Thursday, 21 February 2013

Back to Assignment Three – a theoretical context

My reflections on Assignment Three included an open-ended question about the theoretical context of my video output.  In my reflections, I did, briefly, compare what I was doing in my short, two-minute piece, with the music video and with the world of advertising.  In reading the final chapter of "Visual Culture" by Richard Howells & Joaquim Negreiros, which discusses New Media and explores what visual texts within that ‘new’ context might genuinely be regarded as new visual media as opposed to new methods of delivery, I have found some useful discussion around the ‘music video’.  Howells & Negreiros do conclude that this form “... is a new addition to visual culture”.  Without going through all of their justification, it is worth exploring in outline because it does, from a number of angles, confirm a kind of theoretical context for the piece of work that I have produced.
They refer to work by Andrew Goodwin on the theory of the music video, including specific reference to his "Dancing in the Distraction Factory".  I don’t have the time or inclination to go back to that source just now, so what follows picks up their representation of Goodwin and all quotes are from their book.
  • Goodwin refers to putting pictures to music as ‘synaesthesia’ and says that it is something composers and audiences do mentally.
  • Music video (like television) takes its fundamental vocabulary from film.  Howells & Negreiros suggest, specifically, that music video (and also the TV advertisement), by “... making great use of editing”, is referring to the ‘montage’ techniques advocated by Sergei Eisenstein (again, no time here/now to explore that further – but accepting the secondary source).
  • Goodwin argues that music video derives its structure from the song it illustrates and takes its tempo and cutting themes from the music, with which it must be in visual sympathy.
  • A narrative, such as it is, is frequently fractured and “... lacking in both linear and temporal development”.  The viewer makes sense of it within “... the conventions and culture of pop”.
  • Although the music provides the structure, “... new meanings can be created by the confluence and juxtaposition of images.  Montage theory, it seems, may help explain the music video and not just the music alone”.
  • Howells & Negreiros use the Aerosmith music video ‘I don’t want to miss a thing’, which is also associated with the film ‘Armageddon’ (USA 1998), as a case study.  They conclude that, in this music video, “... we are perpetually aware that what we are watching is a formal construct that draws attention to its own artifice”, and note that “... the narrative ... is deeply and repeatedly fractured”.
  • A pop music video, they suggest, “... is more likely to visualise the form rather than the content ...” (of the music).  They compare it with abstract painting, where an image can communicate its own meaning regardless of references to conventional narrative or the physical world.
  • This takes us back to Eisenstein’s ‘montage’ theory and a meaning derived over and above individual references to narrative associated with individual shots/images – “... meaning is suggested rather than stated”.
  • They refer to the term ‘video’ and note that viewers understand this as a type of text rather than simply as a means of delivery.  Hence the ‘music video’ as a new addition to visual culture. (I wonder whether, in the days of YouTube etc, it would be more appropriate to consider the wider concept of the ‘video’, as an addition to visual culture, rather than focusing on the specific – the ‘music video’?)
  • They also refer to the ‘iconology’ of the music video – “... the relatively short running time suggests that every aspect of the music video must be considered in detail if the maximum meaning is to be condensed into only a few minutes”.
  • In reflecting on the semiotics of the music video, they remind us that “... the music video is essentially an advertisement ...”.  “As with other forms of advertising, the perceived and actual values of the product might be far from identical”.

So, considering that background, what conclusions and additional reflections can I derive in relation to my ‘Paris Photo 2012’?
  • It might best be described as a ‘montage’ of still images and sounds, fused together in a manner intended to imply meaning to the viewer over and above the individual content of the images or elements of the soundtrack.  Suggestions of narrative and references to specifics in the words, music or sequence of images are, in the main, subsidiary to the over all meaning that I hope to develop in the viewers’ responses.
  • Viewer response (in the context of my intended meaning) does require reference, in reading my ‘visual text’, to other outside factors e.g. some knowledge of the art world; some cultural awareness of ‘the market’; some knowledge of French; and so on.
  • When the soundtrack comprises music, that does drive the rhythm and structure of the visuals; but that may not be the case when the soundtrack is speech.  And the overall ‘form’, because it is a fusion, is my own construct.
  • But it is fair to say that this form is carefully structured to achieve my intended meaning and to ensure that all opportunities to derive meaning are fully utilised within a short 2-2.5 minute timespan.
  • It is probably also fair to say that, like the abstract painting, it is the ‘form’ that is this ‘montage’ through which meaning is derived.

There, I feel happier now!  I have found a cultural theoretical context for my video; and it does fit well with my earlier observation that I felt I was working in a manner most closely allied to advertising and the music video.


  1. I remember the Leeds 'Duckrabbit' talk and how any image shouldn't be more than 4 seconds, and from what little music videos I see nowadays they seem to images flickering almost at about 1 a second! Certainly the image intensity seems to impel the viewer to focus on the screen to make sure they have 'seen' everything. I thought your video had a 'cool' perspective (I'm sure that was what was intended). This has been interesting to view as I'm gearing up for video work myself...

  2. Glad you found it useful, John. The Howells & Negreiros book is, of course, the one recommended by Peter H at the Leeds event - well worth a look, if you havn't already got it. You're right, some parts of my video were 'cool'; though no individual image was fully on screen for longer than about 4 seconds, plus fades in/out of 1-1.5 seconds. I did go for changes of pace, though, and there were some 0.5 second shots towards the end. Certainly, as mentioned in the blog post, in a short piece like that one is working at the '1 second level' in judging the viewers' response and making sure every moment counts.