This morning I had the pleasure of watching Eric Whitacre's latest virtual choir release (see video below). This effort, the composer's second, combined 185 individual singers from 12 countries recorded independently. Whitacre conducted the choir through a YouTube video. The videos were then combined together by producer Scottie Haines in a very familiar formation--the videos look like they are on risers, with Whitacre in the traditional conductor's position.
Whitacre has always been looked on as a sort of "rock star" composer in my peer group (I define them as "20-something music nerds"). My college choir was ecstatic to sing his pieces--they sounded new, modern, but with elements we could connect to both as musicians and listeners. They had cool titles, like Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine. (I mean, who writes choral pieces about Leonardo da Vinci's sketchbook?) And, of course, they contained those famous "shimmer" chords that we loved to sing. His "rock star" positioning is evident in his YouTube page. (check out the promotional photo that proclaims Marvel Comic/Criss Angel style "I. AM. ERIC!") Projects like this cement his reputation, and you have to admire him for it. Good music, marketed well.
Why is this project so fascinating? It's new, sure, but seeing the singers' heads, framed by their "natural surroundings" was especially compelling to me--more so than a simple video of a performance, like the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. Digitally created music presented in a digital medium rings true, more so than traditionally created music presented in a digital medium. It's the same reason why I've only been to one Met HD broadcast--I crave that feeling of "genuine-ness".
I've been doing a lot of research lately on video footage of the performing arts and have heard many different views on how video footage (especially streaming of entire performances) will either preserve or destroy the live performing arts industry. This debate exemplifies the inherent friction we sometimes find between the arts and new technologies. (There was a great speech given on this topic by Ben Cameron at the TEDx conference, if you haven't seen it yet.)
But I can't help coming back to my simple love of live performance. Nothing replaces it, in my mind. Maybe I'm atypical of my generation in that respect. Or maybe the fact that I get equally excited about Whitacre's 'Lux Aurumque' YouTube video and the Bach Sinfonia performing Bach's complete motets live in a concert hall shows that I am fundamentally and irrevocably a part of it.