Monday, June 20, 2011

The Magneto Question

So, I thought I'd just say a few words about the recently released film, X-Men: First Class, which is the 5th film based on the Marvel Comics series originally launched in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  It's also the second prequel, and essentially relates the origin of the X-Men.

Now, I'm not going to go all fan-boy on you and write about whether the films are true to the original comics in their depiction of characters and plot lines, whether they diverge for reasons good or bad, etc.  As an old, old time comics reader, I have mixed feelings about all that, but as a media scholar I think it clear that when it comes to film adaptations, original texts are nothing more than raw material. 

And comics in general, have served as quite a  productive laboratory for raw material, as numerous authors have worked and reworked the characters and narratives over half a century, or more.  There is a wealth of material to draw on, and the task becomes one of developing a coherent and captivating narrative and spectacle without entirely losing the connection to the original, the character's integrity, the basic story's key elements, etc.

So, X-Men: First Class emerges out of the comics own reworking and revising of its own material, its back story and history, as X-Men leader and mentor, Professor Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, was originally nothing more than an enemy to Magneto, the supervillain and leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (yes, that is what they called themselves!).  But for more sophisticated times, their early history was re-imagined as one of friendship, leading to a split, as along the lines of Martin Luther King and Malcom X.  So Professor X and Magneto, or Charles and Erik, are at once colleagues, friends, rivals, frenemies (to use a recent coinage), and foes, and the film, while featuring a legion of superpowered mutants, focuses on their early relationship, as can be seen from at least some of the trailers:

The main theme of the X-Men comics, especially for the past several decades, has been bias, stereotyping, prejudice, scapegoating, oppression, etc., directed at mutants.   As alluded to above, one source for this is the civil rights movement, and the history of African-Americans in the United States.  The opposition between the nonviolent leadership of Martin Luther King and the militant stance of Malcom X, central to Spike Lee's 1989 cinematic masterpiece, Do the Right Thing, is played out in a less threatening, more distanced manner, through the conflict between the two mutant leaders. 

This requires a shift in the way Magneto is portrayed, from pure villain, an evil mutant, to something significantly more ambiguous.  He becomes the realist to Xavier's idealist, the defender of his people, a classic hero trait.  Indeed, over the past few decades, the comics have shifted wildly in their portrayal of this character, at some points turning him into a reformed criminal, a genuine superhero, and at other points making him out to be a terrorist and mass murderer. 

No doubt, this reflects some of our own ambivalence about terrorists.  As much as we abhor them, especially after 9/11, there is the difficult lack of clarity about how to define a terrorist.  Back when Reagan was president, I remember how many of us found it ridiculous when, in one of his speeches, he spoke about fighting terrorists while supporting freedom fighters.  What a case of semantic confusion!  And given our nation's birth in revolution, within American culture we identify with the freedom fighters, the rebels and revolutionaries, fighting against the evil empire (another Reaganism).  Our anti-authoritarianism supports all that anti-government politics that, most recently, has taken the form of the Tea Party (back in Boston, a revolutionary, and anti-authoritarian action).  And it leads us to make heroes out of outlaws, e.g., Jesse James, Al Capone, etc.  Magneto, then, moves into the outlaw-hero mode, at least at times.

Another, more recent, source of inspiration is the gay rights movement, as for example the line, "Mutant and Proud" is repeated several times in X-Men: First Class.  Along similar lines is the theme of scientists developing a "cure" for mutation, and forcing it on mutants who may not want it.  This appears first in comics, and then makes its way to the movies, for example the most recent of the sequels, X-Men:  Last Stand:

Here we see Magneto as militant leader and as terrorist, most dramatically in the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge.

But there is a third major source of inspiration that cuts close to the bone for me, and that's Jewish history, especially in the 20th century.  The Holocaust is a major touchstone for any discussion of prejudice and scapegoating, and the theme of genocide comes up repeatedly in the comics, as well as actual images of concentration camps (often in alternate future scenarios where anti-mutant sentiment is carried out to its extreme). 

