‘(Im)possible Performances: The Ethics and Practicalities of Posthumous Production Practices

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


As the 2012 ‘performance’ of Tupac Shakur at the Coachella festival showed, death need not be an impediment to a long and fruitful career in the music industry. With the recent emergence of viable holographic and projection technologies, Tupac’s career as a performer can now be added back onto his roster of revenue streams. A holographic performance of Michael Jackson has already been produced with Cirque du Soleil and an Elvis Presley production has been confirmed whilst rumours surrounding an Amy Winehouse tour have been rejected by the late singer’s father. This paper seeks to uncover the ethical considerations of reviving dead performers through holographic technologies and the industrial practicalities of using existing recorded music to facilitate such displays. The increasing manipulability of recorded sound, as afforded by music production software, has been central in enabling the resurrection of dead musicians and their sonic identities. Philip Auslander’s theories of ‘liveness’ (2002) and Jason Stanyek and Benjamin Piekut’s theories of ‘deadness’ (2010) help structure an understanding of similar practices across popular music history such as the existing and fruitful practice of ‘necromarketing’.

Much like the existing market for dead entertainers, this use of new technologies encourages questions of authorship, legacy, and posthumous agency posed by practices that are ‘less about preservation than...about complex forms of rearticulating’ (Stanyek and Piekut, 2010, p. 15). Will holographic and projection technologies allow for an almost tangible extension of a condition of virtual immortality? Will we observe a moral hierarchy of acceptable and unacceptable performances after death? This work looks to extend the scope of scholarship in the area to account for the affordances and limitations of new technologies and the changing demands for, and reception of, posthumous production practices.
Period4 Dec 2014
Event titleThe 9th Art of Record Production Conference: Record Production in the Internet Age
Event typeConference
Conference number9
LocationOslo, NorwayShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational