Watching Music

Maybe this is just a tangent from the cinephilia in a digital age post . . .

I picked up two really interesting DVDs this week, Peter Gabriel’s Play and the deluxe edition of Beck’s Guero. Play is a comprehensive collection of Gabriel’s music videos, spanning all the way back to a clip for “Modern Love” from the first album. There are more than twenty videos in all, and, with only a few exceptions, all feature new multi-channel mixes from Daniel Lanois. Some are fairly subtle; others (“Shaking the Tree,” for example) are complete reimaginings of the songs.

The deluxe Guero includes (if I recall correctly) four different mixes: stereo and 5.1 channel mixes, playable on all DVD players, and stereo and 5.1 high bit-rate mixes, playable only on DVD-Audio players. The standard DVD mixes are accompanied by abstract clips from video artist D-Fuse; the DVD-Audio mixes include still photos.

Watching Play, I was struck by the consistency and determination with which Gabriel has pursued his career as a multi-media artist. He seems to have approached the making of each video as a genuine collaboration with visual artists, an attempt find something new in his music and in the video medium. Not every one of them is successful, of course, but all are interesting. Guero is something even more abstract. The videos are (as far as I can tell after one quick glance) free of narrative and in a kind of associative dialogue with the songs.

Both discs are harbingers of things to come, though. I hope so, at least. We seem to be marching at a dizzying clip toward the fusion of media, and discs like Play and Guero offer us a taste of the media-gumbo that is likely to emerge. It’s fun to imagine what effect this might have on our visual literacy. Peter Gabriel brings artists like Robert LePage into our homes, and D-Fuse gives us art house abstraction. I need to think on this some more . . .

Those multi-channel mixes are mind-blowers, by the way. Especially the DVD-Audio mix of Guero. I had no idea my home theater could sound like that.