But there is more than metaphor at work here, as Magneto is depicted as having been sent to a concentration camp as a child, losing his parents there, and being shaped by the traumatic experience.  This is shown in the first X-Men movie, at the very beginning, where we see Magneto as a boy, reacting to the loss of his parents with an initial, sadly limited display of his magnetic powers.  The same scene is shown in X-Men: First Class, now fleshed out as he suffers at the hands of a mutant-obsessed Dr. Mengele-type Nazi doctor, whose brutality permanently scars the young Erik.  That same doctor becomes the villain of the film as the action shifts to 1962, eventually intersecting with JFK's Cuban Missile Crisis.

Interestingly, I've come across a fan-film on YouTube, put together from scenes from the first X-Men movie and its sequels (but not X-Men: First Class) in 2009 that's called X-Men Origins:  Magneto Trailer.  It's intended to give a sense of what that sort of movie would look like, and in a sense that's what X-Men: First Class really is, but it's useful in this context because it brings together key moments from Ian McKellen's portrayal of the contemporary, old Magneto from the first 3 films:

You might note that, apart from the Holocaust setting, there actually is nothing Jewish about this character who is presented to us as Jewish.  If anything, Ian McKellen provides a very British counterpoint to Patrick Stewart, as does Michael Fassbender as the young Magneto (he was raised in Ireland) to James McAvoy's young Xavier (he was raised in Scotland).  I mean, absolutely nothing Jewish about him, aside from the fact that he is identified as Jewish, and sent to a concentration camp.  Being Jewish, then, is reduced to a symbol, first of being a victim, then of the idea of never again (the slogan of the Jewish Defense League founded by extremist Meir Kahane, who some saw as a terrorist), of an "Old Testament" (from a Christian point of view) eye for an eye approach in contrast to Xavier's turn the other cheek (no crucifixion in this instance, but he does lose his ability to walk, the wheelchair having been a symbol of leadership in the postwar era, as FDR's disability became widely known), of going too far.  And I can't help but wonder if his character doesn't, in this sense, reflect the negative view that all too many hold of the State of Israel today, of employing unnecessary force, disproportionate responses, occupying territory and oppressing the inhabitants, etc. 

Is Israel like Magneto?  No, of course not. But the contemporary character of Magneto reflects, in certain ways, popular negative views of the Jewish state, misconceptions and ignorance about the historical, cultural, political and military context of the Middle East, and ironically enough, bias and prejudice against the Jewish people (some of which is held by Jews themselves, a not uncommon phenomenon among groups subjected to this sort of treatment).  You know, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Jews were seen mainly as victims, and the question everyone seemed to be asking was, how could you (meaning us Jews) let it happen?  And specifically, how could you let them march you off without a fight to the concentration camps to be killed?  There was not only incredulity in the way the questions were posed, but also a hint of ridicule. 

At that time, it was not well understood how manipulate the Nazis were, how deceptive they were about where they were taking their Jewish captives, and how weakened the Jews were by a prolonged prelude of deprivation.  Nor was it well known that there were some groups that did take up arms and fight against the Nazi war machine.  But as far as I can recall, no one praised the Jews for our long history of nonviolence, as they did in making a secular saint out of Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or countless Christian martyrs and clergy.  Maybe people only esteem nonviolence when it's successful?  Or maybe that's the problem with prejudice, whatever you do or don't do, you're wrong.

Back in the days when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, both Jewish, were making the Marvel Universe from scratch, Magneto was not Jewish.  He was a concentration camp survivor, yes, but Jews were not the only ones who were interned there.  He was not Jewish, but you can understand that the character reflected some aspects of Jewish experience, as did Spider-Man (early on identified as Woody Allen turned superhero) and the Fantastic Four's The Thing, aka Benjamin Grimm (a rough and tumble lower east side type), as did Superman earlier on, and The Spirit, and much of the comic output at mid-century.  But there were no characters identified as Jewish until recently, in some ways reflecting Jewish reticence (keep a low profile, and one bag packed for that matter), no doubt also the feeling that the mainstream reader could not relate to or sympathize with Jewish characters, but maybe perhaps too the sense that prejudice would distort the message that the characters are meant to convey.

