Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend
A rundown of the books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency
By Xavier Greenwood
Spending £150 to dance in a room with a few dozen strangers might sound like I’ve plumbed the experience economy to new depths, but that’s what I’ve done. There’s a bit of poetic omission in that sentence, I admit. Four Swedish musicians in digital form will also be present. I’m talking, of course, about ABBA Voyage, the new concert experience that will see Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid digitally recreated in a custom-built ABBA arena in east London.
ABBA the band might be loved by almost everyone, but the jury’s out on their digital avatars. I say avatars because that’s what Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) calls them. ILM is a Walt Disney-owned company that has produced special effects for hundreds of films, including Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and the Back To The Future trilogy. The company insists that it’s not making the sorts of holograms that have been used, controversially, to resurrect dead musicians in recent years. Instead, ILM says it’s creating digital characters animated with performance capture techniques – with the movements and expressions captured from the ABBA band members.
But here’s the rub. Digital ABBA won’t resemble 2021 ABBA, four septuagenarians doing wonderfully for their age. They’ll be singing new songs, but they will look like they did in 1979. ‘People have often talked about whether you can create either people who have lived in the past, or people when they were younger,’ explained the creative director of ILM in the hour-long video that launched the project. ‘And we actually create ABBA in their prime.’
Perhaps digitising old people isn’t sexy or practical, but you can’t help but think that ILM has missed a trick here. In 1979 ABBA had not split up. Only one of the two couples that make up the band had divorced (and at the start of that year). And none of the younger generation, who have drawn from ABBA their own life-shaping stories of joy, heartbreak and car sickness, were even motes in the universe.
The thing is, a lot of ABBA’s songs are sad – and the passage of time deepens their meaning. In ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, written by Björn and sung by his ex-wife Agnetha, the two lament missing their eldest daughter’s childhood. It was heartbreaking when it was written, when Björn and Agnetha were in their thirties and their daughter was seven. But now, as the pair advance into old age and their daughter nears 50, with three kids of her own, there is added poignancy – whole generations slipping through Björn and Agnetha’s fingers. You’d pick up on that if you could see their wrinkles, but you won’t in ABBA Voyage.
And, for that matter, won’t it feel strange to hear the new songs too? One of them goes: ‘For I know I hear a bittersweet song in the memories we share… I see it now, through all these years, that faith lives on.’ Memories shared, years spent – sung by avatars who haven’t experienced them yet.
All of this isn’t to say that I’ll dislike the concert – far from it. It’s just that I don’t feel as though I’m really seeing ABBA. What I’ll be watching instead is some strange memory, transplanted into a present that doesn’t resemble 1979 in the slightest. ‘Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture and save it from the funny tricks of time,’ Agnetha sings in the final seconds of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’. In a way, along with her bandmates, she’s found a way of doing just that.
Here are this week’s recommendations.
Annette (general release)
French director Leos Carax and art-pop duo Sparks have combined to make a bizarre rock opera that feels like a demonic take on A Star Is Born. Henry (Adam Driver) is an egotistical and offensive comedian whose star is waning. His partner Ann (Marion Cotillard) is an adored soprano. Together, they are a celebrity couple who become parents with the birth of their daughter Annette, a mannequin with an angelic voice. The cast sing their way through a baroque tragedy that covers all manner of horrors, including little wooden Annette becoming a fawned-upon celebrity in her own right. Genius, or for the birds? You decide.
The Transgender Issue: An Argument For Justice by Shon Faye
‘The liberation of trans people would improve the lives of everyone in our society’ wouldn’t feel like a bold opening were it not for the boogeyman status that trans people have had foisted upon them. As it is, Shon Faye avoids rehashing the debates that plague online discussion and gives a clear-eyed account of what it’s like to be trans in a society that’s structurally and politically unaccommodating to non-binary people. Her analysis of how trans people experience housing, healthcare and other elements of society is compelling and well-argued, as is her central conviction that helping the trans community live freer and happier lives would do a whole lot of other good, too.
The fanfare of percussion and brass that opens Sometimes I Might Be Introvert serves as an invocation for an album that is mammoth in its ambition and near perfect in its delivery. Little Simz’s flow on the record is exhilarating and unpredictable, matched only by the scale of the album’s soundscape, which weaves funk, neo-soul, orchestral braggadocio… and narrative interludes by The Crown star Emma Corrin. Cast the unexpectedness of that feature aside – it kind of works – because this is one of the albums of the year.
That’s all for now. Have a good weekend.