Virtual reality, then and now

In the 1980s and 1990s, the term ‘virtual reality’ was understood to mean the creation of reality inside the computer – and thus we would need to experience it using complex imaging and interaction systems (3D googles, cursors mapped to the movement of a glove etc.) The implication behind this was the reality itself would be untouched. The real world would simply be a home for the VR equipment: Star Trek imagines it holodeck as a big empty room, for instance. Moreover, since VR ran inside the computer, it only worked when you turned it on – and in movies such as The Lawnmower Man, the nightmare scenario was not being able to get out.

Few people imaginged that when VR came to pass, it would actually involve computers altering the way we acted in reality. The video below shows 100 dancers in central London recreating the dance from Beyonce’s music video for her song ‘Single Ladies’ (which Peter Sagal called ‘a wonderful, brilliantly performed dance number set to an irresistably catchy pop tune’). As a piece of PR in reality, it holds very little value – few people would have the chance to actually see it, as it the dancers and organisers take pains for it to appear to happen spontaneously on the street. It’s over in three minutes, and few of the people who happened to be walking by would actually be able to make sense of it because it only works if you’ve seen the original music video. Indeed, the behaviour of the dancers only really works if it’s watched as a video, passed around virally on the web. It is, essentially, VR: actions in reality that are targeted at, and only make sense when experienced virtually.

A music post: What if Beyonce was your Gran? What if she could predict economic turmoil?

beyonce-is-your-gran1

Yes, what if? Well, wonder no more – this very odd picture (which may or may not be photoshopped) was used by the Guardian to illustrate a story about how there’s apparently an inverse correlation between the stability of the stock markets and the regularity of beats in pop songs:

“Beyoncé’s worldwide hit, Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It), is not just catchy – it may spell doom for international finance.

According to findings by Phil Maymin, professor of finance and risk engineering at New York University, the more regular the beat on Billboard’s top singles, the more volatile the American markets. After studying decades of Billboard’s Hot 100 hits, Maymin found that songs with low “beat variance” had an inverse correlation with market turbulence. Which is to say, the more regular the song, the crazier the stock market.

And Single Ladies is very regular.”

Cue dramatic music. The meme of a link between turmoil and culture is old of course – why else would a researcher even be looking at this field – and is expressed in a well known speech by Harry Lime in The Third Man:

Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

The Wikipedia entry reveals the line wasn’t in Graham Greene’s speech, but was added by Orson Welles:

Greene wrote in a letter (Oct. 13, 1977) “What happened was that during the shooting of The Third Man it was found necessary for the timing to insert another sentence.” Welles apparently said the lines came from “an old Hungarian play”; the painter Whistler, in a lecture on art from 1885… said, “The Swiss in their mountains … What more worthy people! … yet, the perverse and scornful [goddess, Art] will none of it, and the sons of patriots are left with the clock that turns the mill, and the sudden cuckoo, with difficulty restrained in its box!”

Part 2: New Bon Iver

Fine, his album, For Emma, Forever Ago wasn’t the album of the year (wrong OMM! PFork got it right – Fleet Foxes), but his new track, Blood Bank is great. You can stream it from Pitchfork; looks like he’s taken the Iron & Wine route and added cheerier instruments while heaping on the dread and spookiness.

Part 3: A pop star from Blackpool

Being as it’s where much of my immediate family come from, Blackpool is close to my heart,  it’s good to hear one of this year’s most tipped pop acts, Little Boots, is a native of that strange, cold and fascinating place. There’s an interview with her in the Guardian, and you can listen to a few tracks on her MySpace. For those interested in the economic ramifications of her music, it’s electronic and quite regular.