Truth be told, we have not figured out how to deal with Jewish characters in these kinds of popular narratives.  Comedy, yes, no problem, and drama, sure, we can work with that.  But adventure, science fiction, fantasy, horror, not so much.  I should note, though, that Marvel Comics did introduce a good Jewish mutant back in the 80s, a young girl named Kitty Pryde who has the power to become intangible. Here's an image from Marvel's Ultimate line of comics, a more recent reworking of their original, ongoing universe, one where her Star of David is more frequently and prominently seen:

Kitty does appear make a brief appearance in one or two of the X-Men movies, I don't recall which off hand, but anyway she is never identified by name, let alone religion.  I also want to honorably mention Willow Rosenberg, from the TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

I only saw an occasional episode of the series on reruns until just recently, when I've been going through the entire run, and just started on the 7th and last season.  So, early on, Willow mentions the fact that she's Jewish on occasion, but that's about it.  She still uses crosses to ward off vampires, becomes a witch and therefore identified as a Wiccan in later seasons, and that, along with being a lesbian, dominates her identity.  Oh, I should add that Joss Whedon clearly draws on the X-Men comics at the end of season six, when Willow loses control and becomes Dark Willow, a reference to the well known (in the comics world) Dark Phoenix character and storylines.  That happens after Willow's lover is murdered, so I guess that makes her a bit like Magneto, after all.

So, what's the point of all this.  To be honest, I'm really unsure, and to be honest, I'm not altogether comfortable in bringing it up, but I did feel that I should say something about my discomfort with Magneto's Jewish identity.  Maybe I'm overly sensitive as the child of Holocaust survivors myself, but Magneto is a murderer, whatever else he may be, and I don't know, maybe it's happened, but have you ever heard of a Holocaust survivor murdering anyone?  I tried googling it, but all that I saw coming up, in an admittedly cursory search, were news stories about survivors being murdered.  So for me, this new back story just doesn't ring true.

Maybe it's just that being Jewish works well for the storyteller, we really have been telling some all time great stories for the past four thousand years, but when it comes to being characters in other people's narratives, well, that's where the trouble begins, the bias and the scapegoating, that's when they prick us and we start bleeding, profusely.  Maybe. 

Or maybe it's just that, for me, when it comes to the movies' Magneto, the character just doesn't hold any attraction?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Everywhere a Sign

So, I don't know if they play the song on the radio more often in the summer than at other times of the year, but it just seems that whenever the weather warms up I start to hear the song, "Signs" which was originally performed by the Five Man Electrical Band in 1970, and written by band member Les Emmerson.  It really is one of the great protest songs of the 60s (some of you may not know that "the 60s" extended into the first few years of the 70s, and didn't quite get started until 1962), it always gets me in a mood to shout "right on!" (well, maybe not exactly, but something like that), but it also has an underlying spiritual and religious quality that I find quite endearing. 

So I checked over on YouTube and it turns out there's a plethora of videos set to the song.  It seems that folks just can't resist the temptation to create a montage of signs to go along with the tune.  Here's one that seems to be particularly popular, and uses the longer version of the song (the difference being a short instrumental intro before the singing starts):

And here are the lyrics:

And the sign said "Long-haired freaky people need not apply"
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said "You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you'll do"
So I took off my hat, I said "Imagine that. Huh! Me workin' for you!"

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?

And the sign said anybody caught trespassin' would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house, "Hey! What gives you the right?"
"To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in"
"If God was here he'd tell you to your face, Man, you're some kinda sinner"

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?

Now, hey you, mister, can't you read?
You've got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can't even watch, no you can't eat
You ain't supposed to be here
The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside

And the sign said, "Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray"
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn't have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said, "Thank you, Lord, for thinkin' 'bout me. I'm alive and doin' fine."

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?

Now, if you are at all into semiotics, aka semiology, you might well regard this song as an anthem celebrating that field.  After all, semiotics was defined as the "science of signs" and alternatively as the study of signs, and the key term of sign refers to anything that has meaning beyond itself, anything that has significance, is significant, anything that signifies.   

The term sign in semiotics is used in much the same way that the term symbol has been used in other approaches, although in semiotics, symbol is a subset of sign, along with icon (i.e., visual images), and index (i.e., natural objects like tracks left by an animal, smoke as an indication of fire, yellow skin as a symptom of jaundice, the appearance of storm clouds "announcing" that it's about to rain, or a dog growling as a warning that it will attack if its space is violated).  In other fields, symbol may be similarly differentiated and limited to digital codes, or simply contrasted to signals (the equivalent of the index in semiotics), or may be used in as broad a manner as semioticians use sign (as Susanne K. Langer does, for example).

Semiotics and semiology share a common root with semantics, the root sem referring to meaning, and I should note that there is also some connection to general semantics:  Korzybski considered Charles Saunders Peirce, the 19th century pragmatist philosopher and founder of semiotics, to have developed his own version of a non-Aristotelian approach.  In general semantics, the term symbol is used more commonly than sign, Korzybski followed Pavlov in distinguishing between symbol reactions and signal reactions, combining them under the heading of semantic reactions.  Of course, his key term was abstracting, rather than symbol or meaning, but I digress.

So, anyway, I don't think it would come as any surprise that some hip semioticians have used the line, "sign, sign, everywhere a sign" in their publications on semiotics.  I don't have any specific quotations handy, but I know I've seen it used a number of times.  I'm fairly certain the prolific communication scholar Arthur Asa Berger was one of the scholars who did so.  

But I don't want to talk semiotics here.  Instead, I want to bring in some media ecology.  But first, let's take a break and check out another version of the song,   In 1990 a band called Tesla (note the electricity connection, and pardon the pun) did a live acoustic version of the song that became a big hit, and all in all, I think they did a very good job of it, albeit with a few minor, profane adjustments to the lyrics:

So now, where was I?  Oh yes, In Orality and Literacy, Walter Ong states, in taking issue with Jacques Derrida's rather absurd claim that writing preceded speaking, that "words are not signs."  This has to be understood as something more than a rejection of semiotics, however.  Ong reminds us that words are primarily utterances, speech, and therefore sounds, acoustic phenomena.  We call the written word words, but in reality writing is a secondary symbol system, the letters or characters standing for sounds, in the case of the alphabet or syllabic writing, for sounds that we put together to form words, in the case of logographic writing (e.g., Chinese ideograms) for the sounds of a word in its entirety.

So, Ong doesn't want us to confuse the written representation of a word with the genuine word itself as a speech-act (whether actually occurring, or in potential).  So, why does that make the term sign problematic, given its relatively abstract definition, which can be applied to anything we perceive as meaningful in some way?  The problem lies not in the definition, but the etymology of the word, which is decidedly visual, referring to a mark, a token, or more basically, a gesture, a pointing out.  Even the ways in which we explain the process of signfication tends to invoke visual terms, that a sign stands for something else, points to something else, re-presents something else.  Signs are seen, not heard, are shown, discerned, revealed, read.  They can be found in the clouds, the flight of birds, in tea leaves, in the stars and planets, in the entrails of a sacrificial lamb, in the palm of your hand.

And of course, signs are a medium for the public display of written messages.  That's what the song is all about.  The lyrics repeat the phrase, "the sign said" and sure, that's how we talk about it, but technically, signs do not say anything, they don't speak (leaving out new kinds of electronic screens), they display, and we read them.  Technically, yes, but there's a more important point to be made here.

