions, shifting modes of expression and representation to the extent to which replay and telematic media intersect with actualised physical performance elements that are considered live. The incursion of audiovisual technologies
has produced mixed effects that either amplify and extend or attenuate notions of presence, representation and self-expression in pop performance. This technological incursion into live performance can lead to a condition of ‘inter-mediality’, which is ‘associated historically with the exchangeability of expressive means and aesthetic conventions between different art and media forms’. Inter-mediality leads to a blurring of boundaries between art forms and genres, resulting in a condition of media convergence that can articulate performer–spectator relations in new ways through interactions of live and mediated forms.
An early example of inter-mediality in pop performance, in which mediated images modulate a sense of presence, is provided by the Velvet Underground, whose nascent career in the psychedelic genre was influenced by Andy Warhol. In the mid-1960s, Warhol conceived of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, an intermedial event that blurred generic boundaries of live performance arts to combine elements of disco, film show and happening with psychedelic pop concert. Warhol toured north America with the EPI, and one manifestation, on 1 November 1966, featured the Velvet Underground with Nico. The event comprised an intersection of playback technologies and live elements that framed and infused the band’s performance. Jack Bernstein, writing for the Tech, MIT’s in-house newspaper, describes the scene: ‘The performance started with a couple of movies, projected on the same screen at the same time; somehow it was coherent… in addition to the films, a multi-faceted mirrored globe spewed splotches of light about in every direction’. Bernstein identifies the performance as having begun prior to the physical presence of any performer being discernible, and this raises questions relating to performance ontology. What kinds of staged performance can take place without the spectator perceiving the visual embodiment of a performer? How can the manipulated interplay of technologies alone – producing light, sound and image – be considered to constitute performance? What kinds of framing are required for technologies to produce, or convey, a sense of presence? In the instance Bernstein describes, film projections shape the encounter, allowing the spectator a ‘sensible amount of time’ in which to become accustomed to a cinematically permeated mise en scène. Bernstein is referring to a phenomenological apprehension that would contour the aesthetic and perceptual response to the Velvet’s concert. Bernstein’s cognisance of technological manipulation seems to indicate a sense of remote presence, or the anticipation of physical presence, realised via a visual montage in which projected images and light display intersect arhythmically in real time, live. Contemporary technologies would allow software programming to produce the effects Bernstein describes, but in 1966 it is likely that technicians would be performing the playback and light projection in real time. The absence of anybody in the space does not seem to attenuate the sense of liveness – that the event is happening here and now – but in this instance, the sense of presence is perceived via media that indicate absent orchestrators.
Philip Auslander refers to the imbrication of live and mediated forms and the ontological implications for performance in his book, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. Auslander observes that the live and the mediated are not so much opposed as intertwined: ‘live performance cannot be said to have ontological or historical priority over mediatization, since liveness was made visible only by the possibility of technical reproduction’. An example of this interdependence of live and mediated forms occurs in the ontology of the live event in pop performance, which depends on the replaying of recorded musical forms and making absent performers visible by presenting musicians bodily to the spectator in a shared concert space. The experience of listening to music playback media (mediated by radio transmission, vinyl disc, CD, and latterly via MP3 and audio streaming from Internet sources) offers, in terms of temporality at least, a linear auditory experience when the song/composition is played through from start to finish. The experience of embodied co-presence of performer and spectator contributes greatly to the pop concert’s phenomenology, making the space of reception not only a hearing place, but also a seeing place and a being place. This multiple mode of address in music-driven performance offers a diffusion of experience that I refer to elsewhere as operating a phenomenology of ‘auditory space’, and it is a phenomenon that shares an anticipation of embodied forms with theatrical performance conditions.
Warhol’s EPI event progresses as the Velvet Underground ‘set up for their performance’, preparing their ‘electric bass, electric guitar, electric piano and… drums’ in readiness to play. They are, clearly, not a folk band. The framing of this scene of presence, in which the spectator bears witness to the performer’s preparatory procedures, could be described in theatrical, post- Brechtian terms as an act of defamiliarisation. But is it appropriate to identify this preparatory action as theatrical, when the performance, or at least this aspect of it, is functional in register? The performers prepare to play their instruments, but are they are also engaged in an act of self-presentation? Their preparatory actions are learned or practised behaviour, rehearsed in the sound check, and as Alice Raynor articulates, ‘representation is a kind of repetition that generates the phantom of a double’. The presentation of pop music is a re-enactment, and the phantom of a rehearsal process is always present on-stage, however seemingly self-presentational the mode of the event. The donning of instruments and plugging in of leads to pre-positioned amplifiers demonstrates an intentionality to perform, but simultaneously displays a preparedness evocative of ritual that works against notions of improvisation and free play.
