Syncing art with tech

Syncing Art with Tech

by Yong Shu Hoong, ST Life! 28th July 2011) 

On my European trip earlier this month, I made ita point to stop over in the English city of Manchester. It was not because I wanted to visit Old Trafford, as most Premier League fans would, but I was keen to attend a live performance by Icelandic singer Bjork.

According to the programme of the biennial Manchester Internti’onal Fes’val, she would be unveiling tracks from her eighth studio album, Biophilia (slated for release on Sept 27), in a series of shows in Campfield Market Hall.

What piqued my interest was the crucial role that technology plays in this ‘mul’media project encompassing music, apps, Internet, installations and live shows. According to online ar’cles that I’ve read, Bjork plans to release corresponding iPad apps for tracks off her latest album, so as to allow her listeners to interact with music in a new way.

The idea of tapping technology for the arts is a seductive one. Not only does it show that the artist in the limelight is keeping abreast of current trends, it also gives the media a news angle to write about, potentially creating a hype about how this artist is at the forefront of innovation.

Even Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh is not spared in this regard, though the use of technology is not of his choosing. Van Gogh Alive, an ongoing exhibition at the ArtScience Museum, projects large images of the artist’s pain’ngs onto the venue’s walls and floors, though I have the feeling that nothing beats the experience of viewing his actual artworks in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum.

In this era of Facebook (or Google+, if you want to try something new) and iPhones, aided by movies such as The Social Network (2010) and Tron: Legacy (2010), obsessions with technology are seen as glamorous and hip, rather than plain-old geeky.

At the very least, being technology-savvy can be a survival tool that helps one get ahead, whether in the realm of art and culture, or other fields of work.

Nowadays, it is common for a marke’ng plan to encompass a sec’on on how social media is being harnessed to create awareness of products and services.

I’ve also seen how technology has altered the media business -from ci’zen journalism, where members of the public make use of Internet and smartphones to capture, compile and distribute news information, to how print journalists would also double as bloggers to add another dimension to their reporting.

On a less positive note, in the recent News Of The World phone-hacking scandal, technology plays a role too, since hacking techniques would typically involve malware and the overcoming of PIN and encryption protection.

In a recent conversa’on, a friend was quite adamant in opining to me that electronic books would never replace printed hard copies. While nodding along, I was, at the back of my mind, already contemplating the possibility of my next book of poems being released for iPad or the Kindle e-book reader.

While there are poets, or even some journalists, who are self-proclaimed Luddites, technology is nothing new to me. After all, in my previous life, I had worked for years as an IT professional.

During job interviews, managers would look at my resume and mull over the perceived incongruence between my computer science degree and my interest in writing poetry, as if they were opposite poles and (quoting Rudyard Kipling) ‘never the twain shall meet’.

In one interview at a statutory board, I had to explain the similari’es between the structures in programming languages and poetic stanzas, in order to clinch the job I was applying for, but subsequently did not take up.

Drawing such parallels, as I did during the interview, may seem a li”le tenuous. But really, one shouldn’t be too surprised by the link between art and technology, since art reflects life, and technology has now pervaded so many aspects of our lives.

As far as Bjork’s Manchester performance went, it was a feast for the senses for everyone present. As explained through the recorded voice-over by naturalist Sir David Attenborough, the concert was a fusion of nature, technology and music, in keeping with the theme of Biophilia. Artsy videos played out on screens arranged around a circular stage, where the singer performed new songs such as Crystalline and Virus, as well as hits from past albums.

Bespoke musical instruments were featured during the 90-minute show -from 3m-tall pendulums that plucked harp strings in tandem with the earth’s gravitational pull, to a pipe organ that was able to receive digital informa’on. During the opening song Thunderbolt, mini lightning bolts could be seen dancing within an electrical contrap’on lowered from the ceiling, producing melodic basslines.

I can understand how a”empts to marry art and technology can some’mes be dismissed as ‘gimmicky’. After sitting through one too many theatre performances making extensive use of mutitimedia, I sometimes long for a compelling dialogue-driven play, with basic set design, that moves me with the issues it raises and emo’ons provoked.

I got the sense that the new and the old were intertwined at Bjork’s concert. And the accompaniment of an Icelandic female choir also added an organic touch to her electronics-infused songs.

Still, it’s the music that made all the difference, ultimately. I wouldn’t have enjoyed her gig if her singing was off and if the music failed to complement what dazzling effects technology had brought to the show.

In life, technology has served us well in many ways. Should we be on Facebook? And should we stick to leather-bound diaries with acid-free pages or replace them with tablet computers? These are ques tions we can reflect upon, in view of our preferences and principles.

Likewise, in art, we can continue to push the envelope with all the technologies available at our disposal. But we should do so with a sense of concept and purpose, so that the union of art and technology can be seamless and harmonious, and life can be seen in a startling new light.

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