U2 Virtually Real in 3D
U2 at the screening of their 3D movie at Sundance. Photo by MyBono at Flickr.
U23D is William Gibson’s vision of virtual reality completely realised: a layer of synthetic experience that naturally melds with your material existence. The 3D movie was shot on the South American leg of U2′s Vertigo tour. William Gibson wrote about the Seattle and Vancouver concerts of that tour in Wired.
“My wife and I stand in Seattle’s Key Arena, noses level with the lower swoop of what U2 calls the Ellipse, the elevated stage loop the band traverses in performance. We’re here because U2 is the early 21st century’s biggest – and arguably most technologically innovative – touring group, the one that continues to define and redefine the spectacle that is arena rock. For more than a decade, they’ve been driving both the technology and the form of the megatour while providing huge audiences with a powerful yet intricately managed sense of intimacy.”
William Gibson. U2′s City of Blinding Lights: 12,000 daisy-chained LEDs. Spycams controlled bya PlayStation. The Vertigo tour is a monster concert machine – and the ultimate rock-and-roll R&D lab.
The band’s conceptual mastery of the technology and the movie’s polish made the 3D effect seem natural and inevitable.
Gibson asked The Edge about the technological artworks displayed during the concerts and the band’s collaboration with artists. “It’s a co-op,” replied The Edge.
“It’s finding like-minded people who have something to contribute. Ever since ZooTV, we’ve found people who’ve got stuff, and we go delving through their collection of images. But in the end, all of the imagery is there to underscore what the music is already saying. It’s a way to shed light from another angle.”
One form of light they deal with is spiritual, and the Christian symbols in Bono’s lyrics are given a context, in 3D, that makes it apparent that the songs are animated with the same kind of urge to ponder the human relationship with God that underpins religious art.
In the same week I saw excerpts from the video imagery that Bill Viola created for the staging ofWagner’Tristan and Isolde by the L.A. Philharmonic, and I heard him speak at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
He talked about developing as an artist while video technology was also developing, that he studied engineering alongside art in order to have a hand in creating the tools he needed to realize his vision. With high definition video he said he now feels that he has a full palette of tools. He showed an excerpt from his new work, Ocean Without a Shore.
A black and white surveillance video camera from the 1970′s filmed people walking towards an invisible wall of water. As the actors broke through the wall (a laminar flow that takes three days to calibrate) they became ultra-real, shot in the kind of high-definition digital colour video cameras that George Lucas shoots movies with. The work ponders the way that the dead, or how they remain spiritually with us, ebbs and flows.
Bill Viola said of the exquisite, lifelike detail in Northern European Renaissance painting, “that’s HD.”
We can now take technology for granted and see the common spirit in works created in different media, in different ages, and we can concentrate on the experience of the works. Bill Viola’s parents have died in the last few years and he recalled being at a gallery and standing in front of a Renaissance painting of the Virgin Mary and beginning to weep. He wasn’t an artist considering the technique and materials and concept of an artwork but a human being taking his cares and troubles to Mother Mary, he said. U2 are unavoidable but I’ve never really paid close attention to them, and in the few days since I’ve seen the movie I’ve looked up videos of their songs on YouTube. Bono has performed new lyrics he’s written for Ave Maria, alongside Luciano Pavarotti singing the traditional, ancient hymn-version. Bono takes his cares and troubles to Mother Mary. “Where is the justice in this world,” he asks her. “The wicked make so much noise, Mother. The righteous stay oddly still. With no wisdom all the riches in the world leave us poor tonight.”
It’s taken all of these 3D techniques to see U2 at human scale.
Recorded music has always had a dual identity, singles and albums played on radio and music videos are simultaneously artworks and advertisements for the artworks. In William Gibson’s twenty-first century novels, Pattern Recognition and Spook Country, the prime villain is Hubertus Bigend, the Belgian owner of a global advertising agency. He creates an ethically dubious form of viral marketing by having people in bars covertly recommend products during the course of normal conversations. And he tries to find a marketing advantage in he way that most inventive applications of new technologies are created by either artists or the military.
On the ZOO TV tour U2 played in front of television footage pulled in from satellite dishes they brought to the arenas with them.
“We’ve spent a crazy time dissecting TV and adverts to make a parody of the chaos they cause,” Bono said at the time. “The irony is that ZOO TV has now been taken over by the advertising world and at the moment there are three or four international campaigns inspired by what we did.”
U2 seem sincere, close-up in 3D, in a way that minimizes the marketing aspect. They can seem bombastic and cartoonishly oversize in the regular world, but within the infinite vista and scalelessness of the digital realm, in 3D, are just life size. “Saint” Bono’s concerns, that can seem self-aggrandizing and overwrought in their global scope, within the digital world, with its natural tendency to create links and form clusters is heartfelt, inclusive and far-sighted.
The larger than life symbol in the concert is the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. In 2004 King’s widow Coretta Scott King, acknowledged Bono’s humanitarian work.
At the event, Bono became emotional as he discussed the impact Dr. King had on him growing up in Ireland during that country’s civil war, according to the Associated Press.