The song protests the ubiquitous nature of signage--everywhere a sign.  And while there's a quick nod to their visual pollution of the natural environment, which relates back to First Lady Jackie Kennedy's Keep America Beautiful campaign, and the particular complaint against the postwar proliferation of billboard advertising, the main issue is one of control.  Signs are used to control behavior, telling us what we have to do and what we are not allowed to do--do this, don't do that.  Through the use of the written word, signs convey authority, so that beyond someone telling you what to do, they point to the sign for support, legitimacy, and power--can't you read the sign? 

So, the point is that in a literate culture, the practice arises of putting up signs that not only identify things and relate information, but also that command.  And this practice has been especially relied upon in the west, and in the modern, typographic era, where increasing literacy rates increased the efficacy of written signage.  What we have done, in effect, has been to provide an overlay of the written word onto the natural environment, and more to the point, onto the artificial environment of roads and buildings that we have created for ourselves.
Go for a drive and signs are essential.  Walk down a street and see how many signs surround us.  And sure, advertising has become a big part of it, but it's also signs that name each street and that name or at least number each house and building.  One of the problems our soldiers faced in Iraq, in mounting counterinsurgency efforts, is that many of the roads there had no name, and the houses had no number.  How then, to find anything, or anyone?  

And back in 1945, when we occupied Japan, we ran into a different kind of problem, as they were more of a literate society, but one based on the Japanese syllabary and Chinese ideograms rather than the alphabet.   So, in Japan, they named or numbered the blocks, not the streets, and they numbered houses not in linear, spatial order, but in the order that they were built, so the oldest house would be number 1, for example, and the next one built would be number 2, and so on.  Edward T. Hall wrote about some of these intercultural differences regarding the human use of space, which he termed proxemics, in his classic work, The Hidden Dimension.

Signs are semiotic, and semantic, in that they tell us what things mean.  That's why we look at the little sign next to the painting in the art museum, to give us some meaning, some context, some idea of what the image is about.  Even just knowing the identify of the painter helps to explain the painting to us, and before there was the sign in the museum, there was, dating back to the Renaissance, the artist's signature.

So, we have overwritten our world by way of signs, turning it into a book.  Nature was once held to be a book, a complementary volume to scripture, and from this idea came modern science.  McLuhan made the point that the medieval grammarians (grammar being the ancient/medieval study of language and literature, of meaning and interpretation, which would relate to general semantics and media ecology) pioneered this approach to studying both God's word and God's works.  

But we weren't satisfied with just seeing the world as a book to be read, we wound up filling it with our own marginalia. 

So, this situation makes perfect sense to members of a typographic culture.  But for those born into the new electronic culture that television had given rise to, the ubiquity of signs suddenly shifts from background, routine and environmental, to the foreground of consciousness.  Their function, to control and coordinate, are likewise make visible and obvious, and are seen as oppressive.  The electronic kids of the postwar baby boom chafed at the restrictions of the posted sign, their static nature, all status quo, put into sharp relief against the dynamism of electronic media.  So this generation rose up in rebellion against many things, including signs.

It is therefore no accident that the song begins, seemingly in medias res, with the line:  And the sign said "Long-haired freaky people need not apply" (starting the sentence with "And" has a biblical resonance to it, relating to an ancient Hebrew poetic tradition, and you may have noticed that I begin sentences this way quite often).  It is an acknowledgement of the generation gap that existed at that time, a gap much wider than any that exists between baby boomer parents and their offspring.  Throughout the song, signs are hostile to hippies, to the young, and generally, to people who are trying to live freely, openly, and ethically.  Signs divide and conquer, they keep you out and support unfair claims of property rights.  Perhaps most damning of all,

Signs are sins!

Now that's heavy!  Well, I have more to say about this, but maybe we need to take another break.  And since I brought up the first line of the lyrics, I think it worth including on this post that a fellow called Fatboy Slim (real name Norman Cook) created an electronic dance piece called "Long Haired Freaky People" drawing on the first line of "Signs" which certainly is an homage of sorts:

And before continuing on, let me also mention that I thought that Sarah Brimley's video set to Fatboy Slim recording was quite impressive:

Now, let me see, ok, yeah, so the song ends with the narrator turning the tables:  So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign.  Now holding aside the question of whether his writing a note and sticking into the collection plate can be called a sign or not, the important point is the shift from signs as a read-only mode of communication to a read-write mode, and this of course presages the further evolution of electronic culture from television to new media, which are also referred to, quite aptly in this instance, as participatory media.  The counterculture ethic that this song expresses is the yearning for participation, and the new electronic media have made that possible.