The spatiality and mode of address of intermedial pop performances can be organised into diametrical categories: those that intend to obscure their technological artifices, the better to create an illusory, immediate and immersive experience; and those that display mediating technologies as components that openly construct a performative frame. Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin articulate these poles in their McLuhanesque theory of remediation, which they define as ‘the representation of one medium in another’. Extending their argument, in which aesthetic conventions are transferred across genres and media, they claim that all media simultaneously engage in the ‘play of signs’ and have a ‘real, effective presence’. They develop this into a semiotic/phenomenological binocular perspective, describing an oscillation between ‘immediacy and hypermediacy’ in which either processes of digital mediatisation are perceived as transparent and immediate (in which technologies are hidden), or their artifice is acknowledged as constructive of a performance system. In inter-medial performances that produce wholly illusory experiences, the spectator can become immersed within a powerfully affective performance environment. The Velvet Underground’s EPI performance, by intersecting affective, immersive and illusory technologies that operate within a self-reflexive performance mode, demonstrates a state of hypermediacy in which inter-medial processes are revealed and celebrated. As I have argued elsewhere, a feature of hyper-mediacy is that it creates a multi-sensory mode of address, which in music-driven performance produces a condition of auditory space. In the case of EPI, auditory space is produced through a complex interrelationship of sound, image and bodies: ‘slides projecting patterns of optical design’ create ‘an interplay between the background movies, the dancers and the music’.
Inter-medial pop performance can also provide an experience in which the physical presence of the performers and their music is framed by technologies of the spectacular. This visual dimension appears to enhance the aura of presence of the Velvet’s singer, Nico, despite representing a past time and space. Bernstein notes that Nico’s ‘presence pervaded the hall as the projectors switched from a movie… to colour and black and white close-ups of her’. This suggests that the interplay of iconic image projections amplifies and extends the singer’s aura of presence, rather than attenuating it, which offers a paradox in that the cinematic referent is always absent, in contrast to the performer’s body, which is right there, on stage in front of the spectator. This offers an early example of a pop performer’s presence being amplified and shaped by projected images and mediating technologies.
The impression that inter-medialities can amplify the aura of presence in pop performance works against Walter Benjamin’s claim that technological intervention will ‘devalue the here and now of the artwork’. In his seminal paper ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility’, Benjamin argues that the ‘aura’s present decay’ is in part caused by the ‘desire’ of the ‘masses to “get closer” to things spatially’, particularly through photographic and cinematic media (p. 254). The perceptual shift afforded by moving image culture in its variety of contexts, spaces and locations, whilst affecting our sense of existential, proximal and perceptual presence to the world, does not necessarily lessen our impression of immediate engagement with it. In inter-medial pop events that use visual playback media to depict multiple perspectives, the sense of presence can be amplified in ways that enhance the celebrity or star status of the performer. Madonna’s 1990 Blonde Ambition tour, for example, employed playback and telematic image projection to extend the visual scope of the performance, focusing the spectator’s viewpoint. Far from attenuating the singer’s presence, telematics seemed to enhance the aura of authenticity pervading the event by allowing close-up perspectives of the performer in real time.
