A new David Bowie app, based on a blockbuster museum exhibition, is described by its creators as “augmented reality.” We could say the same thing about the late Bowie himself, a pioneering rock 'n' roller of the actorly and almost extraterrestrial kind.
A collaboration between the David Bowie Archive and Sony Music Entertainment Inc., the “David Bowie is” application is a handy and modern wonder made especially for the Bowie fans who weren’t among the approximately two-million visitors to a globetrotting 2013 presentation of ephemera, design artwork and stage costumes. Over the course of five years, the exhibition (David Bowie is) made its way to a dozen venues, including the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The app, available on iOS and Android platforms, uses a mobile device’s camera viewer to float the exhibition’s objects in the most three-dimensional way. Twenty-five audio-visual spaces are dedicated to songwriting, cultural influences, videos, personas, tours, recordings and noted fashion designers. Without the encasements of a physical exhibition, interaction is encouraged: Go ahead, shuffle through the handwritten Starman lyrics, or flip through a stack of Bowie vinyl to hear the applicable sounds.
The 360-degree access is fun. In the virtual room dedicated to Bowie’s 1980 Floor Show tour, one is allowed to spin the stage costumes around. Give us a twirl, would you, David?
What the app has that the exhibition did not is the narration by Gary Oldman. The Oscar-winning actor, who in 2013 starred in Bowie’s music video for The Next Day, provides context to the sounds and visions. “Here David Bowie achieved his dream of reaching a national audience,” Oldman intones, about the breakthrough 1969 hit Space Oddity. Reminded that this was the era of Apollo 11, we hear what was then a weird new voice in a weird new age: “It’s the time to leave the capsule, if you dare.”
Of course, those who were willing to explore 50 years ago might not be so space-ready today. The bifocal set might very well bypass the small-screen high-tech app in favour of the physical exhibitions’s accompanying coffee-table book, published by Victoria & Albert Museum.
In that vein, a new book from the Stratford Perth Museum aims to share the experience of the Justin Bieber memorabilia exhibit currently at the pop star’s hometown museum. The book, Justin Bieber: Steps to Stardom, will be available at the museum on Feb. 16, with a wider release on April 1.
Both the Bieber tome and the Bowie device offer exclusivity. While the former is to include “untold stories and images" not found in the exhibit, the latter boasts bonus concert footage and a photo shoot from 1989. While photographer Herb Ritts snaps away, Bowie, in front of a series of portraits taken earlier in his career, begins to strum Space Oddity. He quickly stops, explaining, “I don’t remember."
What Bowie forgot, others will recall. A shrewd businessman, Bowie would probably approve of the posthumous monetizing of his brand. A touring show dubbed A Bowie Celebration, performed by musicians who worked with him, will arrive in Canada for February and March concerts in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Kitchener, Ont. For those fans who can’t make it the show but wish to experience it, perhaps there’s an app for that?