Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Orthodox Arts Journal on technology and the Liturgy

The Orthodox Arts Journal has taken the baton from my post a few days back - "iPads. I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere." - and penned "Voice and machine: Technology and Orthodox liturgical music." As always, the OAJ is well worth reading.

(Orthodox Arts Journal) - Recently, iconographer Aidan Hart published the thought-provoking essay “Hand and machine: Making liturgical furnishings”. Mr. Hart’s piece is part of an ongoing exploration by liturgical artists of the question of how technology has changed, and is continuing to change, our relationship to crafts that have up until recently been done by hand. Liturgical designer Andrew Gould has also contributed to this conversation, as has woodcarver Jonathan Pageau. Each artist acknowledges the concern that mechanization and industrialization will in some way diminish the physical quality, the craftsmanship, and the spiritual value of liturgical art, and also force our liturgical aesthetic from an ideal of heavenly worship that is unique and personal into the realm of kitsch, of the cheap and prefabricated, of cookie-cutter monotony. Is everything doomed to follow the trajectory of the icon, where inexpensive laser printer renderings are mounted on wood, and the handpainted image is so rare as to have near-unicorn status?

The consensus appears to be that as long as technology is used as a tool to enable, rather than replace, the human craftsmanship, and does not overwhelm the creativity and specificity of the art in question, then there are ways of using technology that are practical and cost-effective without bringing down the quality. Sometimes it may even work well to adapt design to modern technology rather than continue to ape forms that have become disconnected from the function — that is, new technology may offer a way to rethink a given function, rather than resorting to skeuomorphism, where we maintain the outer appearance of a design element while removing its structural or functional significance, such as retaining the shape of a film camera, designed to accommodate the space considerations for a roll of film, with a digital camera that has different space considerations. (Skeuomorphism, I will note, is a somewhat ironic word to disparage, given that τὸ σκεῦος is the Greek word given to the holy vessels of the altar, which are stored in the σκευοφυλάκιον, lit. “where the vessels are guarded”.) Mr. Hart gives the example of a choros chandelier he designed, in which ultimately employing electric candles to preserve a visual design element made less sense than using concealed LED strip lighting at the base of the piece. The objective with employing technology ought to be, according to Mr. Hart, to preserve the sense that liturgical craftsmanship is “an act of communion as an act of creation”, and “to discern the logos or divine word of each created thing… We are called to bring out all the material’s potential[.]”

Music is a liturgical art that also has to examine these issues. Singers are old hands at having to adapt to technological developments; we’ve had to deal with the transition from the scroll to the codex, from rote memorization and improvisation to the development of music notation, from the manuscript to the printed book. In the last century, we have dealt with the impacts of the invention of the microphone, the rise of audio recordings, the ubiquity of computers, the permeation of all spaces and objects by the Internet, digital typesetting, digital synthesizers, and now the near-universality of the tablet computer and the PDF (portable document format). We interact with the architecture, the furnishings, the vestments, and the books, and we do so performatively. It is our job to make the words heard in a particular way; anything that enhances or decreases our ability to perform this task, or somehow accompanies us in doing so, changes our job to some degree...
Complete article here.

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