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Sensation: Sense and Sensibility


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The same is largely true for Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps, though different as the content departed radically from contents of previous work. Conventional tonality, classical rhythmic structures and developmental discourse were all replaced in favor of much different techniques. Still it was a content driven sensation that invoked the infamous riot. Likewise the recent British visual art show Sensation, just ending its run at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY, USA. Though some may find the content radical, sacrilegious, anti-animal, pro-criminal and many other relative terms, the show is still a museum-attending experience. Whether good, bad, indeterminable -- of whatever quality -- content can drive home a thundering force of emotional and physical sensation.

Just as easily, however, content is capable of re-evaluation. While Paganini's works are still with us, it is mostly for their ability to dazzle, not because of their exceedingly great depth. Beyond the sensation is the content of the Sensation show enough to pique our sensibilities to make repeated visits to the show?

With any new innovation a period of adjustment and of comprehending the innovation's idiom is part of the early adaptation of its use. Early cinema is well-known for the then startling use of special effects and physical-based sensations, the sudden on camera/off camera 'magic' disappearance of actors, the steam engine barreling straight towards the audience and people scattering out of the way, the 'talkies,' at first used only in part of a film, perhaps for a single song, and not as a method of driving the narrative forward. Cinematic technological innovations such as these were not dependent on specific content to create sensation. People were interested in the phenomenon of a train moving on screen, not the actual fact that it was a train: as easily it might have been falling timber. The disappearing actor could as easily have been a disappearing vase or lamp and the 'talkie' song an orchestral number. Here the content is incidental to the sensation created by the new technology. To paraphrase McLuhan: the technology is the content.

The dazzle of various audio technologies drove their introduction. Stereo recordings promised 'uncanny realism' as they showed off the new technology with fireworks and ping-pong percussion, and, at best, blockbuster recordings of Tschaikovsky's 1812 Overture with full spread stereophonic cannons in the coda. Clearly content was at the service of the new physicality which drove the sensation. Similar patterns may be seen in the adoption of CD and DVD technology. CD audio focused on the clarity of sound, lack of surface noise and length as its sensation (and again Tschaikovsky to demonstrate). DVD audio focuses on increased clarity, length, 3-D audio and film usage (and yet again Tschaikovsky demonstrations).

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Copyright © 29 January 2000 by Jeff Talman, Saratoga Springs, NY, USA


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