By Macon Holt
Standing in Hyde Park, during Barclaycard’s presentation of British Summer time, I was, quite accidentally, immersed in the sonic aura of the Rolling Stones. For reasons of muddled principle and a wilful reframing of poverty, I feel my ticketless experience of the band was a far more vivid or valid or authentic or some such experience than the gilded cage of the pay-for crowd. In the park I was bathed in the sonic aura, the thickened air of the Rolling Stones’ works of art.
So this aura idea is one of the most interesting put forth by Walter Benjamin in his essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. In the essay, Benjamin argues that the unique here-and-now existence of a work of art gives it a certain hard to define aura, which is lost (the aura) through even the most perfect reproduction. The original, with its unbroken connection to some sort of originator, is vitally import to Benjamin, despite his enthusiasm for the emancipatory potential he sees in works of art that require mechanical reproduction such as film. This idea seems pretty clear and demonstrable in relation to paintings (Benjamin’s example) with its chemical composition changing over time.
In this piece of writing, I’m going to operate on the conceit that the band who – for legal and financial purposes – are allowed to be identified and trade under the name The Rolling Stones create original Rolling Stones’ works of art when they play together, even if some of the song writers are deceased. I am, for the sake of argument and illustration, agreeing with a conservative notion that live music is more authentic than recordings (I totally disagree with this but to save time getting to what I want to talk about, so please forgive this).
So the Stones were on stage in Hyde Park on two weekends in July in 2013. This, the Stones playing songs on a stage, has happened hundreds, perhaps thousands of times since their formation in 1962. This means that they have, keeping the above conceit in mind, produced tens of thousands of ‘authentic’ Rolling Stones art works. These are you-had-to-be-there moments; a phrase to stand in for transcendence in the anxiety of a perhaps wilful paucity of descriptive ability. Or perhaps, such a defensive phrase is used in face of the terrifying prospect that this transcendence is an experience that can maybe be reduced. During the over half century of Rolling Stones artworks production, they, or at least their industrial framework, have sought to profit from the ephemeral and hard to access nature of this transcendent experience with the quick and easy potential of pop music. The production of numerous concert videos, willing and unwilling photographs and appearances in all forms of commercial media have been attempts to capture some of the ephemeral transcendence and transform it into discreet commodity forms through reproduction. In short, they are some of earliest and most enduring examples of the rock and roll mythology as a staple of the popular music industry. Manipulated and situated images and sounds and 50 years of ecstatic anecdotes, are now far more pristine referents to the Rolling Stones than the admittedly impressive swagger of the elderly Mick Jagger.
When you attend a Rolling Stones concert, the crowd is enormous and so the fight for position is fierce. For many attendees, some the same age or only a little younger than their idols, this fight is unwinnable and they are pushed far to the back. Here failing eyes, even if expertly bespectacled, can’t make out the difference between a blur and a swagger. The solution to this has been decided as big screens. A whole industry has come up around this problem-of-own-success-victimhood. Strange time distance sound-speed signal transfer delay types of things aside, the thought seems to be the screen is less an obvious form of mediation but a magnifying glass. The tiny blur on stage that becomes a close up on Keith Richards rictus as he strikes a chord on his low hung telecaster claims to get you closer to the band whist maintaining the high status of these modern deities. The ideology of this large scale communal experience means that to consider such inflated images as anything other than documentary evidence that the authentically ‘Rolling Stones’ Rolling Stones are, in fact, a here and now concern, would be tantamount to a micro-biology denialist going in for a tetanus booster – hypocrisy would seem to abound from the attendees account of events.
Without paying between £50 (difficult ones to get) and £400 on tickets, you can’t see the Rolling Stones engaged in the creation of Rolling Stones art works…
Review continued at Holt – The Aura of the Rolling Stones in the Age of Total Mediation.