Saturday, June 1, 2019

dead pop stars and their profitable afterlife

Interesting piece on the pop hologram phenomenon by Owen Myers at The Guardian, featuring some quotes from me, specifically on the exploitation of dead stars .

Here's the full responses I sent to Owen a week or two ago:

My gut insta-reaction is that it’s a new way for the old to tyrannize the young – because you can’t get any older than being dead. So the next step beyond the reunion tours, and all the legacy acts that dominate festival line-ups, is the hologram tour: no longer alive artists extending their brand power beyond the grave.

The syndrome raises all kinds of ethical and philosophical questions. To what extent are these performances in any real sense, given that a performance (whether showbiz entertainment or performance art) is by definition live, involving the unmediated presence of living performers, whereas the hologram tours  are  “unlive” and involve  non-presence? 

On an ethical and economic level, I would liken it to a form of “ghost slavery”. That applies certainly when done without the consent of the star, by the artist’s estate in collusion with the record company or tour promoter. 

But even if an artist might consent while still alive and legally grant the posthumous rights to  their image, voice, etc, for exploitation, that doesn’t make it right or proper. Nor does the fact that there might be a consumer demand for this make it a wholesome development. 

It’s a form of unfair competition: established stars continuing their market domination after their death and stifling the opportunities for new artists.

It’s reminiscent of Marx on  capital as the spectral vampire of dead labour, which when living and working had surplus value sucked out of it and then turned into yet more finance capital, thereby continuing the dominion over and exploitation of  living labour for generations to come.  But it’s Das Kapital crossed with Freud’s writings about the uncanny.

Hologram tours are very much an extension of the syndromes discussed in Retromania. I don’t think they existed as more than a rumour when I was writing the book - there might be a brief mention of them in there. But I do discuss the idea of movie stars being reanimated and how that was happening then already with figures like Audrey Hepburn being used in commercials using digital trickery. 

It does seem  like another facet to this that will soon be possible is that the technology will emerge such that the vocal timbre and mannerisms, the facial expressions and bodily gestures, conversational speech patterns, etc etc, of performers can be captured digitally - through assimilating and analysing the sum total of all their existing recordings, performances, videos, films, etc etc -  and that you will get a sort of digi-simulacrum of the artist singing new songs, guesting as vocalist or rapper on other people’s records, appear in videos or movies etc. That seems totally conceivable to me. The simulacrum would probably not be able to do convincing spontaneous stage banter or appear on chat shows, but who knows?  In those circumstances, they could be remotely ventriloquized by someone offstage, so that that person’s voice – or even written text – would be spoken by the simulacrum’s real-seeming voice.  In the recording studio, you’d just need the software which would generate the voice, or the instrumental performance.

In response to a question about whether watching a hologram performance was really any different from watching, say, an old Marilyn Monroe movie on TV.... .

No, I think there’s a greater dimension of wish-fulfillment and suspension of disbelief. The spectators are allowing themselves to half-believe that they are in the presence of the star. That’s why it’s like a ghost – a ghost could be defined as a “present absence”, neither here nor there, neither now nor then, but in some ontologically queasy interzone between being and nonbeing.

It’s eerie, it’s fascinating, it’s troubling. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

superzero

“This embracing of what were unambiguously children's characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence... It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite 'universes' presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times" - Alan Moore

I guess there is a retro element to the endless torrent of Marvel / DC / et al superhero vehicles

A regressive or stagnant element in terms of character typology, motivation, fantasy, morality, narrative etc

Coupled - paradoxically - with absolutely ultra-modern state of the art powers being flexed in terms of the technical execution of these "children's entertainments" - the CGI and motion-capture, the 3-D camerawork,  the sound design, the grading, the editing etc etc etc.

A parallel to my avant-lumpen theory about the most progressive or futuroid musical forms being coupled with politically regressive values and attitudes.

Technosonically in the future;  emotionally-libidinally in the.... Middle Ages, really.

Codes of honor, warrior-masculinity, potlatch etc etc

Return of the saga, the legend, the epic, the allegorical etc etc

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

On the subject of heroics and heroism, I think also of this book


Friday, May 17, 2019

Hauntology Parish Newsletter spring 2019 - Moon Wiring Club, Baron Mordant, The Caretaker

In the new edition of The Wire, I have an extended essay-review about the career-closing releases from The Caretaker and Mordant Music: the sixth and final installment of James Kirby's gargantuan Everywhere at the end of Time project, which started three years ago, and Baron Mordant's last blast, Mark of the Mould. The latter is an unmissable emission - like eMMplekz if the Baron handled the backing tracks as well as the verbals... the latter proving once again that Ian Hicks is simultaneously the Robert Macfarlane of built-up Britain and the Chris Morris of BoomkatKultur.






Also ruffling the parish this month - and making this newsletter a tale of two Ians - is the announcement of an unexpected, non-wintertime release from Moon Wiring Club aka Ian Hodgson.



Ghastly Garden Centres is a timely swerve from the ambient-amorphous direction of recent MWC releases and a jaunty step into brisk concision. In fact, the guiding concept here is that every track is a single - making the assemblage perhaps a Now! style compilation of hits, or a chart countdown. It's MWC - so it's still creepy and manky - but it's also catchy and bouncy.

