Things are about to get very weird with virtual concerts. Here’s why.

[This was this week’s column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]

On the third night of the Coachella Festival in 2012, the crowd gasped at Dr. Dre’s headlining performance. Others had brought out special guests in the past, but nothing like this. There onstage stood Tupac Shakur, who, although dead since 1996, performed alongside Dre. Neat trick, this resurrection.

Tupac’s appearance was thanks to an old-timey illusion called Pepper’s Ghost, the invention of Dr. John Pepper in 1862, who built on an idea of a 16th-century Italian scientist name Giambattista della Porta. It involves projecting an image onto a piece of glass that is slightly angled, which then is reflected back onto the stage. The effect is quite eerie.

You might find this odd, but when I saw this little trick, I was reminded of Fred Astaire dancing with his vacuum cleaner.

In 1997, 10 years after his death, Astaire appeared in a series of 15-second Super Bowl TV commercials for Dirt Devil. Clips from his movies Royal Wedding and Easter Parade were altered to make it look like he was dancing with a vacuum cleaner shaped like a broom.

This sort of visual trickery wasn’t entirely new; after all, it had been used in movies (think Woody Allen’s Zelig in 1983) and Forrest Gump (1994), but this was a commercial.

Stay with me. We’ll get into the virtual concert aspect of this if you just keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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