So now here we are over four decades after "Signs" was released, and we are now in the process of writing over our environment once again, only this time electronically.  For one, we are seeing more and more electronic signs, which are dynamic (sometimes causing problematic distractions for drivers) and could and will potentially provide messages tailored to the individual passerby.  Through our mobile devices, we also are making it possible to access information about places, using GPS tracking to create a virtual electronic environment to overlay the physical place, using the built-in camera to recognize places and provide information about them, and using QR codes posted in the environment to link to material online.

We are continually remaking our environments, and typically not by building from scratch, but by overlaying the new on top of the old.  So now, we are adding to the ubiquity of signs, ubiquitous computing, and in doing so, maybe the written signs will become less necessary, and the environment will be better off, at least visually, for it.

So, we have gone from the age of signs, to the age of networks. And I think that's an improvement over all, but there still may be a new protest song in there, somewhere, sometime.

Oh, and by the way, if you want to hear a live version from the original Five Man Electrical Band, you can catch it towards the end of a clip from a 2004 television appearance, but you have to watch it over on YouTube, as embedding is disabled for this one:  Five Man Electrical Band live on Mike Bullard Show (and yes, they've aged, but still retain that spirit of rebellion). 

And that's all for now, so this is Lance Strate, signing off...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

the biases that bind

So, you may remember, say from my previous post, On the Binding Biases of Time, that earlier this year I published a book by that title.  Remember?  Have you purchased your copy yet?  If not, in addition to the handy widgets on the right, here are couple more for your convenience:

OK, so, anyway, the title essay in that volume has a rather poetic ending, if I do say so myself, so I have taken the liberty of isolating those lines, abstracting to use general semantics parlance, or decontextualizing if you prefer the term used in orality-literacy studies, and in a sense turning them into a poem (or you might say that they already were one, and this is just revealing them for the poem they are, take your pick).

In doing so, I've also played with the structuring a bit, using Courier which, as a monospace font, makes it easy to line things up vertically.  And here, for what's it's worth, is the result:

the biases that bind

 we are binders of time

        bound up

 by our biases  of time

 we are moved

 by our consciousness

                of time

        as we tell time

    and as we tell ourselves

         that only time

         will tell

    as we play for time

and as we pray

    as we pray for time

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Musical Media and Other Acts of Coordination

If the last post was too classical for your tastes, and your preferences run more towards show tunes, how about this musical expression of social media that one of my Fordham undergraduate students in last semester's Social Media class introduced me to:

Gotta Share! is a product of ImprovEverywhere, one of the leading coordinators of flash mobs and the like.  As they describe themselves on their website

Improv Everywhere is a New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places. Created in August of 2001 by Charlie Todd, Improv Everywhere has executed over 100 missions involving tens of thousands of undercover agents.

 As you can see, their pranks are impressively complex and creative.   Here's their latest one, called The Mute Button:

And this is one of their best known pranks, Frozen Grand Central:

This one, The Camera Flash Experiment, is a very interesting idea that perhaps did not work out quite as well as they had hoped:

But I am particularly impressed with their MP3 experiments, based on the popularity of MP3 players, e.g., the iPod.  Here is The MP3 Experiement 6:

While this represents their most elaborate act of coordination involving new media, I find all of their experiments and pranks, probes as McLuhan would put it, to be very much in the spirit of social media, and electronic media more generally, in their emphasis on participation, performance (this is a form of improv, after all, and arguably performance art), social networking, and collaboration.  While comedic in intent, they serve the important function of humor as a means of exploring and understanding our situations and environments, humor as a mode of criticism, analysis, and understanding.

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!!