Ghosts in the Machine: A Virtual Choral Performance as Hauntological Praxis During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Clare Lesser

New York University,

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

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INSAM Journal of Contemporary Music, Art and Technology, Issue 7, 2021

Main Theme of the Issue: Music, Art and Mental Health in the time of Global Crisis

Publisher: INSAM Institute for Contemporary Artistic Music, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section: MAIN THEME: Music, Art and Mental Health in the time of Global Crisis


Abstract: An interwoven reading of the issues surrounding a performance – rehearsed and recorded remotely and hosted virtually – of Sxip Shirey and Coco Karol’s The Gauntlet: Far Away, Together, for 15 voices and electronics (given at New York University Abu Dhabi in March 2021, in which I was choral director), and Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx (1993/2006). I examine the impact that COVID-19 had on realising this performance – which had originally been intended for a ‘live’ and fully immersive and interactive presentation – and consider how earlier models of hauntological praxis in works by Karlheinz Stockhausen have parallels with performing during the pandemic. I explore the ways in which working in isolation, with little sense of time or location, foster a sense of ‘aporia’ or perplexity, overturning the binary opposition of time and space, and how the use of the SPAT immersive audio mixing tool to electronically process single voices into multiple, spatially realised echoes (ghosts) of themselves, truly gives us ‘ghosts’ in the machine.

Keywords: Derrida, Hauntology, Shirey, Stockhausen, Virtual, SPAT, COVID-19, Ghost


6. INSAM Journal 7, Clare Lesser