Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On George Michael and vicarious living

So last Thursday was one of the best night evarr because I saw George Michael live in concert at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA as part of the George Michael 25 Live tour. (Yes, as far as I'm concerned, it's still 1987. Deal.) It was an amazing show. Besides the fact that the man is a true, timeless slam-dunk of a singer/songwriter, it was a visually stimulating wonderfest.

Firstly, there were two laaaarge TV screens hanging on the left and right sides of the stage. But the large screens were made up of several smaller screens, or panels. Then the middle of the stage was one large screen. Think of a wedding dress with a train, where the fabric falls down the body and out across the floor. It was like that, the wall and the floor was one, and George (and his backup singers) did his/their thing on the floor. I took a great pic at the concert that clearly illustrates what I'm talking about, but of course I left my camera at my friend's house this weekend, so this pic from Access Atlanta will have to suffice.

(squee that's him standing in the middle sqee)

You get the basic idea. You can kinda see the two other screens in the corners there. So throughout the concert, the screens were filled with lots of "ooooh shiny!" Sometimes it would be neon colored light patterns, stimulating a club environment. Or images of stars, hearts, rainbow colored rings, close-up shots of him on stage, etc. What captured my interest the most though was when he would play the music videos of whichever song he was singing. Some of them I had never seen before, some of them I have seen numerous times. I'll include a few below.

As time went on (it was about a 2 1/2-ish hour long show) I noticed that I was paying more attention to what was going on on the screens than what was going on onstage. Granted, that might have had a lot to do with where I was sitting (not even remotely near the front row), but still. Like I said, some of the videos I had previously seen, but my eyes were glued to the screen as if it were the premerie. I actually have to repeatedly remind myself that I paid $117 to see George Michael LIVE, not the pre-recorded version of him that I could watch for free on YouTube.

So of course I start thinking about the relationship between technology and art. Namely interatcions, enhancements and substitutions. In this particular case (a live music concert, which has to do with moving, articulating, producing bodies), technology was presumably used to enhance the live experience. However, for myself and, I imagine, other audience members, at certain indeterminate points during the concert the technology began to shift from an enhancement of the experience to a replacement for the experience. I doubt that this was the intention of whomever designed/concieved the concert (what do you call those people? the formal title?), but it's an interesting side effect.

I don't hanve any grand statement to make per say, but I think it's something worth bringing up, not just for dance or music, but for the arts in general. Where does enhancement end and replacement begin? Where is the line? Is it possible to enjoy the ease and expansion that technology can bring without missing out on the actual experience? Or is it a new experience altogether that will occur and that we're trying to achieve?

As an illustration, think of those little palm pilot-like things that you can upload and read books on. Convienent - now you're able to condense the weight of several books into one palm sized gadget. Easy - able to magnify the words if you're near-sighted, etc. But it completely replaces the expereience of reading a book. Or does it enhance it?

I'll leave you to some George Michael videos while you ponder. Enjoy!

(p.s. I can't find an embed version of the first video on youtube, so I'll upload it directly at a later date. until then, I'll link it.)

Old School George, using supermodels to illustrate a song that criticizes the downsides of a visually-based culture. Brilliant! and sexy.

New(er) School George, using dancedancedance!

And a clip from the 25 Live show. You can kinda see the lights and stuff I was talking about and yeah, the re-arrangement of the song is so loverly.

1 comment:

Sarah A.O. Rosner/The AOMC said...

Hey I'Nasah,
Great questions!

I would definitely be lying if i said i had any answers, per se, but something struck me reading over it a second time that i hadn't caught at first glance. While the basic question you pose draws the line between enhancement and replacement, you also pose an interesting sub-point: "Is it possible to enjoy the ease and expansion that technology can bring without missing out on the actual experience?"

It strikes me that maybe the problem isn't interest or preference (like you pointed out, at the concert you really did want to see both things, but your interest was torn) but one of space, logic, and hardwiring.

Space -
We can only hold so much in our brains, only wrap our minds around so much at once. Like you pointed out - you were really excited to be at the show, and wanted to look at both the screens and the performance. So perhaps the problem isn't a disinterest in live mediums in favor of technology, but just the lack of coping mechanisms or systems to let us take in that amount of information at once. Maybe it's a case of the technology developing faster than we can keep up with it.

Logic -
Why strain to see a tiny ant on stage when you could look at an easily visible, eye catching display? Why choose one or the other when you can look back and forth the whole night? Logic (as you noted) wins out against technology in this scenario, as the viewer realizes that they can access these images on youtube. However, the chain of thought that tells you that you should focus on the live version now, because that image won't be accessible to you later is a key player in the reality that you can't (or really, aren't) taking both in at once.

And last, hardwiring -
It's pretty undeniable that each generation grows up with the presence of technology more and more hardwired into their understanding of life. If the experience of watching a catchy screen is just as "real" to one of these digital natives as watching the live action of the show (i mean, it is - the images on the screen and the feeling of watching it live can't be replicated on youtube), then who are we to insist that the live show is "better" or "more important". Are we becoming more hardwired to react to flashy technology? Or were we always hardwired to have little interest in things that were far away, and maybe not as stimulating?

So, your question restated from me:
When both live and techno mediums are presented at the same time, is it possible to enjoy the live one, or are we automatically zapped in to the digital medium through lack of space, logic, and hardwiring?

Maybe it just means that us humans need to do a little more to keep up, and attract some attention to us ourselves...