Tag Archives: music video

I’ll be Watching You

I went to see Spectacle – the music video exhibition at ACMI (Australian Centre For the Moving Image) with my friend, Sean Doyle, ACMI’s Macintosh Systems Administrator. Sean kindly invited me to an ACMI staff family and friends viewing of the exhibition. We saw the exhibition and had a beer at Optic while wait for Jane Routley who was still watching the music videos (she was in there for two and a half hours). There were so many familiar videos bringing back so many memories. There are so many videos in the exhibition that it would take days to cycle through them all.

Music videos are like Wagner’s dream of a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, a total art experience uniting the visual with the audio. Wagner was right it is “The Artwork of the Future” but not in the way he would have wanted it to be; Wagner would not have wanted the pointless luxury that the spectacle of music videos offers. Wagner may not have wanted his MTV but there is a lot to appreciate in music videos. At their best many overlapping with video art or experimental movies and at the worst slick advertising productions – and all in under four minutes (compared to the hours of Wagner’s Ring Cycle).

Why go to the exhibition when I could sit on the couch on a Friday or Saturday night and watch Rage? With the right host selecting the videos Rage can be almost good as the selection of videos at Spectacle. This is a problem that all popular arts exhibitions face when the work is shown outside of the popular context.

The exhibition does puts music videos in a historical context; you will be surprised at the age of the phrase “music video”. I did get a laugh from the literal videos; videos with the lyrics rewritten to describe, literally what is happening in the video. (Check out “literal videos” on YouTube.) But a book or a documentary could have done that.

It is a beautifully presented exhibition and there is more to do that put on headphone and watch videos at Spectacle. It has a few works from the bleeding edge of music videos, including some interactive music videos, crowdsourced music videos and a stereoscopic music video from Björk. Sean told me about the work that he had to do on the Johnny Cash Project of crowd sourced animation. It is originally a webpage and Sean was tweaking the code for that to make it function for the exhibition.

Although my music collection ranges from Gary Numan to bhangra want I’m really into is the intersection between art and music. This is well represented in Spectacle, with bands like the Residents or EBM because curators, like critics, love that intersection. Rage doesn’t tend to play videos by the Residents or EBM and one of the Resident’s giant eyeball masks is at the exhibition. Why didn’t it have something from Severed Heads?

There isn’t much memorabilia and preparatory material in the exhibition, things that you can see first hand at an exhibition. Along with the giant eyeball, there is a small case of Countdown material, some animation cells including some for Ah Ha’s “Take On Me” and some storyboards for videos.



Person of Interest – Laurie Anderson

I first saw Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” in 1981 on the Kenny Evert Video Show. It was great, so witty and with the art sensibilities of the best of new wave music. I’ve been listening to her music ever since. But this post is not just about being a fan of Laurie Anderson but a way of understanding what is broadly called alternative music.

I felt that “O Superman” had destroyed the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow pop music. It was a turning point in uniting contemporary performance art with alternative music. (Instead of worrying about the distinction between high and popular culture/serious and middlebrow culture it is more interesting to see when and why good art and popular culture intersect.)

Alternative music was a Gesamtkunstwerk, the unified art form of the late 20th Century. It was not just the music but also the music videos, the performance, the image of the band in photos and interviews, all of that as a total work of art. I hoped that music videos would be a new forum for alternative film-making.

The history of art and rock music became permanently interwoven in the 1960s when Andy Warhol managed the Velvet Underground and conceptual artist Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles. Performance art and rock performances had been growing steadily closer. Consider: Gustav Metzger and auto destructive art and The Who’s performances where they smashed their instruments, the stadium sized displays of the Japanese art movement Gutai and stadium rock, how the record cover became a popular medium for visual arts from Peter Blake, Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney and how Malcolm McLaren changed the role of the rock manager into an art form.

That contemporary art and music on the same aesthetic grounds is fundamental to my understanding of art. Art not longer confined to galleries, it could be anywhere, on TV at home. That art was not a single thing but could consist of multiple things, actions, ideas and images.

