Donal Dineen


Music Videos

When it comes down to it, I'm not so sure about language as a means of communication. In the expression of an idea, feeling or emotion how often have words failed you? Music's different that way and so are films. When you walk into a recording studio, you're faced with thousands of buttons, knobs and controls. Nearly all of these are different ways of doing the same job: they allow you to do things to sounds, to make them fatter or thinner or shinier or rougher or harder or smoother or any one of a thousand things. However, unlike words and all their multifarious connotations, music, be it fat, thin, shiny, rough, hard or smooth, speaks with one code. Just like films. Wim Wenders has written how he brought his career as a film critic to a halt as soon as he started making his own. Doing both seemed like too much of a contradiction to him. And so it goes. I'm not knocking words, right now in fact I'm using them to explain something. About music and pictures. About my faith in the future of music videos as a potent art form. About adverts and how much I despise them. And about communication.

Which means I'm not finished on the language thing. Here's a little experiment to set us on our way. Dream up an eco-friendly message of your choice, now compose a paragraph to match your point of view and put it down on paper. Before faxing a copy to your friend in Barcelona, think hard about what gets lost in the translation. Are you sure, for instance, what's Catalan for deforestation? Quite sure? Thought so. But music! Now you're talking. This summer the SONAR Festival in Barcelona, an annual excuse for lovers of electronic music to bond with soul mates and bask in the sun, took time out to watch videos and take notes on the topic of music and messages. And, while the idea that the music discussed was of the wordless variety might come as something of a shock, the fact that a video made to accompany a track called The Box by Orbital should feature so prominently throughout the debate was no surprise at all.

Set to an expansive beat and mimed to stunning effect by the artist/actress Tilda Swinton, The Box has to be seen to appreciate just how significant a piece of work it actually is. Previously undermined at the most fundamental level by their function as promotional material for a commercial product, music video has suffered long and hard at the mercy of the purists. Advertisings' relentless scramble to keep pace with cutting edge sound and vision has further depreciated the value of the same art. The tragedy is that so much money exists in the former, no sooner do fresh ideas or directors emerge from within the music video area but they are co-opted to sell their soul and cut an advert for sport shoes. Those readers who have marvelled at the extraordinary vision of Spike Jonze in videos such as The Beastie Boys' Sabotage might be interested to hear the swish new Nike ad was shot by the same man. Music video you see, an enormously sexy concept for advertisers and their predatory instincts, has so much to offer by way of a tight connection to the minds and hearts of young people. In an effort to keep my spirits up, I'm always on the look out for signs that sets music video apart from the world of advertising. The Box is, to my eyes, the most potent example yet of such a distinction being made, loud and clear. Whether or not the cracks appearing in the music television machine will make more space available for expressive work remains to be seen but I'm hopeful.

A sudden phenomenon conceived out of contradictions, the inexorable rise of satellite music television throughout the last decade and a half, in many ways actually stunted the growth of music video making as an indigenous medium. Now that the likes of MTV has started to lose lots of their early gloss, promos devoid of the pace and panache that play list criterion would formerly have demanded have only recently started to emerge from the shadows of Michael Jackson and friends. There are other factors involved of course......

Donal's article continues in Film West 26