Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Life-Throb of Ages: Garry Schyman "Praan"

The way a music video can remind you of your own humanity, your own beauty...

"Praan" by Garry Schyman (vocals by Palbasha Siddique)

dir. by Matt Harding and Melissa Nixon

"Matt, thanks for the hope you're giving! The world is not as bad as it seems so often. "
- Comment from YouTube user

Though it has oft been trumpeted as a revolutionary tool for social change and universal connection, YouTube and the Social Networking phenomenon have seldom been used to produce the kind of colossal sea change or global moment of synergy many had dreamed of at its birth. The vast majority of YouTube's all-time "Most Viewed Videos" are pop music videos from Rihanna (which, if you know anything about this site, aren't all void of content), or goofy clips like "Charlie the Unicorn" - almost all of which are primarily American-made, featuring American people and American locales. Yet an article in today's New York Times suggests that despite the multitude of junk we post on the Internet daily, Social Networking really has provided us with a platform for global change. We just don't always know what to do with it. Most of the time it takes an artist - yes, YouTubers can be artists - to show us the possibilities of creation.

Matt Harding's "Where The Hell is Matt Harding?" (2008) (or more appropriately, "Dancing") is an example, more so than the stateside "Free Hugs" phenomenon, of how one person, with one camera, and one idea can simultaneously - and positively - affect millions of people around the world. To be more exact, it's really a stunning exhibit of what a music video can do in modern times.

It's an important distinction to make, that this is indeed a "music" video. Like everything else we review at Obtusity, it's a series of images accompanying and working with a musical track. Yet unlike most music videos we see, it was conceived as an idea independent of the music originally (a far more modest idea, at that). But in Harding's third incarnation of his literal globetrotting, he has really grasped the emotional and engaging element that music can provide. "Praan" was composed by Gary Schyman specifically for this video, and the singer - Palbasha Siddique - was recruited from YouTube to sing these specific lyrics. She croons in Bengali, and it emphasizes the worldly view at the heart of the video.

There is also a degree of intentionality in the editing and sequencing which underscores the artistic hand at work. The way Tel Aviv is placed by East Jerusalem, or a scene in New York mirrors the next one in Tokyo, is indicative of the broader ideas behind this particular YouTube video. Yet the specific countries visited are less important than the fact that Harding is going to many different places, all around the world, and unifying them with the oldest of human languages - that of free movement.

The lyrics, which are adapted from a Rabindranath Tagore poem, are also very significant in understanding the full scope of Harding's vision. The poet describes an epiphany in which he sees all of existence, from the natural world around him to the entire history of humanity, dancing with the same blood - the same stream of life. Thus in Harding's video we are all tied by this unseen energy, personified in dance, and illuminated by the joy that surrounds us as we watch. In many ways Facebook, YouTube and the rest of the Internet have improved our access to the stream, but it is up to us to follow Harding and continue to make art that ties humanity together.

Stream of Life
by Rabindranath Tagore

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

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