He said, “We despaired for the lack of vision of the kind Dr. King gave to people in the South,” and added that he wrote the 1984 hit “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” based on King’s teachings. Bono also said, “When Dr. King spoke about having a dream, he wasn’t just talking about an American dream. It can be an African dream, an Irish dream. That’s why I’m excited to be here.”
U2 performs “Pride” in Brazil, on the Vertigo tour.
US Senator Barack Obama, campaigning to become President, uses U2′s song “City of Blinding Lights” in his appearances. It’s not a stirring anthem but a quiet musing about the alienating quality of contemporary urban life. It presents uncertainty. He made a speech at the groundbreaking ceremony for a memorial to Dr King in 2006 that dwelt on triumphing over uncertainty and flaws.
By his own accounts, he was a man frequently racked with doubt, a man not without flaws, a man who, like Moses before him, more than once questioned why he had been chosen for so arduous a task – the task of leading a people to freedom, the task of healing the festering wounds of a nation’s original sin.
And yet lead a nation he did. Through words he gave voice to the voiceless. Through deeds he gave courage to the faint of heart.
By dint of vision, and determination, and most of all faith in the redeeming power of love, he endured the humiliation of arrest, the loneliness of a prison cell, the constant threats to his life, until he finally inspired a nation to transform itself, and begin to live up to the meaning of its creed.
Like Moses before him, he would never live to see the Promised Land. But from the mountain top, he pointed the way for us – a land no longer torn asunder with racial hatred and ethnic strife, a land that measured itself by how it treats the least of these, a land in which strength is defined not simply by the capacity to wage war but by the determination to forge peace – a land in which all of God’s children might come together in a spirit of brotherhood.
We have not yet arrived at this longed for place. For all the progress we have made, there are times when the land of our dreams recedes from us – when we are lost, wandering spirits, content with our suspicions and our angers, our long-held grudges and petty disputes, our frantic diversions and tribal allegiances.
Filming the movie at concerts in Buenos Aires, Santiago, Mexico City and Sao Paulo emphasized the connection U2 feels to those who are struggling, worldwide. The South American countries have fiery and exuberant, warm cultures, Bono said, that he identifies with. And, like Ireland, these countries have experienced the furious passion of religious conflicts, terrorism, war and poverty.
Karen Armstrong describes religions as “spiritual technologies” in The Great Transformation, a study of the age in which the compassionate responses of Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism developed in a savage and violent world.
But in William Gibson’s science fiction novels of the twentieth century, those who pursue the magical new technologies in hope of attaining power, immortality and riches seem limited and lacking in character, while the seemingly less fortunate characters have an inner dimension, unquestioningly linking up older spiritual systems with new technologies.
Christian motifs already intermingled with Cuban voodoo, co-exist with synthetic realities. In Buddhism all is illusory. The wholly digital Japanese Idoru evokes the practical mysticism of Tibetan Buddhists, seeing nothing contradictory in believing in seemingly arcane magic but willingly adapting and giving up beliefs if science proves them untenable. The Latin cultures already have a form of virtual reality that requires no digital equipment, in the magical realism of their literature. In an interview Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that the realism in his novels isn’t “magical” but that all of the fantastic events in One Hundred Years of Solitude are absolutely real.
“It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination….[The tone] was based on the way my Grandmother used to tell her stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness. “
Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Paris Review.
Towards the end of the movie the digital effects appear to be suffering from vertigo, slogans, then individual words, then just letters, in English and Spanish, rushing then subsiding until the band is alone onstage.
When I came out of the cinema Keanu Reeves was arriving for the premiere of his new James Ellroy police drama, Street Kings, in the same cinema complex. The actual, flesh-and-blood Keanu Reeves seemed less real than the digital Bono. People pushed and shoved behind the barricade of a shabby red carpet, to take photos of him with their mobile phones. It was a diminished and tacky approximation of the old-fashioned heady glamour that the ritual of a premiere is supposed to invoke. The closeness and warmth of 3D redefines intimacy. We no longer need to parade the actual human beings in front of the film in order to feel a genuine connection to them.
As Neo in The Matrix Keanu Reeves questioned the nature of reality and human life experience. In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik wrote that The Matrix “spoke to an old nightmare. The basic conceit of The Matrix – the notion that the material world is a malevolent delusion, designed by the forces of evil with the purpose of keeping people in a state of slavery, has a history.
It is most famous as the belief for which the medieval Christian sect known as the Cathars fought and died, and in great numbers too. The Cathars were sure that the material world was a phantasm created by Satan, and that Jesus of Nazareth – their Neo – had shown mankind a way beyond that matrix by standing outside it and seeing through it. The Cathars were fighting a losing battle, but the interesting thing was that they were fighting at all. It is not unusual to take up a sword and die for a belief. It is unusual to take up a sword to die for the belief that swords do not exist.”
Lights go down, it’s dark
The jungle in your head
A feeling is so much stronger than a thought
Your eyes are wide
And though your soul
It can’t be bought
Your mind can wander
I’m at a place called Vertigo
It’s everything I wish I didn’t know
Except you give me something I can feel, feel
The night is full of holes
As bullets rip the sky
Of ink with gold
They twinkle as the
Boys play rock and roll