On The Record: In The Future, There Will Be No Cameras … Only Lasers
By now, you’ve probably seen Radiohead’s new “House of Cards” video, which premiered earlier this week on Google. Or, rather, you’ve probably experienced it, since it was made entirely with lasers and fractals and math and stuff. As the folks at Idolator.com astutely put it, the video “will look so awesome on the ceiling of your local planetarium.”
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, well, it’s the future (duh!). The video was made entirely without a camera, using instead a pair of technologies — Geometric Informatics and Velodyne Lidar — that sound like a class I never took in college and a luchador, respectively.
According to Radiohead’s publicist, the technologies do the following: “The Geometric Informatics scanning system employs structured light to capture detailed 3-D images at close proximity and was used to render the performances of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, the female lead and several partygoers. The Velodyne Lidar system uses multiple lasers to capture large environments in 3-D, in this case 64 lasers rotating and shooting in a 360-degree radius 900 times per minute, capturing all of the exterior scenes and wide party shots.”
Oh, and here I thought it was complicated. Since this is the future and all, you’re probably wondering just why Radiohead decided to eschew something as essential as a camera for their new video. Surely there was some grand, postmillennial statement behind all this, right? Perhaps camera tubes are bad for the environment, or maybe Radiohead are just big fans of rotating lasers (who isn’t?). Well, no, actually. The point is much simpler than any of those things: There is no point.
This is because Radiohead don’t have “a point” anymore. They don’t need one. They release their albums via the Internet , name their songs stuff like “Faust Arp,” and make New Year’s Eve webcasts that feature them running around the English countryside in ski masks (webcasts that subsequently air on Al Gore’s television network, btw). They long ago ceased making sense and now do whatever they want, whenever they want, which is about the only explanation I can muster for their latest endeavor.
Actually, that’s not true. Andrew Ross Rowe, an associate producer here at MTV News and a man far more intelligent than I, explained to me that the “Cards” clip could actually be Radiohead’s loving acknowledgement to the Grid, the high-speed super-Internet currently being developed by scientists at CERN, a particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. His explanation had something to do with “laser projections” and the like and how the Grid will make rendering 3-D something-or-other a possibility in the very near future. (I didn’t really understand all that well. I just sort of smiled and nodded.)
But if that’s really the case, then I think I dislike the “House of Cards” video even more. Because, really, no matter how many lasers they used to make it, no matter how harbinger-y or representative it may be, it’s still pretty lousy. The lasers (or maybe the Velodynes) make the thing all murky, squiggly and, most of all, rather boring — a total triumph in technology, but a decidedly underwhelming experience for the viewer. I am qualified to tell you this, of course, not because I am a particle physicist or anything like that, but rather because I am both a panelist on a Friday night television program that plays music videos and a guy who has uttered the phrase “Dark Side of the Moon Laser Light Show” more times than he cares to admit.
It’s neither a particularly cool video nor a sweet (soul-altering) laser-light experience, and to be honest, even though I am very sure that “House of Cards” is a glimpse into the future, when I watch it, I can think of nothing but the past — more specifically, my past, as a scrawny 13-year-old straining to catch a glimpse of a stray breast during a scrambled Skinemax movie. And I think that’s the best way to describe “House of Cards”: It makes me feel like I’m watching a wavy Shannon Tweed flick and praying my parents don’t wake up. I am 29 years old. They used lasers and vectors to make this. Welcome to the future.
And yes, I realize I am being rather hard on Radiohead. This is tough for me, because I do love them . But it’s just that, at some point, they sort of veered directly into Spinal Tap territory, and this video isn’t helping matters any (“Let’s make a video — without the video part!”). Then again, what do I know? I never even heard of the Grid until Tuesday afternoon. Soon, when the robots take over, I will most certainly be sent to work in the salt mines. Everything in its right place.
Geometric questions? Velodyne comments? Lasers? Vector me at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.