When Blonde Ambition visited Wembley Stadium, I was positioned a significant distance from the stage, near to where the centre line of the football pitch would be. Madonna’s actual, three-dimensional performing figure on stage was diminutive from my perspective, but video images filled vast screens mounted at either side of the stage, and a third screen was suspended above the centre line. The projection extended the visual perspective of Madonna’s stage performance, mediating what was seen through a montage of medium shot and close-up perspectives. As the diminutive figure of Madonna moved, gesticulated, sang and positioned herself in a series of tableaux with her dance troupe, an equally complex and varied choreography of camera angle and cinematic syntax addressed the spectator. Madonna’s presence was amplified as the screened images increased the scale, impact and virtual proximity to the figure on stage, but the greater detail and definition of the screened images made them, and not the unmediated elements, the visual focus of the event. This led to a doubling of presence in which the unmediated vied with the mediated for the spectator’s attention, but the immersive nature of sound in the experience of reception added a cohesion to the event that attenuated this effect. Intercut with the telematic images were sequences from Madonna’s pre-recorded promotional videos for the songs she was performing. These emphasised themes and ideas relating to the lyrical content of each song, but also evoked a sense of the artist’s past oeuvre. The playback imagery initiated a process of recollection, the presentation of older material functioning as a memoria technica allowing the spectator to reflect on the star status of the performer, by depicting a body of international hit songs. It also elucidated a shared past with her audience, celebrated sonically and physically in the mediated present, breathing new life into the corpse of her recorded work.
Madonna’s star status is attributable in no small degree to her exploiting the medium of video, used by the music industry (and MTV) as a promotional device by tying memorable images to strong musical motifs and, in Madonna’s case, by creating an array of fictional personas associated with the tone, tenor and theme of the song. At Wembley, the combination of live performance, telecast and playback imagery offered a perceptual experience that cohered principally through melody, chorus refrains from hit songs – Material Girl, Like A Virgin, Vogue – and the somatic impact of amplified sound. Madonna theatricalised the representations on stage by reprising aspects of costume, dance sequences and gestures relating to the many personas and iconic images associated with her songs. She remediated elements of past screen performances, changing costume on-stage, and offered an ironic commentary and postmodern interplay to the system of inter-medial exchanges. Reflecting on the nature of star status, Stanley Cavell claims that the ‘screen performer is not an actor at all’, but ‘is the subject of study . . . the figure created in a given set of films’. At Wembley, whilst I was in the presence of the physical entity known as Madonna, it is a mediated presence and one that is framed by the dramatic personas she has created. Madonna’s actualised presence acquires its star status via recognition of the roles she has created in her pop videos, televised appearances and many photographic images, elements of all these forms remediated for live re-presentation. We also access the precise physical contours of the performer’s body through the various lenses of inter-mediation (sonic and visual), in a process that enhances a sense of theatrically structured intimacy, paradoxically realised through an enormity of visual scale and auditory impact. Under such conditions of reception, at no point is it possible to segregate the roles Madonna performs from the being who performs them. Despite her intersong role as MC and commentator, Madonna, the physical presence on stage and virtual presence on screen, is indistinguishable from her entity as star. The sense of presence associated with star status can be attenuated, subverted or diffused in inter-medial performances that use animations and avatars in place of physically present performers, as is the case with animated pop band Gorillaz.
WHOSE PRESENCE AMONGST SHADOWS? Animation, Inter-mediality and Performance Register
By ‘performance register’, I mean the relationships of presence between performer and spectator during the live event. As a prelude to encounters with specific examples of register in Gorillaz’ Demon Days, I will contextualise aspects of the medium of animation.
Since the mid-1990s, the rapid expansion of digital technologies has produced a resurgence of interest in the animated form, owing to the relative ease with which animated images can now be produced digitally. No longer is animation the exclusive preserve of skilled draughtspersons creating imaginary worlds frame by meticulous frame: technology has eased the burden and lessened the difficulty and duration. Techniques essential to animation, such as in-betweening of key frames, lip-synching image to sound, and coloration of cells, are processes that can now be automated. The surge of interest in the graphic novel/comic form, and in video games at the end of the twentieth century, coupled with the availability and affordability of animation, video and music production technologies, have led to a creative context in which the aesthetics and technologies of media converge. Gorillaz provide an example of this convergence in their virtually animated concept band, and also in the virtual extension of the band as Internet presence.
