When I’m talking about the music video today, I don’t mean the majority of music clips you can see on music channels. What I will talk about is the small number of music videos that really try to use this medium as an art, that gain certain results with it, that take its possibilities seriously. So, I will, in a way, speak about an idealistic music video which surely has lots of examples but which also almost disappears behind all the sexist, racist and aesthetically unambitious clips that form the mainstream of the program.
An extensive analysis of the music video should, of course, include its interweavements with economical matters which may be one main reason for this disproportion. But we haven’t got the time for that today and additionally the topic I want do discuss here needs a different approach. Instead, I want to show the possibilities of this medium and some of its strategies. Maybe this can inspire some of you to check out if this type of using moving images can be an option for creating or perceiving art in the future. From my point of view, that’s the best interpretation of the title of this conference: “the future of the moving image”.
The music video combines lots of contemporary artificial configuration modes as much as it demands different ways of perception. It turned out to be a very assimilation friendly medium that picks up everything that can be useful for the achievement of a certain effect. So the clips have been quite often a kind of experimentation field for technical and aesthetical strategies.1 New audiovisual ideas and techniques were often tried out first in music videos. Thus, it was always kept up to date in questions of new developments in popular music, and video respectively film aesthetic.
So, maybe this art form can tell us something about contemporary art processes and contemporary perception. It seems to me that the music video can be seen as an agent for a development in the 20th century of the western culture. In this development established a new type of knowledge together with new types of artificial configuration and perception.
In this lecture I will try to describe this kind of “knowledge” and how it is aroused - for example by music videos. We’ll see if I succeed.
2. Characteristics of the music video - a little phenomenology
Those little scoundrels with mostly only three to four minutes length can unfold a very specific power. They establish complex connections and interrelations while, at the same time, having a quite direct and catchy way of taking effect on the recipient. I want to outline three elements or, if you want, aspects or strategies that I find characteristic for the music video. Those strategies may be responsible for the specific power of this medium. The three elements are:
c) Flexible, especially fragmentary, narrations
They may help us to get an idea of what a music video aesthetic can be.
What is absolutely constitutional for music clips is that isolated audio material (the music) meets isolated visual material (the pictures). This is interesting in so far, as it recreates a natural connection - the connection between sound and sight - under completely different circumstances. Through the technical developments in the last 150 years it became possible to segregate sound from its (also) visual surrounding. And it became possible to segregate still and moving images from its (also) auditory surrounding. Interestingly enough, another word for “to segregate” is “to abstract”. It has been an act of abstraction - abstracted sound, abstracted pictures.
Now those isolated, abstracted elements are put together again. But they don’t recreate their natural connection (what film often is doing or, at least, pretends to do). In the music video they meet on another level. What become possible now are combinations and montages of actually disconnected elements - a game with abstract relations.
You relate image and sound to each other by an act of creation. Loose pictures are hold together by a coherent musical structure and by the simple stringing together of one image after the other. Connections are made. Contexts are generated. A discourse arises.
The pictures and the music are amalgamating and enable a certain kind of experience. They don’t remain separated elements but merge into something else which is more than the sum of its parts. Music is not just music anymore, and image not just image.
The connections created hereby can be very manifold. They can be subtle or quite clear (too clear maybe), pictures and music can support and amplify each other but may also block and challenge each other.
To me it seems to be important that there is a discourse created within this procedure. The abstract act of first isolating and then merging sound and sight is producing connections that are strongly appealing to our body-senses but who are also generating tensions and parallels that are addressing thinking processes. So, a special kind of discourse is created that combines sensual perception with some type of intellectual reflexion.
In the music video there are a lot of rhythmic layers to find. On the auditory side you have the beat and the different melodies of the instruments, but also the rhythm of the sung text.
On the visual side rhythm is not less present. You have the cutting chronology, the movements of the filmed persons or objects (for example when the persons are dancing) and the movements of the camera itself (zooms, pan shots, etc.).
And finally one could (and should) consider the song structure itself as something rhythmical since it’s structured in standardized sequences (Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus- Chorus).
All those rhythms are coming together in just three or four minutes. This is a very important observation because rhythm is anyway an essential moment in popular music and film. Rhythm mobilizes, activates attention and reception attendance. Through the combination of music and video pictures all those rhythmic determined elements are interacting. What we get then, are multicomplex, polyrhythmic formations with a very strong impact on the perception. The “suggestive”, unconscious affecting character of music videos2 may come exactly from here; from the co-operation of rhythmic movements of different kinds.
The video clip attacks directly, goes on the recipient, appeals to his rhythmic sensation, swings him into the movement of the video and makes him ready and accessible for the process.
1 Klaus Neumann-Braun & Axel Schmidt, “McMusic. Einführung“, in: Klaus Neumann-Braun (ed.), Viva MTV! Popmusik im Fernsehen, Frankfurt a. M. 1999, p. 25.
2 Michael Altrogge & Rolf Amann, Videoclips - die geheimen Verführer der Jugend?, Berlin 1991, p. 172.
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- Musikvideo music video music videos Musikvideos Ästhethik des 20 Jahrhunderts Rhythmus Reflexion sinnliche Wahrnehmung Abstraktion Walter Benjamin Susan Buck-Morss John Fiske a-ha Celice Jörn Heitmann contemporary aesthetic sensual perception rhythm reflection abstraction narration contemporary art aesthetic strategies