A Close look at Bob Dylan´s “Like A Rolling Stone” new video.
There was a time when the music video was, at least from the consumer’s point-of-view, a relatively simple concept. MTV was exactly that – music that had been married (sometimes unhappily) to the medium of television. Now, for all of TV’s virtues it is most resolutely a one-way medium, a device that asks you to surrender to it, to let it wash over you. You can turn over, off even, but what you haven’t traditionally been able to do is ‘talk back’ to your television set. Of course, the same is also true of recorded music, although the invention of the blank cassette did at least offer the music fan a way of constructing their own playlists (or mixtapes as we used to call them back in the old days…). Later on CD-R’s offered much the same before along came the MP3, the iPod and the advent of the playlist proper, something which in the age of Spotify has become the commonplace way of organising music.
However, we are still dealing with one-way mediums. What I want to talk about is how the internet is taking the music video and offering the consumer so much more control and in doing so is changing the definitions of what a music video can be.
So first I want to take a look at the new interactive video for the Bob Dylan classic ‘Like A Rolling Stone’.
Released on November 19th and created by Interlude, a company specialising in interactive media, the video takes the form of a TV with 16 channels from sports to news to shopping. As the song plays you are free to flip from channel to channel and on each, no matter what’s going on, the on-screen characters can be seen lip-syncing the lyrics. The effect is a bizarre meshing of familiar elements – both the song and the accurate mockery of the channels – in to something new and unexpected. As you flick through there are moments where the lyrics seems to marry to the images perfectly, such as on the Home channel where a couple being shown round a house are directed to look at the fireplace and asked ‘how does it feel?’ or when I flicked on to the ‘Pawn Stars’ show on Reality Check just as Dylan sings ‘you better take that diamond ring and you’d better pawn it babe”. Most of the time though the strange juxtaposition of music and image come together in a way that unsettles and yet constantly fascinates as your brain, so used to seeing televisual images where sound and vision perfectly complement each other, is confronted with a rupture that asks you to take a ‘musicalised vision’ and work a little to take it all in.
It is, of course, a lot of fun! Favourite channels are GSC with the visual hysteria of game-show The Price Is Right; the History Channel where we have not only bearded professors but also cleverly recreated ‘old’ black & white footage; and my favourite the BCC news channel where CCTV ‘footage’ of a stab victim in Chelsea, London provides maybe the most disconcerting audio-visual mis-match of all. The whole thing is a joy, and will have you playing the song many times as you explore. More than that though, there is a sharply satirical element here, a comment on the endless channel-hopping so many of us engage in. No matter what channel we flip to the same question spits back at us – “how does it feel? To be on your own?” – something which all too neatly sums up how TV at once connects and isolates us, how it offers us a window on the whole world yet asks us to forego social engagement to properly engage with it.
And yet it’s also a clever example of how the internet is offering musicians and audience alike new modes of creative listening and viewing. And of course we now live very firmly in the YouTube age where everyone has the potential to create their own MTV. The only limits are the human imagination and whether it’s interactive videos such as ‘I’ve Seen Enough’ by the Cold War Kids where you can play with instrumentation and create your own mix or Pendulum’s ‘360’ which allows you complete control of camera angles, to Arcade Fire’s wonderful Chrome/Google Street View experiment made to accompany their song ‘We Used To Wait’ or Bjork’s clever Biophilia app which blurs the boundaries between various media in a quite mind-boggling fashion. Or even experiments by fans such as literal videos which use re-recordings of the original track to hilariously deconstruct existing classics (as you can probably imagine we here at MVD are big fans of these with the re-working of Total Eclipse of the Heart being our favourite!).
The point is that the limits of what a music video can be are constantly changing. Whereas once we simply had to sit and watch, now we can get involved, play, become part of the experience. Art and technology are making new demands of each other and of us too, asking that we engage actively, not passively. In doing so not only are they broadening the potential for entertainment but actually altering the way we engage with the artistic experience. No longer merely the audience we are now being invited to take part. We are transcending the one-way limitations of TV and recorded music in ways that at the dawn of the MTV age would have seemed unimaginable. The music video is dead; long live the music video.