Saturday, March 2, 2019

Hollow Drama: Thoughts on the Frank Zappa Hologram

A couple of days ago the Zappa Family released a teaser video of the Frank Zappa hologram that’ll be touring the world later this year. While the footage doesn’t show the actual hologram in the context of a live band, thus making an estimation of its integration and believability hard to establish, we have an idea of its likeness and how it will look in motion. 

Of course, one should keep in my mind that this isn’t the final product and that it may very well look much better on a stage, with appropriate lighting and musicians adding to the experience but the first thing that strikes is how cheap it looks. In a day when increasingly realistic virtual characters are omnipresent in movies, the footage we have seen looks like it came right out of the bargain basement. Knowing Frank Zappa’s fondness for trash culture, it might be a deliberate aesthetic choice and again will probably make sense once seen as a part of the big picture.

What’s interesting is how the announcement they made a few months ago that the musical aspect of the performance will be culled from previously unheard archived material, making this experience as close to an actual live show as possible. And of course, the live musicians will be Zappa alumni, giving the whole thing a legitimacy that many fans need in order to support the project.

Is this the future of live performance? It may be one facet, yes. After all, there is really no difference between this and the Elvis movies touring with a live band we’ve been seeing for the past twenty years. But will people come out massively for every deceased artists? The Ronnie James Dio hologram was somewhat successful (although judging from videos, which may not be representative, it looked rather awful) but that’s in part because it was one of the first ones. A virtual David Bowie might pull some decent crowds, but I can’t see a Motörhead reunion having the same effect. In fact I think most fans would oppose it on principle.

I don't get the outrage. I don’t have a problem with the idea of a deceased artist being “resurrected” for “live” performances. Actually I don’t see a problem even if the artist is still alive. In fact, a lot of touring artists are a lot less “live” than what the Zappa Family will offer. From an ethical point of view, this doesn’t shock me at all. It’s just a projection. I don’t have a problem with concert movies and I don’t have a problem with tribute shows. Not in theory. 

Whether it’s properly executed is another problem, but no con is being perpetuated. No one is pretending that Ronnie James Dio is alive. Contrary to Ozzy or Keith Richards, who are still onstage pretending to be sentient when we know they died decades ago.

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