Week 3: Mcluhan’s Tetrad applied to Virtual Reality

Applying Mcluhan’s Tetrad theory (1988) to the new phenomenon of virtual reality in music consumption, as “a means of focusing awareness on hidden or unobserved qualities in our culture and technology”, we can see the possibilities for placing it as a ‘prosthetic device’, ‘mutation’ or ‘metaphor’ for the body itself (p128).  In particular, I have chosen to analyse the ever-increasing trend of virtual reality gigs.


VR Technology will enhance the experience of users, creating new possibilities, in a similar way to the internet now. Time and space are condensed and you are able to watch a gig from the comfort of your own home. Television also did this; the VT headset is an extension of the screen, and one step further in providing a full sensory experience.


VR technology has been on the periphery for years, but this year can be considered to be more mainstream, with Apple, Sony and other leading brands all working on short term, mid term and long term plans for “something that bridges our bodies straight into the ebb and flow of digital information” (Weinberger 2017). Headsets are already widely available. The retrieval can be seen in terms of bridging this gap, and the hyperreal replacing the real, as well as the bringing back of artists posthumously and reinvigorating past memories, experiences and artists themselves.


As VR moves to the centre of attention, it potentially displaces the ‘real’, which is rendered to the periphery, and in terms of Baudrillardian theory, there is a charm that is lost in the replacement of the real with ‘signs of the real’ (1983, p4) which leaves no room for the imagination. If the real is replaced with the hyperreal and people can watch bands from across history, where does this render new music in live settings? It is speculative to measure the impact VR could have, as enhancing or in some way destroying social experiences too.


Unexpected dissatisfactions, as previously mentioned could be the reversal of shared experiences. The distortion of reality, as previously mentioned could have all sorts of effects on the ‘social health’ of music and consumers.


In line with predictions that ‘part human, part machine, cyborgs’ will be the norm within the next fifteen years (Weller, 2016) and the internet being an extension of us as ‘a bodily sense’, the new influx of virtual reality technology poses an interesting media exploration. Augmented reality will be in ‘mainstream’ everyday use, condensing time and space (as so many other technologies have done before it) and posing questions regarding authenticity, real vs simulacra and the ethics of bringing back celebrities posthumously.


  • Baudrillard, J. 1983, Simulations, Semiotext[e], New York
  • McLuhan, M. & McLuhan, E. 1988, Laws of media: the new science, University of Toronto Press, London;Toronto



1 thought on “Week 3: Mcluhan’s Tetrad applied to Virtual Reality

  1. I think VR was a strong choice for this mode of analysis, as it does stand to potentially shift how the live music industry operates. Whilst there will always be an audience who will want to go and see the act live ‘in the flesh’, there will undoubtedly be audiences that will want to see an act from the comfort of their own home. This could, in theory, make any concert of any size global – a new form of gatekeeping could be introduced to the industry if an infrastructure comes into place where a wide selection of concerts are available for viewing.
    I’d recommend reading Philip Auslander and his theory of ‘liveness’, which he believes to be leaving live music due to technology, or Lucy Bennet’s theory of ‘cellcerting’, in which information about the concert is rapidly disseminated as it happens to the act’s wider fan-base, almost as if they are there as it is happening.


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