The show at the Ravinia Festival raised interesting questions over the use of video screens.
As those who have attended King Crimson shows will know, our policy is to allow a single fixed shot of the stage on any video screens, without any edits or camera changes. The promoters of the Ravinia Festival, however, were worried that their attendees “expect a full professional edited video production”.
The quick response might have been “if you want a normal show, book a normal band”.
In a longer response, I explained at great length the reasoning behind our policy. The visual aspects of the concert, with the lack of spotlights and egalitarian neutral lights, are well considered. We have, of course, discussed whether a visual display would enhance the show. Even if it were done perfectly (as opposed to the usual tragi-comic exercise of always looking at the thing that happened five seconds earlier), any visual display irrevocably alters the performance. It adds precisely those visual changes that have been deliberately removed from the performance. For example, by zooming in on an individual musician, the camera mimics the function of the spotlights which are deliberately left idle. Worse still, it changes the musical compositions themselves. The eye leads the ear. So if the camera focusses on a single drummer during a triple drum piece, the ear naturally seeks out the part played by that drummer. The three interlocking parts are no longer equal – one of them has now been thrust forward to take a lead role. And likewise throughout the entire show.
There are, of course, many shows where the video element is a key part – I watched the King Crimson show at Lucca with Richard Turner who designed the stunning video show used by Roger Waters. So we are not short on brilliant people to create a concept – but currently King Crimson seeks to present a show that privileges listening over watching - which means challenging the tyranny of the video screen, and inviting the audience to embrace and interrogate all equally. The singer is not privileged over the accompanying saxophone part, or the guitar part, or the bass. Or the drums.
We finally reached a compromise in Ravinia. Inside the main seating, where everyone had sight of the stage, the screens simply carried the King Crimson logo (they were apparently unable to leave a single fixed shot). Outside, where the festival have patrons that can see only a small video screen, they did their “professional presentation”. At the end of the show, I went outside and watched Gavin Harrison’s drum solo on the lawn. Halfway through, the director cut to a shot of the drums from a camera in the roof looking vertically downwards from above Gavin’s head. If there was anything designed to ruin a moment and make those watching think about the video and the camera placement and not Gavin’s playing, this was it.
The irony is that there were other large parts of the outside lawn, where you could hear the music and see virtually nothing. And these areas were filled with people happily just listening.