AFTERLIFE borrows elements from various sources, including classical opera, contemporary theatre, 3d-computer games, anime, vaporwave music, game soundtracks and modern cinema. The storytelling style is eclectic, heavily stylized, at times absurd and plays with a language which is both childlike, over-explaining and at the same time abstract and philosophical.

In this next part, I am going to outline some of the stylistic goals we were aiming for in the production of AFTERLIFE, and then elaborate on how those goals were manifested in the piece. I will also discuss various artists and core works that inspired AFTERLIFE and its style.

The 'Magic Leopard' scene in AFTERLIFE


In AFTERLIFE, I wanted to create a world which reflects and audiovisually manifests the anarchy of the internet as a chaotic and dynamic vault for unlimited source material. I wanted the piece to reference and make use of a huge variety of found objects; such as texts, picture files, 3d models and visual quotes, and mix this found material seemlessly with my own, original material.  Sampling, reworking source material, photoshopping, asset flipping, kitbashing and generating material using A.I. should be part of this process. The piece should be very transparent in its use of quotes and readymades, but blending quotations with original material in such a way that the original material is indistinguishable from the quoted material - mirroring an esthetic attitude rooted in hyperreality and sampling.  The goal would be for the objects and signs that are referenced in the piece, to be combined in an interesting and inherently contradictory way to allow for a deeper, intriguing narrative to emerge from the single elements into a greater whole. The concept of world-building, found in games such as Minecraft, The Sims, Sim City, Metaverse and Second Life should be present in the overall aesthetic, in form of the uninhibited combination and composition of found digital assets from various sources.

AFTERLIFE's visual and conceptual choices were heavily influenced by theatre directors Vegard Vinge & Ida Müller, and Susanne Kennedy & Markus Selg, who in their respective ways have found audiovisual languages which mirror a post-globalist attitude in their stage works.

Henrik Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' staged by Vegard Vinge & Ida Müller (2009). The use of props and set design as 'placeholders' or icons, signifying or referencing archetypical objects or actions is a key element to their work and style. The heavy stylization and de-individualization of their characters contributes to an aesthetic which moves away from a psychological realist method acting style, towards a naivist, deterministic style which satirically reflects horde character behaviour in a post-globalist mass-industrialist capitalism and also computer games. More age-restricted video examples can be found here and here.

Trailer to Anton Chekhov's 'Three Sisters' staged by Susanne Kennedy, with set- and visual design by Markus Selg. The piece makes use of many computer game archetypes such as pixelation, voice audio manipulation, swimming pool areas, liminal spaces, hard cuts, computer-generated environments and virtual spaces. The original script is used more as a common reference point for a visually disrupted and precisely timed stage composition than a classic dramatic text.

Another great example of a game engine being used as a storytelling tool is Jon Rafman's 'Dream Journal' (2016-2019).

Dream Journal was built entirely in Daz3D, a game engine which features an asset marketplace for both models and animations within its GUI. The piece is to a large extent based around purchased stock assets, and makes use of heavily simplified human emotional response animations, bizarre situational composition, and epic and surreal iconography as tools to tap into an obscure and surreal storytelling style, satirically portraying a contemporary post-internet world.

The universe of AFTERLIFE borrows many elements from the pieces mentioned above, and their respective aesthetic philosophies. A good example of the use of quotations, stock footage, found digital assets and a reference-heavy context in general, appears in the G-man & Manny Calavera scene midway through the piece:

The briefcase to the left of the G-man and the fuel barrel in the back are references to Half-Life 2. The Skull is a reference to Hamlet. The Mining Rig on the right is a reference to the Bitcoin mining craze which emerged during the pandemic. The power plant-like structure in the back is a reference to the Tesla Coil. The scythe on the ground next to Manny Calavera is a reference to the Grim Reaper. The dog is a reference to the opening scene of Leos Carax' 'Holy Motors'. The flag is a reference to the Apollo 11 Moon Landing and Christian Orthodox painting and iconography. The gramophone player is a reference to Vegard Vinge & Ida Müller's staging of 'Hedda Gabler'. The landscape is a real scan of the surface of planet Mars.