Formed in 2001, the band comprises the fictional personas Murdoc (bass), 2D (vocals/keyboards), Noodle (guitar) and Russel (drums). The animated characters are avatars for musician Damon Albarn, formerly of pop group Blur, Jamie Hewlett, cartoonist and creator of the graphic comic Tank Girl, and latterly, disc-jockey and hip-hop record producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton). Unlike the majority of pop groups, whose image identity depends upon the spectator’s recognition of a coherent signifying system, usually organised around the perceived identity of a fixed cohort of individual performers, Gorillaz has developed a collective working process in which guest artists record with the creative team in the studio, and perform alongside virtual representations in concert. This intermedial process leads to an intriguing tension between virtual and actual presences when Gorillaz perform live, as the spectator is forced to apprehend the liveness of the performance in the somatic impact of the sound produced by physically present musical performers, whilst at the same time encouraged to identify with virtual characters in the scopic essence of the event. To interrogate these intermedial processes, I refer to a performance attended on 3 November 2005. I use a composite recording in the form of a DVD, comprising footage edited from stagings that took place in Manchester Opera House from 1 to 5 November, as an aide-memoire and reference document.
Interactions of live performance and animation date back to the earliest era of the two-dimensional medium. In the early twentieth century Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), whose animated image was projected onto a cyclorama in vaudeville shows, appeared to interact with her trainer, and creator, Windsor McCay. Gertie reacted to McCay’s commands and the show concluded with an actual person seemingly being carried off stage on the back of a twodimensional dinosaur. Interactions of live action and animated characters also occurred in the Fleischer Brothers’ Out Of The Inkwell (1920) and Big Chief Koko (1925), in which the spectator is asked to imagine that the animated characters have free will and self-determination. What is apparent from these early examples of animated and live intermediation – which toured US theatres in the 1920s – is the playful awareness that the animated form is an artificial construct. The self-reflexive tension of perceiving animated artifice and live performance develops from the knowledge that threedimensional physical performers and two-dimensional delineations cannot actually interact. The knowingness of this impossibility resides in the ‘palpably produced nature of animation’s artifice’, and produces a sense of complicity that also drives Gorillaz’ Demon Days performance.
In pop performances that communicate dramatic personas, such as Blonde Ambition, a similar complicity occurs in the demystification of the representational process – a showing how the object of pleasure is constructed, for example, when Madonna changes costume and transforms roles on-stage. The collaborative tenor of performer – spectator relations can be the principal mode of address in pop concerts. But it might be asked, aren’t pop performers, at some level, presenting their individual expressive talents, and in the extent to which they demonstrate this, could we say that pop performers are operating in a self-expressive mode? This raises issues of authenticity in pop composition that are related to modernist ideas of originality and ‘the unique individual’. Notions of authenticity and musical originality are difficult to explain exhaustively without examining cultural contexts and codes in detail, but such notions are relatively easy to identify as belonging to a wellrehearsed debate in pop and rock music journalistic discourse. The UK 1980s music scene was a context in which originality and authenticity were much valued, and bands such as Echo and the Bunnymen and the Cure, for example, were considered to be authentic expressions of identity, their music original. Conversely, contemporary bands such as Five Star, whose open emulation of the Jackson Five identified them as fake in the UK music press, and Go West, a band comprising white middle-class men attempting to adopt a Detroit soul sound, were considered inauthentic and unoriginal. All of these bands performed on BBC’s television show Top of the Pops, making their musical expressions, however in/authentic, hostage to the framing of light entertainment and mass audiences in the UK. But the simulations of Five Star, particularly their intertextual reworking of an established US pop group, produce a pastiche, an emulation in blank irony, their endeavours presaging in spirit the drive towards intertextual referencing so prevalent in the sample-based postmodern pop forms that would emerge. The minor-key melancholies and angst-ridden, guitar-driven songs of Echo and the Bunnymen and the Cure firmly locate theiroperations in the ‘existential model of authenticity’ so redolent of modernist art and ideologies. In the postmodern era, musical identity is as likely to be based on sound emanating from the selection, combination and reappropriation of pet-sounds sampled from existing sources as by the skilful playing of traditional instruments prompted by the urge to original expression of emotion. A current example of postmodern pop is offered by Señor Coconut, a Caucasian German who reprises electronic music from bands of the 1980s, including Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra, using sampled samba and salsa beats and Latin instrumentation. Señor Coconut’s musical identity is constructed knowingly as artifice, and can be recognised by a Latin aesthetic, a pastiche eschewing the sound signature of original recordings written by other artists.