Over the years I became more aware of Laurie Anderson’s background in sculpture and performance art from random articles that I would find in old art magazines and more recent articles. Was she visual artist, a writer/poet or musician (singer/songwriter); whatever combination of these things Laurie Anderson is she is very clever – and she is very funny. That’s always a good thing and learning to crafting that comedy must have come from her time with the comedian Andy Kaufman.

Anderson’s performances/songs are lyrical, they are focused on words, but so much art in the 1970s were focused on words. Anderson’s sayings and aphorisms are similar to those by the American artists, Jenny Holtzer and Barbara Kruger. Things that are said are very important that generation of artists.

As a musician working with synthesizers and other electronic music I was always impressed with Anderson’s music technology, including the ones that she invented. As an artist I wanted to record more music.

Watching Laurie Anderson dancing with William Burroughs on Home of the Brave was the start of my addiction to Burroughs (I’m getting around to writing about Burroughs as another person of influence). And finally I saw her perform live in 2007 doing Homeland at the Melbourne Concert Hall.

The soundtrack to my biopic would have to include some Laurie Anderson. On my first day on campus the doors of the lift at La Trobe University taking me up to the Philosophy Dept. closed revealing the familiar words of Laurie Anderson written in marker pen: “Paradise is like right now only much, much better.”

For a detailed analysis of O Superman read Isaac Butler’s essay “Here Come the Planes” on The Fiddleback.

The Velvet Underground film

After about twenty minutes into the film parts of the audience started to walk out. Either the camera work had got to them or it was clear to them that the Velvets weren’t about to break into a chorus of Sweet Jane. What did these people expect from an Andy Warhol film? Hadn’t they heard The Velvet Underground playing Sister Ray? People continued to walk out throughout the film. I was chilled in the front row with TC, tranced out with the droning electric guitars that seemed to have more in common with the dust and scratches on the film than the black and white images of Nico or Lou Reed.

The Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound was filmed at the Factory in January 1966. Even though music video clips had not been invented yet this 67min film features many of what have now become clichés of music videos, including the use of rapid zooming and panning in time with the music. Even the plot for a music video is remarkably familiar: band is playing live and the cops turn up. One NYC police officer suddenly appears in shot, smiles at the camera and turns the music down. The band plays for a bit more – “that’s still too loud” says a voice off camera. The cops talk to Andy and Gerard Malanga, his studio assistant, And the band packs up.

Eventually the camera runs out of film, end of film. Although the camera remains in a fixed position throughout the film and there is only one shot. It appears that Andy, or who ever was behind the camera (because Andy is in front of the camera at the end), was endlessly playing with the camera rather than doing what Andy Warhol was famous for a static shot with no pans or zooms. If only they had done a fixed shot the film would have been a lot better.

The Velvet Underground and Nico: a Symphony of Sound was part of a series of films by Andy Warhol showing at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). I went with my old friend TC who played guitar in a garage band with me. We are both fans of the Velvets; we used to play cover versions of Sweet Jane and Venus in Furs. Later I played in a Velvet Underground cover band, Edie Sedgwick’s Overdose with Ron Rude. Although, we were both fans of the Velvets, neither TC nor myself had seen the film nor heard the music. This was a rare screening of the film. Except for footage from their revival tour I have never before seen The Velvet Underground playing. I have seen a few still images from this film but never the moving picture.

Although I had never heard the “symphony of sound” before the music was not unfamiliar. It was not unlike Sister Ray but without any vocals and an hour long – something like the performances that the Velvets would later do in the afternoons of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Mo Tucker’s ever steady drumming was holding the droning sound of guitars and electric viola together. At one stage John Cage appeared to play some amplified long steel springs with a table knife but it was difficult to see what he was doing as the camera was mostly on Nico (tambourine) or her 3-year old son, Ari (maraca).

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