Thursday, September 19, 2013

this is the time for reenaction

A piece at The Quietus on reenactments in art and in music.

With Jo Mitchell and Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard interviewed, it's something of a reenactment of the last third of the first chapter of Retromania.

Which is sort of, kinda, not really, acknowledged in this paragraph:

"Simon Reynolds covers art reenactments of musical events in his book Retromania, and rather sniffily he concludes that "no matter how much research and preparation goes into reenactment, it is doomed to be an absurd ghost, a travesty of the original". And yet the motivation of the conceptual artists themselves doesn't appear to be about nostalgia at all. The ultimate goal is surely failure, because the attempt to recreate a carbon copy of an event is - and will always be - a futile one."

What's particularly amusing about this is that the third sentence is more or less a reenactment of the Retromania quote from the first sentence -- but with the alleged "sniffiness" removed. 

There is much talk about "failure" as an explicit aim with reenactments (again, rather familiar if you've read, or indeed written, Retromania).

Of more interest is the stuff on The Musical Box who reenact The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway with Genesis's blessing. The Quebec quintet managed to get hold of the original slideshow used on the 1974 concert, which suffered from technical problems and poor ticket sales. They also faithfully recreate the costumes, the choreography ("the show was less spontaneous gig than scripted rock opera so most moves were choreographed"), and the stage positions of the musicians in Genesis.

Jeremy Allen writes that "the motivation to re-enact a concert that so famously floundered is unusual enough to grab one's attention, but then the mind boggles when you start to consider the complete immersion required, the effort researching equipment and learning the parts and the untold hours spent assiduously perfecting what is essentially an illusion. The players in The Musical Box would have had no memory of the show on account of being too young to have seen it, so any charge of sentimental yearning for halcyon days must surely be a false one."

This warding-off of the spectre of nostalgia recurs repeatedly through the piece, gets almost frenzied  in the final stretch.
But surely even if not part of the mindset of the artists, it feeds into the bottom-line viability of these event in terms of their ability to draw audiences? Not just with the rock audience ones like The Musical Box's, but the art world ones too. Getting bums on seats, selling tickets.

And you can of course be nostalgic for something you didn't witness or experience. That vicarious, second-hand nostalgia is one of the most interesting syndromes to me, and I say that as one who has succumbed to it at times. It blurs into but it not the same as an interest in History or antiquarianism. It has a much more wistful / wishful tinge to it.

To me though the most revealing thing about the reenactment trend is that it is a distilled form of the  essence of the wider, sprawling retromania phenomenon:

Once, music made history.

Now, music comments on that history; or it's a replica of that history-making sound.

In the process, it forgoes the possibility of even connecting with current history-in-the-making, let alone intervening in it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Simon I guess this is related to this post, in contrast to this discussion of re-enactments and the re-staging of events from the pre-digital period, I wonder if you've been following the furore of the release of Grand Theft Auto 5? Which has been very peculiar I think, and further illustrates the power and excitement videogames command nowadays perhaps in place of music and films etc.