Make My Pano now

Pano is an iPhone app. It stitches together the photos you take to make fantastically compelling panoramas. I’ve developed an unhealthy obsession with Pano and a lot of the pics I upload to my Flickr stream are now Panos. They’re fascinating and uncanny and I’ve been wondering what actually happens when you make a panorama using Pano. Four things happen when you click ‘Make my Pano Now’:

This accounts for the uncanniness – it’s a different time at one end than it is at the other. And this, of course, introduces the possibility of paradoxes, multiple-appearances, overlaps, vanishings and other freaky occurrences. A Pano is a flattened-out movie where everything goes a bit sci-fi.

Smearing the picture across time and space busts up the classical emphasis on a single event at a single time. There’s no decisive moment, no ‘punctum‘. It’s not a 30th of a second behind the Gare St-Lazare. It’s a messy collision of moments and locations glued together to make a sort of story.

Favoured by 18th Century history painters and egomaniacs, tableaux are paintings – big, immersive, utterly artificial pictorial confections – set in an idealised location – a timeless glade, a battlefield, a classical ruin. The eye wanders in the scene, taking in the action in several distinct sub-scenes (the robed elders over by the ruin, the nymphs in the foreground, the stricken hero in the middle…). And there’s something frozen, ponderous and monolithic about a tableau. I’m not comparing my iPhone snaps to the work of the greats but I’m intrigued by the correspondences between those epic works and the mini-tableau in my phone. There’s something about their artificiality. Unremarkable scenes take on a spooky monumentality – a meeting or a street scene or a party, frozen for eternity.

Pano tries to stitch pics together so you can’t see the join but only very boring scenes – landscapes from a uniform distance, for instance – can be stitched thus. In fact, interesting Panos are shot from slightly too close and with elements at varying distances from the lens or at an angle that makes it impossible to knit the elements together properly. And the result is a messy, discontinuous whole. The best Panos are a bit off, slightly wonky – a bit gothic – and because the eye naturally makes a big effort not to see the joins – seeking integrity where it doesn’t exist – they produce a kind of unease, an uncomfortable feeling that something is wrong. And that’s their charm.

Really suffering for your art

Mozart quoted in H.C. Robins Landon's '1791: Mozart's Last Year' - "After table we stayed a long time in the salon despite the bad smell from the audience."

Everyone says music is getting more physical again. We continue to get our daily sounds from ever more insubstantial sources, floating above us like those glittering landscapes in Neuromancer, but we’re going to more concerts and festivals than ever and buying more stuff while we’re at it (merch, fancy limited editions. Even musical instruments are booming).

Turns out we love schlepping around for some actual, physical experience of music in an actual physical place as much as we love the disembodied bits. But there’s 21st Century physical and there’s 18th Century physical.

I’m reading a terrific book called 1791: Mozart’s Last Year, by H.C. Robbins Landon (who died last year). And it’s essentially a catalogue of grim physical trials – of epic journeys (in horse-drawn carriages quite often bought specially for the trip), of intolerable living conditions and diabolical food provided by hateful grandees who never paid their bills, of mysterious debilitating illnesses and (of course) of lives cut short by service to art (and to miserable patrons). The book’s full of enervating phrases like the one at the top (which is from an account of a dinner performance by Mozart) and:

The mail-coach with four horses left Vienna at eight o’clock in the morning and took three days, with twenty-one post stations, to arrive at Prague in the morning

(a trip to Prague to perform at a coronation). And here’s a job ad from Vienna in the period:

A musician is wanted, who plays the piano well and can sing too, and is able to give lessons in both. The musician must also perform the duties of a valet-de-chambre…

(My italics). And then, of course, there was the final, ghastly physicality of his early death:

Suddenly he began to vomit – it spat out of him in an arch – it was brown, and he was dead.

From a book based on Mozart’s wife’s recollections, quoted by Landon

What I’m left with is an image of the musician as grafter, as under-appreciated, barely-recognised labourer in the fields of art. Sacrifice, privation, hunger, physical collapse – evidently the necessary preconditions for creation in that golden age.