What My Fingers Knew
Music Video Adaptation of Essay by Vivian Sobchack
Final project for Henry Jenkins’ Media History and Theory seminar, for which I explored music videos as a medium in its new golden age and attempted to bridge academic work and commercial practices. This original music video is an adaptation of Vivian Sobchack’s essay “What My Fingers Knew: The Cinesthetic Subject, or Vision in the Flesh,” bringing it to life as an audiovisual sensorial experience.
Written, Directed and Edited by Raphael Rosalen / Shot by Kristi Delasia
“[We] do not experience any movie only through our eyes. We see and comprehend and feel films with our entire bodily being” – Vivian Sobchack, What My Fingers Knew
A lot has changed in the music industry in the last 30 years that has brought us to a new golden age of music videos. With videos now being a huge part of the music listening experience in the streaming era, my project explores music videos as a medium and attempts to bridge academic work and commercial practices through an original music video.
As pointed out by Communications scholar Maura Edmond in “Here We Go Again: Music Videos after YouTube,” between the late 80s and early 90s the entertainment industry saw the first golden age of music videos with Michael Jackson and Madonna very much ahead of the game and the rise of MTV. However, the music industry started suffering in profits and sales figures in the late-90s due to digital piracy. Since the late-1990s though, the music industry has suffered massive slumps in profits and sales figures, which are blamed on digital piracy and peer-to-peer file sharing (Edmond). Because music videos were expensive and primarily used for promotion, Edmond writes that they started being sidelined by the music and television industries and rapidly becoming integral to the Internet, where music videos could generate revenue. “Now, in keeping with broader music industry activities that have attempted to diversify revenue streams in the face of poor album and single sales, music videos are finally being monetized in a variety of ways” (Edmond). This strategy continues to make sense given that nowadays most music listeners are streaming music for free. According to Forbes, “streaming is officially the lifeblood of the U.S. music industry,” as it generated 75% of industry revenue in 2018 (Howe). With a lot of music being streamed for free and the democratization of media allowing for more people to upload content online, music videos are not only a source of profit, but also another way to bring in more listeners, especially in our current image-heavy society.
This shift in the culture and significance of music videos became much more apparent after Beyoncé released the first ever visual album. Now, many other artists have adopted the visual album concept and the production of music videos has been elevated to the level of film and art. Director Kahlil Joseph’s work serves as an example of videos falling somewhere in between short films and music videos. His work is usually watched online, but he has also won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance (N’Duka) with a music video turned short film and had music video work exhibited at MOCA, legitimizing it as art.
Looking at music videos as art, there is something about these longer music videos and how they express a feeling that isn’t in the music or the visuals alone, but in the combination of them and in the experience of consciously paying attention to both at the same time. Unlike traditional film, the image is not above sound, and that creates a unique experience for the viewer/listener. Flume recently released a mixtape along with a “visualizer”, providing 42 minutes of video that accompany the music and gives the listeners a new type of experience, different than just listening to the album.
Vivian Sobchack’s work about film and the body comes to mind when thinking about this contemporary music video experience. Music videos as a medium seem to have the ability to create a sensorial experience that is a sort of digital aura that only exists in this combination of film and music on the same hierarchical level. The goal isn’t just to tell a story visually and sell a single anymore, but to bring the feelings of the music to life and create a unique audiovisual experience.
To explore these ideas and the possibility of merging critical thought and commercial practices of entertainment, I created an original music video with lyrics adapted from Vivian Sobchack’s essay “What My Fingers Knew: The Cinesthetic Subject, or Vision in the Flesh”, from her book Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. The lyrics include a few sentences pulled straight from the essay and keywords that represent the main arguments posed in the essay. The song was produced with a lot of layers, texture and sound effects that enhance the listening experience to a sensorial one. The vocals are also designed to create a sensorial experience as the lyrics are almost whispered throughout the song, being reminiscent of ASMR videos and how they are a kind of auditory-tactile synesthesia. The intro shot of the fingers from The Piano that Sobchack writes about is a motif throughout and the main inspiration for the visuals. A lot of the shots were thought to create the as-if-real sensation of touch that Sobchack writes about. There is one shot of an egg that not only invokes a haptic sensation, but it also brings up the ideas posed by Sobchack about the viewer knowing the smell of a food that is on the screen.
This music video is an adaptation of the essay in how it brings to life the thoughts from “What My Fingers Knew” in the form of an audiovisual feeling, but it also works as a trailer or an introduction for the essay. In the same way that music videos are a way of bringing in new listeners, this could be a new way to captivate people and get potential new readers curious to read an academic piece of work. It is bold and very out there, but it would be interesting to see if this format of utilizing the new music video style and consuming practices as an extension of a paper would work with other texts.
Edmond, Maura. “Here We Go Again: Music Videos after YouTube.” Television & New Media, vol. 15, no. 4, SAGE Publications, May 2014, pp. 305–20, doi:10.1177/1527476412465901.
Flume. “Hi This Is Flume [Mixtape Visualiser].” YouTube, YouTube, 20 Mar. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TML_MTQdg4.
Howe, Neil. “How Music Streaming Won Over Millennials.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 16 Jan. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/neilhowe/2019/01/16/how-music-streaming-won-over-millennials/#34e19ec25c7c.
MOCA. “Kahlil Joseph: Double Conscience.” MOCA: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 2015, www.moca.org/exhibition/kahlil-joseph-double-conscience.
N'Duka, Amanda. “CAA Signs Emmy Nominated Director Kahlil Joseph.” Deadline, 25 Jan. 2019, deadline.com/2019/01/caa-kahlil-joseph-agency-representation-1202541451/.
Sobchack, Vivian Carol. “What My Fingers Knew: The Cinesthetic Subject, or Vision in the Flesh.” Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture, University of California Press, 2004.