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John Cale’s Drone Orchestra Is As Beautiful As It Is Questionable

In an attempt to soften our perception of the drone, the famed composer pulled out his finest pair of rose-colored glasses.

John Cale’s Drone Orchestra Is As Beautiful As It Is Questionable
[All Images: Noisy/Vice]

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Legendary composer John Cale recently worked with architect Liam Young to create an epic theatrical concert experience using unmanned aerial vehicles (aka drones).

Armed with speakers, the drones were dispatched throughout the space, some of which projected Cale’s live performance, and others which amplified their own mechanical noises. The drones were dressed fashionably, wearing “bright green and blue plumage, a coat made from 500 phone charms sourced from Chinese markets, a box-like structure decorated with hazard tape, and even a shiny disco suit made from 4,000 fake nails,” as the blog Noisey points out.

The performance is innovative and playful, making good use of this new technology to enhance a musical and visual experience. Politically, however, the message is naive and confused, particularly compared to all of the great, surveillance-inspired art that is currently ascending.

Part of the collaborators motivation was to humanize machines that are often cast in a cold, dystopian light. “If you have one drone, it’s a mystery, If you’ve got two drones, it’s a love story. And if you have any more than that, it’s a family brawl,” Cale said of the project. “That’s what we do. We find characters in technology,” added Young.

Both artists explain in the video that they wanted to explore the idea that drones will be “everyday” in the future, and divorce them from their military roots. Of course, the drones they’re referring to are nothing like the unmanned arial vehicles used in the performance, and it’s unlikely that unmanned bombers will become a daily phenomena (unless you live in Pakistan, in which case, they already are).

Cale and Young worked together on this project for two years. Finding a venue that would allow the performance was difficult: flying drones over people’s heads is extremely dangerous. London’s Barbican finally agreed to put the show on. Still, technical difficulties abounded.

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The performance was initially intended to be automated, an idea which had to be scrapped at the last minute and a team of pilots brought in. Carrying speakers and the weight of their costumes was also hard on the drones’ batteries, which had to be recharged and changed every five to ten minutes throughout the event. If Cage got one thing right, it’s that these specific, comically incapable drones won’t be a menace to society.

[h/t: Noisey]

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I'm a writer living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Interests include social justice, cats, and the future.

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