Gorillaz’ music, although composed by the creative team behind the band, is informed by and openly references a gallimaufry of lyrical, rhythmical and melodic motifs from a range of genres. What makes Gorillaz so distinctive in performance, however, is that their music depends on performers such as Shaun Ryder and Neneh Cherry, associated with different-sounding bands/genres, who are also able to fuse inter-mediations of live and playback forms through physical interaction and sonic synchronisation. This inter-medial interplay in performance, and the shifting vocal and instrumental contributors to their records, situate Gorillaz’ work in an emergent postmodern praxis of collaboration, identifiable through a convergence of forms, and a diffusion and fragmentation of identities. Gorillaz’ work emanates from a spirit of collaboration that decentres notions of authenticity and originality, positioning their work openly in a postmodern field of play and display.
Gorillaz have developed a collaborative performance register that induces a ‘break down’ in the ‘distance between actor and audience’, giving the spectator ‘something more than a passive role in the . . . exchange’. Pop performers often engage in a post-Brechtian form of direct address, encouraging spectator interaction and complicity in the event. On a recent world tour, German electronic band Kraftwerk offered spectators a direct form of musical intervention: by disseminating synthesisers in the form of handheld electronic calculators, spect-actors were able to add an element of contingency by contributing random melodies to the song, Pocket Calculator. (Gorillaz employ a similar technique, using technology sponsored by Motorola at their Apollo Theater concert in Los Angeles, April 2006.) During another song, Robots, Kraftwerk performed off-stage, their physical presence replaced by three-dimensional avatars in the form of robot-like mannequins. Their embodied absence did not impact significantly on the performers’ ability to sustain spectator engagement, or attenuate the liveness of the event. Kraftwerk’s direct sonic engagement with, and physical disengagement from, the spectator problematices traditional modes of presence in pop-concert reception, which have often centred upon notions of embodied presence and individual authorship. Gorillaz contribute to the demise of the modernist meta-narrative of authorial presence in pop performance by making animated images, guest artists, shadow performers and avatars the locus of expression in a performance register that encourages the active participation of the spectator in a variety of new ways.
The extent to which an audience can be encouraged to interact with the staged presences at pop concerts is shaped by the spatial configuration of the event and the spectator’s position/point of view in relation to the actual and virtual elements of performance. The organisation of the Demon Days concert follows a proscenium configuration, but one that is carefully modulated to produce a visual layering effect based on differentiation of two- and threedimensional, actual/virtual presences and mediations. Owing to the collective process in which live performers come and go, song by song, the staging configuration follows an open and flexible organisation downstage (forming a kind of forestage), with a semi-fixed bank of translucent flats upstage. Suspended upstage centre is a projection surface upon which video playback occurs, or animated images are screened. The stable musical personnel of Gorillaz, performers who would usually be observed displaying their instrumental skills, are rendered as featureless two-dimensional shapes, their black shadows appearing on the variously coloured translucent flats, giving the upstage elements the look of an animated Mondrian painting. Upstage left is occupied by orchestral instrumentalists, whose presence is relatively anonymous, and upstage right by a flexible group of singers who function as choral accompaniment.
The technique of using silhouettes is similar to that of Indonesian shadow theatre, whose manually animated forms are always accompanied by music. In shadow theatre, the wayang, or silhouettes, are employed by dalangs, or narrators, with the purpose of disseminating ‘religious and dynastic propaganda’. Gorillaz may or may not be aware of the political heritage of Indonesian shadow play, but the thematic content of the songs of which Demon Days is comprised is politically situated, falling short of open propaganda in its ironic relation to the left-of-centre positions conveyed. An example of this political positioning occurs on the song Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head, in which Dennis Hopper’s disembodied voice delivers a spoken-word narrative to a medium-tempo, groove-driven musical accompaniment. The narrative is inter-medial; Hopper’s spoken form is accompanied by musical melody and rhythm, projected animations, and sung vocals. As with Indonesian shadow theatre, the narrative is preceded by music, and after eight bars that establish the groove, Hopper’s voice begins;
Once upon a time at the foot of a great mountain, there was a town where the people known as happy folk lived . . . here they played out their peaceful lives, innocent of the litany of excess and violence that was growing in the world below. To live in harmony with the spirit of the mountain called Monkey was enough.
