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What Does 'The Voice' Teach Us About Ourselves?

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Think about what takes us away, whatever art form it is. Before self consciousness forces us to become 'proficient', the time the conditions have been put in place and we haven't had time to grasp a 'whole', we don't yet understand what is happening, there isn't chance for strategy to overwhelm experiment. This is where the magic lies, in making and editing music, film, poetry, acting, theatre. I am going to use a strange example of this grandiloquent truth of gestures.

BBC TV's 'The Voice'. Stick with this, even though it has disappeared into the glitzy flab filled recesses of horrible plastic TV. Just for a minute it was un self-conscious. Stage One of the 'competition'. Singers had one audition to the back of four chairs, dressed (we think) as they would dress, singing (we think) as they would sing, if they only had one song to make someone turn around to listen.

Barthes would form a cultural theory out of this artificial theatre, our protagonists stripped down without their wrestling uniforms, given a chance to step outside of themselves to express a story directly to society that would make society sit up and feel instead of think and assess.

The drama invited us to imagine what we would choose in a world where success precedent and image took a back seat to integrity of performance and a losing of tightly held self. In the giddiness of it all and accepted it seemed by this new format just for being themselves, young contestants said things like 'I danced, I never dance', and we felt similarly loosened from our repressions, to give ourselves up to the theatre. What's more, fat kids and awkward mothers succeeded, singing songs that set them free.

In its best edited moments, this was a chance for us all to engage in imagining what Jehst sets out in the intro of his latest album, 'If you only had one song, you're telling me thats the song you'd sing, the same tune you hear on the radio all day... or would you sing something real?'. So it's TV, and 'real' may have often been an imitation of a record collection and practiced to death in front of a mirror, but the drama was palpable, and the art of song seemed to be the focus of it all, in the best cases we remembered what it was about our first musical experiences that moved us.

Of course, format has squashed anything that seemed fresh about this, and the freshness was that there was an intoxicating moment when we knew nothing about these people. The tipping point has been reached, it has dived deep into the sickly depths of personality TV, with personalities cracking under the scrutiny.

But just for a minute, it was un self-conscious and allowed us a connected relationship with the song and the singer, warts and all (with make-up and edit) in a format that supported the same theatre that the songs engage with, rather than creating a plastic sideshow. So it is in the studio, at the writing desk, in the theatre, we try to create conditions for imagination to take over from.

The sharp chisel one will record a throwback fuzz wah album with Mark Ronson and his Terence Trent D'arby will get the Robert Plant painful cool treatment with some angular shadows and grain. People will buckle into his falsetto and his frame and want so badly to own it somehow. That boy is savvy, his is a special kind of self consciousness, that reflects back on itself to become self-effacing and lets us believe, or use him as a vessel. He remains empty in a way that most of the others have been smudged by their stories, and in that respect is the 'modern artist', but just for a while, when the chubby girl screamed, or the geek cried, we were involved in an ancient world of song craft and performance, right alongside tin man Will. I. Am and Dorothy Jessie J.