From Sherry Mayo to Es Devlin : a new kind of spectatorship

My first post on my blog… so much pressure. I’ve never had a blog before, and I will learn along the way…

Starting chronologically is the logical choice. Let’s say I was reading an article for my PG01: Sherry Mayo  The Prelude to Millennium: the Backstory of Digital Aesthetics. At the end of the “An Aesthetic Shift” paragraph, she states that there is a new form of spectatorship as exhibitions and shows/spectacle are getting more and more virtualized.
I watched a documentary (Netflix’s original series, Abstract episode 2) about Es Devlin, a Stage Designer. She worked for celebrities like Beyoncé, Kanye West, Adele, Lady Gaga etc.
She explains how smartphones pushed her to create shows that look great from any angle. Stars are used to have all the attention, but the spectacle needs to meet the requirement of the fans. The performances are recorded, edited and shared online in real time. Everything needs to be scaled up to give something interesting to see to the people at the far end.

For example, Adele’s make-up artist became the stage painter as Devlin planned to have the singer’s eyes projected on a huge screen during the performance. Es is conscious that her concept and set up of the show will be edited and shared through social media and forges ahead by planning/creating the spectacle in a way where nothing is left to hazard. She knows who will see what and from where, and plans ahead. A good way to fight back gently, as fans will think they just capture a great moment of the show by themselves with their smartphone (maybe) without suspecting that it was meant to be this way.

I was lucky to go to Adele show at the O2 Arena, I usually choose to stand at ground level. I like it as it gives me the impression to look up to an artist that I admire and can more or less see the whole stage from a front view. However, there was no standing area for Adele’s show, and I manage to get some seat at the far end, slightly on the left of the stage.

We were a bit far from the stage, but Adele could move to the centre of the hall and interact with people. From there everyone could see here, and her image was also projected on the thin silk screen surrounding her. It almost looks like a three-dimensional Adele. There was the real one small in the centre, and I could see a projection of her from different angles all around her. This stage set combined with her powerful voice gave me goosebumps, Thank’s Es!

Some Artist/Musicians/Bands like to interact with their public through technology. My favourite show so far must be Rammstein in 2013 (Interlaken, Greenfield festival). This German band is worldwide known as the pioneer of a new genre of music: industrial metal or even “Neue Deutsche Härte” (I think this is the best description of their music hard-powerful, rough and brutal and most of the lyrics are in German. In their two documentaries part of “Rammstein in Amerika”, you can follow their evolution and how Till Lindeman start to use pyrotechnic effects in their show as an amateur, which led to a few accidents. But don’t worry their fine! Tough guys… and perspicacious! Lindemann got a certification in pyrotechnics so that the band can create stunning effects safely.
The flamethrower is part of Rammstein’s Manifesto as much as Lindemann’s bass voice and controversial lyrics. Fireworks were activated remotely during the show to match the music rhythms. There is a huge set up behind the stage to move all the elements at the right moment: cages, lights and screens. You get blown away by the energy of the show and the heat if you’re standing in the front row is unbelievable.
Rammstein shows an impressive level of dedication to their art when there are on stage. It is a performance with sweat, fire and real acting… I won’t say more here, you have to experience it for yourself. After the concert, you just feel like a steamroller drove over you. Feuer Frei!

In 2014, I returned to the same festival and saw Iron Maiden. The use of giant puppets, fire and light effects and projection has to be acclaimed. It’s more than an ordinary concert. The band create an atmosphere and identity. Fans were of all ages, and the ambience was relaxed and fascinated. You can see some of the backstage details like gears and cables but there was emotion, and that’s all that counts.

In 2012, I saw Alice Cooper (Rock’oz, Avenches CH), the venue is unique as the festival takes place in a Roman Arena, it’s a magical place with a historical heritage.

It was entertaining to see a contemporary artist such as Alice Cooper take over the place with all his disguises, makeup and “mise en scene”. Maybe the show was meant for a bigger audience as I felt like Cooper missed an occasion to connect with his fans. The venue is quite small compared to the stadiums he is used to.

This is quite ironical as we know about Stage Machinery which was invented thousands of years before electricity. Romans and Greeks achieved some theatrical effects with the help of underground pumping system and devices like traps to elevate or lower parts of the stage. They called it “Deus ex machina” (from Latin: god out of the machine), and there are two different meanings to this expression. The first one is that in Roman and Greek drama, near the end of the play, a God appears from above the stage (sky) and descent to resolve the plot. The other meaning is used more nowadays to express an unexpected twist/resolution/saviour.

Technology helped us to archive a greater realism during stage performances, hiding all machinery, making it invisible. Does this bring artist closer to Gods? Or is it lowering the status of Gods? One thing is sure we (spectators) always loved this kind of show with special effects as there is something magical about it.

Other Artist and bands prefer a soberer approach and fill the stage with their personality and charisma. A particular thought to the energetic Iggy Pop and the regretted Lemmy Kilmister. The is no accusation at all, but I sometimes feel disconnected from the artist I came to see if too many effects are used for example playback.

I am also sceptical when I see people recording a whole show on their phone as it creates a sea of light in front of the stage. You lose that great moment Es Devlin talks about: when all the lights are turned off, and everyone is waiting for the show to start.Sometimes I go to a concert, I pay for a ticket to go a to a unique venue at a given moment to see a beloved artist and I end up seeing half of the show on the phone screens of the people in front of me. Should I stay at home, buy the DVD of the live show and watch it whenever it is convenient for me? No, as a concert is a unique experience that technology cannot recreate. Yet.

Sometimes I go to a concert, I pay for a ticket to go a to a specific venue at a given moment to see a beloved artist and I end up seeing half of the show on the phone screens of the people in front of me. (Yes, I am quite short, and high heels is not an option for concerts) Should I stay at home, buy the DVD of the live show and watch it whenever it is convenient for me? No, as a concert is a unique experience that technology cannot recreate yet. For example, the smell if the concert is outdoor and it just stopped raining, you’re are standing there shivering but excited, and everyone around you has the same feeling.

Maybe one day we will be able to watch a concert in Japan while sitting on a comfy couch in London and feel the beats as if we were there. Or even enjoying a private concert given by a hologram of your favourite artist just for you.

(I will talk more about holograms in the PG02 category)

Is that too long for a first post? I got carried a bit carried away…


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