[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/97934?ns=guardian&pageName=Digital+technology+and+the+arts%3A+all+the+world%27s+a+screen%3AArticle%3A1309640&ch=Stage&c3=Guardian&c4=Stage%2CDigital+music+and+audio+%28Technology%29%2CDigital+video+%28Technology%29%2CTheatre%2CMusic%2CClassical+music+%28Music+genre%29%2CArt+%28visual+arts+only%29%2CCulture+section&c6=Nicholas+Kenyon&c7=09-Nov-24&c8=1309640&c9=Article&c10=&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2FDigital+music+and+audio[/img]Once a novelty, giant film screens and web feeds are transforming our experience of live performance
As the print media struggle with the impact of the digital age, what is the effect of technology on live performance? Are we finally entering a time, predicted by that great maverick pianist Glenn Gould a generation ago, when technology supplies all our needs – when public concerts will cease, and the perfection of quiet communication from a recording studio will supplant the unpredictability of the live experience?
The evidence points in completely the opposite direction. Public engagement with the live performing arts, sustained by years of investment, has never been greater. Audiences are thronging to live venues, both traditional and challenging, from the new Alan Bennett at the National to choreographer Michael Clark's recent take on David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Shows are sold out across London, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.
That engagement is heightened and complemented by digital technology. Arts websites buzz with imaginative life. Artists such as Robert le Page, Bill Viola, Simon McBurney and Katie Mitchell are ensuring that video, film and the interactive media are becoming firmly embedded in the art itself. This month, on the South Bank in London, the Philharmonia invited audiences to get close to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring by watching different sections of the orchestra on 20 video screens, with scores you could follow: never has the panic of that opening bassoon solo felt so real.
Technology began as a very simple intervention in performance; the parallel to what happened with sound recordings is interestingly close. In the beginning, recordings simply captured and preserved the live event. But it was not long before conductors such as Leopold Stokowski realised the immense potential of the recorded medium, creating works such as Fantasia. At the start of the LP era, the producer Walter Legge created a lush, new orchestral sound that was superbly suited to the new medium – one that Herbert von Karajan then developed into an art form, glorifying himself. Similarly, the arrival of the CD in the 1980s, with its bright, transparent textures, was perfectly suited to the sounds of Christopher Hogwood, Trevor Pinnock, Roger Norrington and their perky period-instrument bands.
Video and television were originally just about capturing and relaying performance. Connoisseurs argue endlessly about the value of music television, but events such as the Last Night of the Proms have become embedded in popular consciousness. Now, with the arrival of free-to-air digital TV, more Proms than ever reach the viewing public – a privilege we take for granted. The high-definition relays from the Met Opera in New York to cinemas have been followed by the Royal Opera House here – first just outside, and now around the country.
Today's directors are increasingly making use of live filming: no Peter Sellars production seems complete without TVs on stage. A stunning Viola/Sellars production of Tristan und Isolde, yet to be seen here, sets huge, ritualistic videos in counterpoint to Wagner's intense score; the two rival each other in power and magnificence. Last year, Le Page's Lipsynch built video castles in the air out of odd fragments on stage, so we saw more digitally than we could live. Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes's collaboration with a visual artist on Pictures from an Exhibition, one piano with five screens suspended around it, comes to London next month.
At the cutting edge of this interaction between live and digital, last weekend the Dutch Toneelgroep company brought its six-hour conflation of three Shakespeare plays, Roman Tragedies, to the Barbican; the action developed over different areas of the stage and beyond, even into a nearby road, while the audience moved from the auditorium to sit around the stage. What bound the experience together was the continuously filmed performance, available on screens wherever you were. Of course, not every experiment will be successful: a recent woozy and pointless video accompaniment to a concert performance of Berg's Wozzeck at the Royal Festival Hall showed how not to do it.
No one would argue that there is no longer a place for the traditional drama or concert. But the notion that technology distracts from the purity of the live experience no longer holds true. It also means that thousands more people now have access to live performance, either online or via broadcasters. Power is passing to the participants: anyone can publish their work on YouTube; the Association of British Orchestras has just published a booklet of new ways for orchestras to connect with their public, many of them via digital media. The funding that has brought all of these things to pass is one that will soon be under threat, under whatever government. Yet there can be few investments as life-enhancing, and indeed as necessary: what could demonstrate this more powerfully than the public thirst for the arts in a time of recession?
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Guardian: Digital technology and the arts: all the world's a screen
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