As discussed above in the video featuring Jakob Kudsk Steensen, the game engine works wonderfully in this example as a container for media descriptive of and signifying archetypes found in vastly contrasting historical times and geographical locations. The medium opens up a 'portal' into a world which is both bizarre, hard to place in location and time, i.e. characteristic of a virtual space, simultaneously a world which functions coherently and consistently within its own logic.

Below is a script excerpt for the same scene with clickable links to the quote origins. Lines without links are original material, intended to 'blend in' as much as possible with the quoted material, thus blurring the lines between original and copied material in the spirit of simulacra, simulation and hyperreality.

Afterlife Script
G-man & Manny Calavera 2nd scene

Manny Calavera:  The flag is moving…

G-man: The wind is moving!

Manny Calavera: It is not the flag that moves.

G-man: It is not the wind that moves.

Unisono: It is your mind that’s moving! [looking into the camera]

Manny Calavera: Huh! It seems…Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, we shall be no more.

G-man: Are you programmed to invent riddles?

Manny Calavera: What is it exactly that you mean?

G-man: Trust no one. Question everything.

Manny Calavera: Assume nothing!

G-man: There is no dreamer…

Manny Calavera: There is only…

Unisono: The Dream! [looking into the camera]

Manny Calavera: Energy transcending its form.

G-man: Merciless is the law of nature, and rapidly and irresistibly we are drawn to our doom.

Manny Calavera: The unplanned organism is a question asked by nature and answered only by death!

G-man:  But they…they are a different kind of question, with a different kind of answer

Manny Calavera: Then let us, finally, release them from their temporary physical bondage!

G-man: Let us! And no plan…shall be the best plan!

Unisono: Hahahahahahahahahaha! Yeeeeees!

G-man:follow only beauty,

Manny Calavera:and obey only love. Let it shine and guide them!

G-man: For in the middle of a dark place far, far away…A daemon may ask you:

Manny Calavera:This life as you now live it and have lived it, will you live it once more and innumerable times more?

G-man: I am really not at liberty to say. But your concern is touching. [touches shoulder of Manny Calavera]

Manny Calavera: [Flinches] Hush! A new day dawns. The icy shiver runs straight through my spine.

G-man: Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven!

Unisono: Nyaaaaaa!

G-man:  [shaking head] In facing the truth, the illusion of individuality and originality must simply be destroyed.

Manny Calavera: There is no truth. It is the beauty of accepting the illusion - and rolling with it!

G-man: If that is the case, you will have my silence!

Manny Calavera: Silence.

Sociopolitically and philosophically, we wanted to reflect an artistic philosophy which moves away from a fetishist idolization of the author as a creative genius, and rather emphasises art as a subjective filtering of a world which is already abundantly saturated with material and possibility. This philosophical approach could be traced to eastern philosophies manifested in for instance hindustani classical music, where ragas, derived from the overtone spectrum found in nature, offer an abundantly rich pitch set of melodic possibility from which melodies and musical ideas are subtracted by the artist. Thus, the artist and the piece act more like a medium of exposure for an already-present idea, or experience which can be shared with an audience or a community, creating a 'tunnel' or 'portal' into an already-existing, alternate realm. These realms may then act as a common reference points and therefore defining signifiers of value for that particular community or group of people.

Pandit Nikhil Banerjee performing with Pandit Anindo Chatterjee on Tabla and Seema Mukherjee on Tanpura on british TV in the seventies. After exposing the main Raga (scale) and melodic theme in the opening part, the trio embarks on an improvised part which constantly refers back to the original melodic material, the conventions of hindustani traditions and the given pitch set. Nikhil Banerjee's style and philosophy is deeply rooted in the hindustani classical music tradition, yet his musicality and artistic choices appear as original and fresh within the scope of possibilities givin within the traditional framework.