As for the ghostly-ghastly gardening theme - well, apparently this is a real thing, a subject of internet obsession: abandoned, overgrown plant nurseries and derelict garden centres.




Further raising the pulse of parishioners is the parallel release of Catmask, a collection - styled as issue no. 1 of a glossy magazine - that pulls together Ian Hodgson's artwork: some already released, on the records or at the Blank Workshop website, but much unfamiliar and never seen. There are images from Ian's abandoned children's book project, for instance, which if I recall correctly, was the acorn from which grew the mighty oak of Clinkskell and the 21 - or 23,  depending on how you count - releases to date, including collaborations and side projects.


                                                   


Catmask is a gorgeous slinky looking and feeling object to peruse and fondle. It completes the sense of Moon Wiring Club as a project of.... I won't say, world-building, as that's a cliche now... but place-making, maybe.


                                                    










UK customers can buy Ghastly Garden Centres and Catmask here 

European customers can buy Ghastly Garden Centres and Catmask here 

Rest of world customers can buy Ghastly Garden Centres and Catmask here 








Thursday, May 9, 2019

meat(loaf) substitute

Tim Somner notices that

"Meat Loaf has, essentially, given his name and brand good-will to another artist, who is, essentially, touring as Meat Loaf . Personally, I think this is the wave of the future"

Yes, this is one step further towards rock developing the equivalent of  classical music repertory

But it's not just the score / songs that has to be reconstituted - it's the voice and the performance moves, the presence of the performer, as ersatz

Rock being as much about the vocal personality and the look / vibe of the artist, as it is about notes and textures and tempos.

The facsimile artist must replicate as closely as possible the grain of the singer's voice, the phrasing, the staging and gestures - all of those elements are "the score"

There was a Genesis tribute band who did a whole tour based on the  The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway Tour and got hold of the original slide projections and other staging elements (costumes, i should imagine) from Genesis. The whole thing was done with their blessing and perhaps with some of the revenue going to the original band, who knows.

You could imagine a really big band that is too old or frail to tour anymore actually franchising out concert-playing versions of themselves in different territories - South America, Asia,  Eastern Europe / Russia.

Of course the other route for retro-rock nostalgia would be the hologram tour, when it's a ghostly simulacrum of the artist as was that is wheeled out to "tread the boards"

But it's not too hard to imagine that digital technology could soon be capable of turning an artist's whole being - the sound, the look, the mannerisms, even creative reflexes - into an immortal brand that carries on long after the artist's death, perhaps even creating and performing new songs. Generating a revenue stream for the estate on top of the publishing, recording, etc monies. T

You could imagine that being done fairly easily with an actor, or a singer...  motion-capturing all the facial expressions and vocal / conversational tics - and then perhaps pasting that stuff on top of a body double in the filming situation, or simply generating it artificially for recordings.

The creative part - and the side that can do interviews or on-stage spontaneous banter, or collaborate with other musicians, jamming onstage with them or writing songs  - that might be a little harder. But given how fast technology has advanced, it's fairly likely that within our lifetime we'll see technology that can capture the soul-signature of an artist's identity and turn it into generative software.

A new way that the dead can tyrannise the living, the old dominate the young.


Friday, May 3, 2019

ArchivFieber, slight return - "The Remarkable Story of a Woman Who Preserved Over 30 Years of TV History"

via Atlas Obscura

"About 71,000 VHS and BETAMAX cassettes are sitting in boxes, stacked 50-to-a-pallet in the Internet Archive’s physical storage facility in Richmond, California, waiting to be digitized. The tapes are not in chronological order, or really any order at all. They got a little jumbled as they were transferred. First recorded in Marion Stokes’s home in the Barclay Condominiums in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, the tapes had been distributed among nine additional apartments she purchased solely for storage purposes during her life. Later, they passed on to her children, into storage, and finally to the California-based archive. Although no one knew it at the time, the recordings Stokes made from 1975 until her death in 2012 are the only comprehensive collection preserving this period in television media history.

"In 1975, Stokes got a Betamax magnetic videotape recorder and began recording bits of sitcoms, science documentaries, and political news coverage. From the outset of the Iran Hostage Crisis on November 4, 1979, “she hit record and she never stopped,” said her son Michael Metelits in Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, a newly released documentary about his mother and the archival project that became her life’s work."

"Stokes was no stranger to television and its role in molding public opinion. An activist archivist, she had been a librarian with the Free Library of Philadelphia for nearly 20 years before being fired in the early 1960s, likely for her work as a Communist party organizer...."

"Roger Macdonald, director of the television archives at the Internet Archive....   recalls asking [Michael] Metelits, “How could you physically manage taping all this stuff? And he said, ‘Well, we’d be out at dinner and we’d have to rush home to swap tapes’ … that was one of the cycles of their lives, tape swapping.”

"In addition to her son Michael and her husband, Stokes’s nurse, secretary, driver, and step-children were enlisted to assist in her around-the-clock task of capturing every moment on television....

"Now, Stokes’s work will be made publicly available on the Internet Archives, bit by bit, offering everyone the opportunity to examine history..."

Calling Borges, or do I mean Benjamin....