The decision to follow the time-honoured opening of fairytale and folklore, in which basic exposition of scene and setting is delineated by an omniscient narrator, creates a fictional point of view associated with oral narrative custom. This works against pop-song conventions that also aim to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, but do so through lyrical content delineating broadly recognisable interpersonal relationships in their contemporary contexts, adopting non-linear means by which to convey an attitude, emotion or political position. Gorillaz’ decision to follow an oral narrative convention could easily have lead them into similar territory to that pursued by Rick Wakeman in his 1970s progressive-rock opera Journey to the Centre of the Earth, also a concept album, but with a linear focus and monolithic structure. Hopper helps avoid this by adopting an ironic vocal mask to deliver a parable in which the magical mountain, Monkey, is a metaphor for the exploitation of nature: the mountain erupts when mined for its material goods – perceived as riches by interloping ‘strange folk’ – with catastrophic effect.
The resultant dystopia the open-ended narrative conveys is communicated through animated images, including that of a character’s face expressing shock at being bathed in what appears to be toxic rain, and a sung commentary in the place where a chorus would usually be. Albarn’s sung interventions to Hopper’s narrative alter the perspective and distance of the spectator to it, as they shift from an objective to a subjective point of view. The first of Albarn’s sung sections, in which a ‘dance of the dead’ is described, presents a perspective outside the fictional world delineated by Hopper and the animated scenes. This has the effect of connecting the specificity of the childlike, fictional world of Monkey Mountain to an objective actuality described by Albarn’s shadowy presence. Albarn’s shadow-hand gestures replicate the contours of the animated figures of the ‘strange folk’, which provides a gestural bridge back into the Monkey Mountain narrative. In performance, this bridging device was less significant, as Albarn’s presence behind the flat, upstage centre was not so clearly focused as in the video montage on the DVD.
In the second of Albarn’s sung sections, the connection to a political reality is strengthened through lyrical content that specifies context, location and culture uttered from a personal perspective: ‘Oh, little town of USA the time has come to see, all the things you think you are. But where were you, when it all come down on me? Did you call me? No’. The virtual mediations that delineate the parable of Monkey Mountain are made relevant to the audience in the here and now of the performance space, offering a dialogue between the pre-recorded mediations, the sung/performed present and the sensory experience perceived by the spectator. By introducing a psychological component to the narrative, which gains politicised specificity through the cartoon-like personification of ‘little town… USA’, the spectator engages in a dialogue of the fictional and the actual, occupying the position of voyeur and potential co-respondent to Albarn’s rhetorical questions. The political engagement of the spectator is not a particularly subtle form of didacticism, but the animated form carries with it the ‘omnipresent force of human praxis’, which signals the intentionality and constructedness of the message and eschews a condescending attitude. Through the use of irony and animation, and the virtual/actual address of the ear and the eye, the spectator is made complicit in a form of social presence broader and more vital than can be offered by the embodied live performers alone, but whose sonically amplified physical presences are somatically engaging. The inter-mediations extend perspectives and broaden conceptual horizons in ways that, carried via a sonic field of engagement, can powerfully affect spectator emotions.
Gorillaz further subvert a fundamental component of the live pop concert, the physical co-presence of singer and spectator, in a song recorded by Ibrahim Ferrer, who sings on the track ‘Latin Simone’, and in a way that is powerfully affective. Ferrer died in August 2005, but the documentation of his physical presence is remediated in the form of a projected video sequence in which he is depicted recording for the Demon Days album. The video footage is the principal scopic focus, as the performers on stage left and right are not illuminated, and a blue light punches out the silhouettes of the musicians performing behind the flats. The video depicts Ferrer singing behind a piano as his voice is recorded, and the sound playback is synchronised with the music performed live. The effect of this is to breathe new life into Ferrer’s performance, revivifying it, and if one were to close one’s eyes, it would be impossible to distinguish between the live and the recorded elements of the sonic experience. In this way, the video functions as an avatar, providing a manifestation of the absent performer that is felt in the present, but that is, paradoxically, located ontologically in the past. The video playback oscillates between a direct form of address, a virtual presence felt through and synchronised with Ferrer’s singing, and a documentation of diurnal activity, as Ferrer is seen walking through the studio and interacts with the musical production team. The rendition of this song attains its affective potential in the tension that lies between the music that is rendered live, the recorded melodies, made distinctive by the tonality of Ferrer’s vocals, and the playback images. Although we are aware that Ferrer is not actually present in the visual field of perception, his voice is felt as part of the lived experience of the event that unfolds in the present as a somatic force working on the spectator’s body with equal impact to the live music that fills the concert hall. A further tension exists in the revelatory documentary sequences, a behind-the-scenes showing of what went on in the studio. Ferrer is denied a voice in these sections of diurnal activity, lending the images a ghostliness, in which Ferrer’s disembodied presence is enhanced. The ensuing nostalgia is attenuated as the diurnal images engage in a pas de deux with those depicting Ferrer singing, but it is the uplifting feelings produced by the harmonious melodies and airy tonality of Ferrer’s voice that ensure his ability to intervene in the present, despite disembodiment.
