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Sunday 21 March 2010

Gaga Over Information Overload

Penguin Books has a video about the future of publishing that's quite clever. The cleverness starts halfway in and requires you to have watched the first half, so stick it out.

Part of what struck me about the video, aside from it's strategic use of where it put the word "not," was how it places caring "about what Lady Gaga is wearing" in binary opposition to caring "about what Gandhi did 50 years ago." I find this annoying, because I actually care about both. I mean, obviously a liberation movement was more immediately vital while it was going on. But, for example. Gaga's costume in the prison yard of the Telephone video, with the lit cigarettes on her glasses, is also interesting and worthy of discussion. It's less vital than liberation movements that are going on right now, but I would not want to have to rank it against other bits of current cultural output.

Indeed, I think what she's wearing is some of the most compelling part of her performance and presentation. Her music is acceptable pop music. Some of it is catchy. But the visual images in her videos and her glammness is stunning. In this age, visual information is much more dominant than audio - we read more than we hear and we watch even more yet. Videos and the written word are the primary means of dispersing information. So even though she's ostensibly a musician, her artistry seems to be concentrated in the visual sphere.

I went to a club last night and the people I was with were all talking about her (well, they were shouting over the din of exceedingly bad DJing). Jack Halberstam (of Female Masculinities fame) has got a blog post up about her. There's almost certainly conferences being planned at this moment: Gaga and Postfeminism etc etc etc. She is the hot thing right now in pop culture and cultural studies and litres of virtual ink are being spilt over her - by people who are "smart" enough to care about Gandhi. There are elitists who want to posit that the analysis of images and ideas within a culture s vapid. Such a bias is not only wrong, it's boring. Snobbery is tiresome.

Gaga is all so very now, immediate and new and clamouring for attention. Blog posts, news articles, tweets, facebook wall posts, background babble, shouting in clubs. This is the kind of effervescent pop phenomenon that one could easily miss while on an extended holiday or just taking a break from media saturation. The hype is not, in and of itself, vapid, but some portion of it is intended to be distracting. The hype machine is less interesting than her fascinating videos. It constitutes part of the information overload that keeps one from working on one's thesis. I want to create a piece that is about information overload in some way.

For my MA thesis, I incorporated the distracting barrage of information directly into my work. At that time, I was overly interested in cable news cycles and pundits. I could sample them directly. But sampling Gaga directly raises additional copyright issues as making music from her music is clearly a derivative work and requires permission. Also, her musical work is already music and her visual output is tied to her music.

So is it possible to engage her work within the genre of electroacoustic / noise music without taking recognizable samples of her directly? I could calculate her frequency spectrum and work within that or copy some of her timbres, like pitch correction or the glitchy repeating in the telephone song. But even if I was able to successfully allude to her music, it's still not what's most interesting about her. I'm instead taken with the changing contexts of corpses in Paparazzi and Telephone. And by her use of repeated images and objects to tie her videos together: the gold jaw of Bad Romance is referenced again in Paparazzi, where the dogs of Poker Face also make a brief cameo. There's a boom box in Telephone that is also in a previous video (which one?!?). The camera lingers on it. The viewer is meant to notice. How could that be explored in my music? Or can it? Am I just distracting myself?

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