January 2, 2011

New Pop PoMo

Nearly two years ago, we created the "blogger's sport" of Building/Song pairings. If you're not familiar with the game, educate yourself with our attempt at an exhaustive list of the game and it's players: (let me know if there are any omissions...)

We're back in the game, this time taking a look at today's pop music scene, selecting a trio of songs which seem to negotiate between past and future realities. They share a common desire to reconstruct the past on their own terms, sparking what could be considered a new youthful (and fashionable) wave of postmodernism. The aesthetics of these songs are captured through experimental variations on the "music video" (e.g. The Black Eyed Peas pioneering of 360 degree 3D film, Lady Gaga reclaiming Hollywood for herself through a cinematic borrowing/stealing, and the music video turned full-length, self-deirected film by Kanye West.

Science fiction could never have predicted a new millenium saturated with groovy 70's fonts, polaroid photo shoots, arcade 8-bit bliss, and late '80's soft rock electrodiscodance combos. Nevertheless, watching these videos, take note of how typical pomo material (e.g. reinterpretation of nostalgia + multiculturalism) is taken to the next level . These weapons-grade pop samples demand an architecture which is firmly rooted in hybrid realities surrounding truthful (or deceitful) narratives of the past (and future).

1.) The Black Eyed Peas - The Time (Dirty Bit) paired with Neo-Rococo furniture from Smansk:

Within today's globalized, network urban world, the music video begins with the futurism of outer space juxtaposed with the sampling of a soft rock song from the late 1980's. The aesthetics of the video flash into a heady blend of google street view, drug-infused pixelization, and avatar hallucinations all packaged with an aged, nostalgia-inducing photo filter (also see The Black Eyed Peas - Light Up The Night for the co-opting of '80s arcade nostalgia with QR Code overlays). It's agenda is to convey happiness through maximum visual stimulation and hypnotic beat. Neo-Rococo, as artistic style closely resembles the 'Peas' attempt at space/time maximalism. Sorry, no building here, but a successful curatorial performance in my opinion.

Not much can be said about Lady Gaga that has not already been said in this delightful experiment. She's into challenging gender (and celebrity) identity roles, the aestheticization of tragedy, haute couture, etc. Best put here:
At the start of the video, as Gaga is shown plummeting from the balcony to the ground in slow motion, a synthesizer sonority enters emulating Gaga’s heartbeat; moments later, the listener is inundated with the sound of paparazzi anxiously snapping away at their cameras. The snaps and clicks combined with the pulsating heartbeat create their own distinct rhythmic pattern, and persist until they meld seamlessly into the song’s ostinato bass line – a slightly simpler version of the initial rhythm. Thus, we can say that the beat propelling the entire song grew out of both Gaga's heartbeat and the snapping and clicking of the paparazzi, a resonance that is at once organic and fabricated – an important dichotomy in this video.
Café Was in Hollywood, CA designed in 2009, featured in Dark Nostalgia, addresses Gaga's experimentalism and theatricalism, and is perhaps the first of many Gagaian spaces to emerge. From Café Was' website:
A Unique Hollywood Architectural Experience: Enter a reflective dream world, sensitive and severe, always seductive and never overt, where you are invited to enjoy delicacies while discovering new talent
Cafe Was is a thoughtful amalgam of "recycled" architectural/interior design related ideas. We assembled these ideas in varying stages of deconstruction and whimsy, ultimately creating a theatrical environment in the form of a restaurant/live music venue, where not only the piano player, but the patrons as well, will be compelled to play a role.
With a revolving grand piano at the center of the room, Ivan Kane and RKIT set about to create an opulent, bohemian dream world. The diverse space offers several options where patrons can dine, including multiple levels surrounding the piano. While achieving a collaboration of time in both design and style, including columns at the ground floor turning into Victorian posts at the intimate mezzanine level overlooking the piano below, Café Was also features hidden lounges tucked into nooks and crannies, a mysterious balcony turned into a lavish candle display and Café Was' most unique vantage point to sit and listen from, a grand staircase leading nowhere.

3.) Kanye West - Runaway (2010) paired with Castle Market, Sheffield, 1967

Rowe's Transparent Modernism full of Victorian furniture, African chants, and hip hop mixology.
The New Postmodernism.
Michael Jackson and the Spectacle.

Notably found within this half-hour self-directed film are African dance rituals paired with 1980s/90s sound mixing technology, and a post-industrial hangar/bunker housing what appears at first glance to be a reinterpretation of the Last Supper (a genre-bursting, symbolically loaded scene highlighted by a 2 minute solo featuring "interpretive ballerina dancing" (within a rusting post-industrial hangar) to a spoken melody broadcast via 80s-era sound distortion technology):
"There is a dinner table scene that jumps from [something] from a Noah Baumbach film — where the camera stays on the scene just long enough to make the viewer feel a little bit uncomfortable — to something out of what could be a Jim Henson creation ... within the same scene too." - Pete Wentz, reporting for MTV News
Ultimately West's film is about "social ostracism and rebirth". As we've mentioned earlier, the architectural equivalent to such themes is undoubtedly brutalism as both idea and aesthetic. So for this pairing, Sheffield's endangered Castle Market (a building I've never visited and only read about) wins. It's association with a movement whose aims are decidedly utopian and whose aesthetics are a radical departure from the heritage industry, make this place as polemic as Kanye himself (Apologies to both purist hip hop enthusiasts and architectural historians alike - two groups who probably rarely associate with one another). On the one hand you have West - and his thirty minute effort to rebel against the culturally constructed symbolism (queue Hennessy Youngman) of our day. On the other hand, Castle Market, whose brutalism (with a touch of mid-90's PoMo leftovers) overlaid on the foundations of Sheffield's authentic/original castle create the 20th century reinterpretation of the 16th century castle: a civic monument via defensive infrastructure.

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