Inter-mediality in pop performances can address the spectator in a variety of registers. Image projections can enhance the psychological impact of the performer’s presence, whilst creating a state of perceptual tension in the scopic dissonance of two and three dimensionalities, as when Nico performs with her projected iconography. Inter-mediating technologies can produce a flexible, fluid and intimate perspective of live performance through interactions of largescale telematic images, structured in the language of cinematography, that contrast with and contribute to the actual, physical presence of the performer as perceived by the naked eye. Madonna’s projection of video from past Works informs songs performed live, affecting a temporal discourse that reprises the past in the actualised present, working with the spectator’s own memory. Through a process of remediation, screened personas intersect with live re-presentations, making the songs performed in the hear-and-now resonate with recollection of performances in the there-and-then. Whilst the Warholinfluenced Velvet Underground used film projection experimentally, Madonna continues to exploit telematic and video playback technologies as a memory device, or memoria technica. By reminding the spectator of her international hit-rate, Madonna’s infusions of past images into her live performances enhance her entity as star whilst fragmenting her personal identity.
Pop performances develop a complicity of the spectator in the staging of the event that shares a register with postmodern inter-medial theatre, and to the extent to which the spectator is aware of the constructedness and artifice of pop performances, they can be identified as hyper-medial. In Demon Days, Gorillaz produce a hyper-medial state of play, as animated characters illustrate disembodied spoken narratives to musical accompaniment and interact with live performers and shadow performers. In Latin Simone, the reflexiveness of hyper-mediality is underscored, and to some extent undermined, by an immersive soundscape in which a recorded voice is synchronised with live sound and video projections, producing an experience that is both immediate and removed, offering a form of auditory memorial that is felt in the present whilst the performance occurs in the past. There is a strong tension in the creation of an illusory, monolithic soundscape that makes the disparate elements of the multi-screen video montage cohere. Ferrer’s virtual embodiment impacts somatically on the spectator through sound and melody that, although identifiable with the singer, are part of a collaborative performance mode that challenges traditional notions of identity in pop performance.
By creating new interactions of recorded forms, visual and auditory representations, inter-medial pop performances operate in a postmodern field of play that engages the spectator intellectually, but also emotionally. Older media forms, such as pop video and audio recording, are remediated in hyper-medial systems that demonstrate, display and perform their processes of constructedness, whilst working on the spectators somatically and emotionally through sound. As traditional modes of performance, associated with stable identity, authenticity and originality, are challenged by new inter-medialities, the role of spectator is shifted from one of passivity to active participation in the performance of sound event. Gorillaz use a choral group in performance to further the sense of complicity and help bridge the perceptual gaps between the live and recorded media, the two- and three-dimensional. No longer does the spectator need or require an authenticating presence, or a physically present performer, in a mode that encourages complicity through direct sonic engagement and visual replay. The spectators of inter-medial pop are not only finding a voice, but encountering new apprehensions of sight and sound that have the potential
to affect their own presence as embodied subjects. In performance, the shadows, ghostings, repetitions and inter-medial interventions that produce a complex and engaging scopic experience make Demon Days innovative, but the experience would be less effective without the ingredient that makes all pop performances engaging: the emotional potential of memorable songs and remembered sounds. Gorillaz extend this potential, and the immediacy and liveness felt in the field of performance, by offering further interactions using technologies of the Internet to explore virtual presences.
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