Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend

Creative Sensemaker Soho House

A rundown of the books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d'Ancona

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.

Friday night and the lights are low… and today, after a four-decade wait, hundreds of millions of ABBA fans around the world will be listening to Voyage; the first album by the Swedish supergroup since The Visitors arrived in record shops on 30 November 1981.

With Voyage launched, the group – Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – will now concentrate on preparations for their residency, from May to December next year, at a specially-built venue at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The band will not appear on stage, represented instead by ‘ABBA-tar’ holograms, designed by Industrial Light & Magic using motion-capture technology to represent the quartet as they looked in 1979. Again, the fans don’t seem to mind the prospective physical absence of their idols onstage: tickets for the concerts are already exchanging hands online for £1,000 or more.

Though the group parted company seven years before Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, it is hard to imagine an act better suited to the digital era: viral by design, near-universal in their safe appeal, timeless in theme and use of melody. 
In fact, they have been investigating the use of holographic performance for years. Fältskog is involved in a record label launched last year that uses artificial intelligence to match songs to musical acts. On TikTok, meanwhile, Andersson and Ulvaeus have invited fans to record themselves singing ABBA classics over the former’s piano accompaniment. The global familiarity of these songs lends itself to the online age – witness this summer’s #dancingqueenchallenge, in which users tried to get as far as they could through the song in a single breath.
Does it not all fit into place now? In popular imagination, we have been invited to fear the takeover of the world by malign cyber-beings. Yet, long before Mark Zuckerberg was introducing his avatar in Facebook’s rebranded ‘metaverse’, ABBA were planning their own virtual reality comeback as motion-captured superstars. It is as if they have simply been biding their time, waiting for the technology to make it possible. 
Today’s release of Voyage has been billed as the comeback of the century. Yet did ABBA really ever go away? Hardly. And now, reborn as ageless digital overlords, they return in new forms to reclaim the planet. The winner takes it all, indeed.
Here are this week’s recommendations:

Creative Sensemaker Soho House


Passing (selected cinemas now, Netflix on 10 November)
Based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name, Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut explores the intersecting lives of two light-skinned women of colour from rural Georgia who are able, in adulthood, to ‘pass’ as white. Clare (Ruth Negga), has decided to do just that, withholding her true ethnic identity from her overtly racist husband, John (Alexander Skarsgård) – in contrast to her old friend, Reenie (Tessa Thompson), who lives in Harlem with her Black doctor husband, Brian (André Holland). Torn between social ambition and a sense of inauthenticity, Clare seeks emotional refuge in Reenie’s household. Beautifully shot in black and white, the film is magnificently unsettling in its exploration of ambiguity, pretence, and self-deception.


Pandemonium: Some Verses On The Current Predicament by Armando Iannucci
From The Thick Of It and Veep to first-rank movies such as The Death Of Stalin and The Personal History Of David Copperfield, Armando Iannucci is the undisputed renaissance man of his generation. So, it is no real surprise that his first ‘epic mock-heroic poem’ – a satirical account of the pandemic – should be such a delight. Having started (though failed to complete) a doctorate on Paradise Lost, Iannucci pays homage to the poet he abandoned in his title – ‘pandemonium’ being a word whose invention is generally attributed to John Milton. Boris Johnson is here represented by ‘Orbis Rex’ (‘World King’), aided by Matt (Hancock) and the Rabelaisian ‘Circle of Friends’, a ‘juddering mound of contacts and mates.’ The developers of the vaccine are ‘laboratory archers/...ready to launch/ A hundred thousand tiny arrows’, while the anti-vaxxers are a ‘parade of Dissenters, dizzy and unbalanced’. Really, it deserves to be read out loud by Peter Capaldi in the savage voice of Malcolm Tucker. All profits from the book go to Mental Health UK, which is another reason to buy it.

Creative Sensemaker Soho House
Creative Sensemaker Soho House


Quivering In Time by Eris Drew
As much as Thoreau’s Walden, this album is a glorious product of life in the American woods. Created in a cabin in the New Hampshire forests in the depths of the pandemic, Quivering In Time is a celebration of the ‘motherbeat’ that Drew has identified as her inspiration – a brew of psychedelia, classic house, and the ‘divine feminine’ – and released by T4T LUV NRG, the label and resource hub that she cofounded with her partner Octo Octa. The album thrives on the freedom of nature, but definitely has its sonic roots in Drew’s hometown, Chicago. If you thought progressive house was a thing of the past, think again.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media

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