audiovisual fusion, narrative data and rendering reality
The onscreen vampire is a dataset; a composite formed through the production-line output of thousands of adaptations which spans audiovisual culture. Duplication is written into the fabric of the vampire as a figure of the undead - grave robbing is part of the narrative - which accelerates the expansion of the hoard into online spaces. Continuous production of the sub-genre which lacks a real ‘source’; collapses the distinction between producers and consumers while the secondary material existence encourages encounters with the fragment on YouTube, and other algorithmic recommendation platforms. As such, the 21st century experience of vampirism onscreen is a collapsed, remixed and generic meeting with the database. Each iteration is knowingly experienced in the schematic of what has already been produced, posing the question: how many versions of the same thing can be produced? Why are we still making vampire movies? It resonates with Simon Reynolds’ discussion of YouTube and its “ever-proliferating labyrinth of collective recollection” while balancing on the cusp of Mark Fisher’s dual indicators of hauntology: ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet’ (Reynolds, 56) (Fisher, Hauntology, 19). In its dual pronged virtuality, the vampire elicits anxiety both in the disappearance of the actual “which is still effective as a virtuality (the traumatic ‘compulsion to repeat’, a structure that repeats, a fatal pattern)” and in the anticipation of its future actuality (Hauntology, 19). While Fisher and Reynolds posit the hauntological framework as tied to capital and the internet, the obsessive remaking of vampire narratives predates web culture. Each ‘new’ vampire film becomes a part of the archive as soon as it is produced, starting with Georges Méliès’ House of the Devil (1896), or in the case of anticipated releases, even as it is announced.
The summation of the relentless rewriting, redesigning and reproduction of the myth can be imagined as a metaverse in which the aesthetic language of the vampire continuously morphs as it extends beyond the parameters of the screen. The shifting status of the vampire - from frightening, to high-camp, to heart-throb, and back again - is tied to a mutating sonic expression. One of the earliest lore adaptations - Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror - immediately fuses the vampire with the sonic, even in the era of ‘silent cinema’. The many evolutions of narrative sounding, aligned with broader stylistic conventions of horror, reflect the changing ways in which we hear supernatural terror. What is relatively unique to vampire production however, is the consistency of this audiovisual fusion: specific moments are reproduced using the same sonic and optic signifiers. Recognition of vampiric status through this fusion is tantamount to the filmic reading. They are giffable, sampleable shapeshifters tied to bootleg distribution. The extraction and sharing of particular moments online promotes accessibility over quality, and like Hito Steyerl’s Poor Image, can travel “through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution” (32). These processes equally have audible consequences, accumulating noise, falling out of sync or ‘mashed-up’ as they are shared, yet do not become fully abstracted owing to the potent recognisability of the fusion in the context of the subgenre.
BOOTLEG VAMPIRE takes samples from the ‘anarchive’ to explore this fusion (Reynolds, 75). The narrative rigidity of the subgenre offers a database of parallel moments - recurring scenes such as the bite, the library, the exposition - which allows for paradigm comparison across different times, budgets and formalities. The points of audiovisual analysis selected in this essay looks to formulate a web_folk mode production. This resonates with the hauntological framework posed by Reynolds and Fisher, while tying this internet of the supernatural to ideas of folk storytelling practices and myth-functions. The essay outlines three components of this thesis: the copy as undead; the modification of this (while maintaining its ‘aura’) and the performance of this fiction. This approach is only possible because of the sheer volume of audiovisual data found online and imitates the way in which we encounter fragments of cinema as GIFs, clips or samples in social media or platforms such as YouTube. In their extraction and distillation they become generic, operating in a way which is comparable to silent film scoring practices in which cinematic gestures are tied to replaceable sonic signifiers. The project is hosted on a website, circling a core film. This work is composed of re-enacted moments which isolate, decontextualise and reproduce audiovisual fragments which repeatedly occur across the vampire metaverse. At times, the use of black screen signifies an absence as symptomatic of too much noise - a kind of data overload - which instead recenters the most iconic moments (such as the bite) as a purely sonic experience. The score is composed through creating a ‘music manual’, reminiscent of silent film scoring conventions. Audio matter is extracted from the expanse of vampire output and processes these through tape manipulation, granular synthesis and other modes of distortion. Other elements are ‘remakes’ of moments in James Bernard’s score for Hammer Horror. These musical motifs punctuate the soundscape which is pirated from existing films and internet vampire fragments. The supplementary films submitted - stoker and well-mannered guests - parasite the ‘original’ film, extending this narrative in an imitation of online produsage. These variations seek to explore our uneasy relationship to the idea of the ‘the real thing’: mythmaking and fictioning in online spaces augments our lived experiences, just as stories of ghouls, zombies or vampires previously operated.