Hyperreality has had many proponents in its short, illustrious and extremely controversial tenure as a philosophical concept, but Activision‘s DJ Hero may be the advent that may finally prove the validity, the truth contained in and the reality of hyperreality.
Hyperreality refers to the primacy of the simulation over the reality that it simulates. It is the acceptance and the perception of the simulation as the reality. The reality gave rise to the simulation is forgotten or is otherwise overwhelmed by the simulation that is based upon it. It is not just the original object that is forgotten, but the concept of originality.
What could possibly encapsulate this idea better than DJ Hero? Without a doubt, the modern disk jockey is a creative creature, but it is not a musician. She or he pretends to be a musician by assembling frequently digitized pieces produced by bona fide musicians into a pastiche that sounds somehow different, new and original. Yet the piece is neither different nor original. It differs only slightly in quantitative terms in sound (slightly faster rhythm, slightly different instrumentation), and it is in no way an original composition. DJ output is in every way an expression of the artist’s intent, but it only rarely constitutes an original composition that expands the musical lexicon. After all, the DJ doesn’t even play any real instruments or truly compose music by sitting down and writing notes (digitally or literally with ink and paper.
In fact, most modern DJs simply “play” a laptop computer. DJ software simulates turn tables on the computer, and the DJ uses the virtual controls of the DJ software to manipulate the digital sounds. In as much, DJs may arrange music, but one is hard pressed to call the process composition.
So, what is DJ Hero, in this light? It is a piece of software that allows one to be pretending to be manipulating a piece of software that allows one to be pretending to be making an original piece of music by mixing the original sound bites (and bytes) culled from highly digitized and stylized pieces of music recorded by a real musician under circumstances that were completely unrelated in context to the piece being assembled by the disk jockey.
The concept of musicianship is obliterated. It is so far removed from the concept of “music” in the context of the DJs labor that it is utterly invisible, imperceptible. Is this a case of hyperreality, or infinite regress? Certainly, it is a case that has nothing to do with music or musicianship as the concepts have been understood heretofore.