June 21, 2011

Massive Attack's "Angel"

It is a shame that most music videos are bad because it is a medium that has great potential, particularly now that the technologies needed to produce and distribute them are cheaper and more available than they were previously. There are few treasures in the music video genre, but this one is a gem.
I think that if you watch this video you will easily see what is good about it. Instead of writing about its virtues I think it might be more interesting to articulate the small error in this work. It might be difficult to catch at first because the music video genre is replete with this mistake, but nonetheless it is a mistake that stems from an aesthetic error. I invite you to watch the video now, but don’t let a search for the mistake distract from your enjoyment of the piece—I’ll explain what I mean afterwards.
In brief, the error stems from a lack of understanding of the purpose of art.
My criticism of this piece involves the decision to include the scene with the vocalist singing. Watching this video and seeing the plot develop only to have this kind of interruption is like reading a novel only to have the narration interrupted with writings about the visual design of the book. The purpose of a novel’s visual design is to further concretize the view of life embodied in the sequence of events by way of accompaniment. While many advocates of post-modernism relish in such inane and utterly uninteresting distractions, the truth is such artistic “self-awareness” is not a profound or exciting idea, but a simple and juvenile idea and it cannot hold an intelligent person’s interest for very long. Man has a profound need that only art can fulfill and artistic “self-awareness” is not it.
Even though this genre is popularly called a “music video” it’s potential for efficacy stems from being a “video with music.” The music video is essentially a short film with one piece of musical accompaniment. Unbeknownst to many musicians the purpose of the music video is to use music to enhance, not merely the visual aspects, but the sequential aspects. If this were not true, why would the visual and sequential elements be added at all? If the purpose of the video were to best present the music, a black screen would obviously be the best option. It is unfortunately common in music videos to see the cart put before the horse in this way, that is, videos of musicians performing music intermingled with a loose sort of plot. Music can enhance a plot, but a plot cannot enhance music.

It is for this same reason that orchestra members all dress and behave similarly. It would be very distracting to an appreciation of the music if a few of the musicians wore brightly colored costumes, texted on their cell phones on stage, moved about in their seats, or gestured flamboyantly while others performed the score with stoicism. These costumes and actions would be a weaken an appreciation of the music and would enhance nothing.

Two examples of genres that make use of a relationship between performing musicians and narratives are old, silent movies with live piano players and ballets with live orchestral performances. In both instances it is appropriate that the musicians are hidden from the audience’s view and instead the narratives are the main focus. With this in mind the creators of this video should have never included the scene with the singing man.

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