Monday, June 6, 2011

The Choral Village

It's been a while, I know, but there's a slight chance that you remember that my last post was Spirituality at the Speed of Light, and this new post is not entirely unrelated.  One of my graduate students in my FDU Understanding New Media Class this past spring semester brought this video to my attention, and in a musical sort of way, it demonstrates a new kind of electronic spirituality. 

The video is called Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir - 'Lux Aurumque' and, well, why don't you see it for yourself:

This is a wonderful experiment in the use of digital media and online communications for innovative collaboration.  As I understand it, Eric Whitacre posted a video of himself conducting, and then invited anyone who cared to participate to record themselves on video following his conducting and singing one or more of the parts of this piece, Lux Aurumque, and then send him the file.  He combined the audio of all the files to create this performance, and as for the video, well, you can see for yourselves.

The effect is quite amazing, perhaps also disquieting, as in one sense it generates a kind of virtual heavenly choir (and even in their most benign sense, the hosts of heaven would be awe-inspiring, at least that's the reputation they have).  Just listening, we can appreciate a wonderful product of audio editing, in the same way that we might appreciate, for example, the last few Beatles albums.  

The video though, gives this a sense of the disembodied, the discarnate, to use a term that McLuhan favored (and I imagine he would have been fascinated by this demonstration of a new sense of mediated spirituality).  

In a more profane manner, however, it also reminds me of the depiction of the phantom zone in the Superman movies.  This certainly gives talking heads a new meaning, or should it be singing heads instead?  I do like the small glimpse into each person's local background that we get.  But overall, this comes too close to a bunch of floating heads to be anything but uncanny.

Here is another video with a somewhat different shape to it, Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 2.0, 'Sleep':

Somehow, I find the spheres less disturbing than the flat screens.  Maybe this says something about the future of media?  The video also gives special emphasis to the international nature of this virtual collaboration.  If not quite a global village in McLuhan's sense, it is certainly a global choir, a networked choir as well, of course, and a celestial one for that matter, and to stick with the McLuhan allusion,  I guess you could call it a choral village.

If nothing else, these videos serve as a magnificent symbol of the promise of new media, digital media, participatory media, of the hope for what the human race might accomplish when we are all linked together and singing in chorus.  And if there is to be any hope for such a future, we need images like these to help us imagine it, and in doing so, try to bring it into being.  So bravo, Mr. Whitacre, bravo!!

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