Edinburgh: On Friday, I drove from Salvador Dali's house-cum-surrealist-masterpiece at Portlligatt in Spain to my suburban home in Oxford stopping only to fill-up with petrol, coffee and Petit Ecolier biscuits.
Packed into the confined automotive space with me were luggage for a family of six, bikes, balls, my wife and our four children. The outside temperature averaged 30C; the air-con was off (sorry kids, it wastes petrol), the roads busy. Added to which I appeared to be the only one with any taste in music.
Now, I don't know the exact properties of semtex, but I'm guessing they're not dissimilar. Fortunately though, we had some bomb disposal experts on hand to help to defuse the situation in the shape of: Nature, Norman Foster and Apples.
There is currently an exhibition on at Tate Britain in London called Art and the Sublime, which looks at how artists in the 18th and 19th Centuries tried to capture the vastness and magnificence of nature and beauty. It's a good show, but doesn't stand comparison to the real thing.
Driving across the Pyrenees and then through the Massif Central isn't like looking at a painting by a great landscape artist such as Turner; it's like being in one. The Tate describes the word "sublime" as the feeling when one's "ability to perceive or comprehend is temporarily overwhelmed". Such was the magnificence of the landscape we were driving through that "temporary" turned into eight hours.
"Sublime" is a term generally attributed to nature, but there's no reason why it shouldn't be used to describe a man-made object. I can think of no better word to sum up the Norman-Foster-designed bridge at Millau in south-west France. It's extraordinary and beautiful and had us all starring out of the car windows in a state of temporary overwhelmedness, even though we had driven across it on previous occasions.
But however great the views or awesome the bridge, such a journey requires yet more in order for peace and harmony to be maintained as we slowly baked in our Toyota pressure-cooker. This is where Apples (or similar devices made by other manufacturers) can come in handy.
One child chortled away watching two seasons of Flight of the Conchords on my laptop, another starred happily at the tiny battered screen of his second-hand iPod Nano as Wallace and Grommit went about their business while the other two shared an iTouch and its headphones on which they gamed, watched videos and exercised their right to listen to very bad music in private.
I am aware of recent articles saying that allowing your children to escape into a digital audio-visual reverie is bad, that it will induce all sorts of terrible things like stupidity, but I don't agree. I think advances in technology that enable "rich-media" content to be consumed in a host of different ways is good. Sometimes.
The problem for me arises when the technology stops being the subservient medium for the delivery of great content and becomes part of the show. Take 3D films, for example. It can be great when the essence of a film's concept is based upon using 3D technology as part of the experience, as was the case with Avatar. Not so great when 3D is retro-fitted like one of those souped-up sports exhausts on a Ford Focus; performance is rarely enhanced and the thing ends up looking a bit silly.
An article in the Financial Times said concern was growing among Hollywood execs about gratuitous overuse of 3D technology, which could spoil what they foresaw as a profit party before it had properly begun. It is becoming increasingly clear to them that adding the novelty of 3D technology to a movie as an afterthought will not turn a turkey into a Golden Goose.
The same applies to theatre. I have seen several productions where big audio-visual effects and screens have been added to either little or detrimental effect. It happened again last night when I went to see Opera de Lyon's production of Porgy and Bess at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.
The stage sets were excellent and initially the massive curved screen that sat above them seemed like a good idea. In the first scene the performers on the stage were accompanied by an echo of themselves on the big screen that showed them existing within the confines of a small urban courtyard. Good contextualisation and arresting imagery. Then the problems started.
Like a child with a new toy, the production played with the idea until it broke. The screen was used throughout and not just to enhance the plot or set. The result was confusion. There was one scene at the end of Act II that had what must have been the entire, huge cast on the stage. It was their moment. Except it wasn't. It was the big screen's moment, again.
As the cast-of-lots gave it their all, they were literally overshadowed by 20-foot close-ups of individual performers pulling faces. It is difficult to look at two things at once at the best of times, but utterly impossible when the choice is a backlit, gigantic gurning face or a group of individuals who are made dwarf-like by the overhead cinematic pyrotechnics. Fine for Gulliver's Travels, not for Porgy and Bess.
Of course, there are instances where the integration of large-scale video screens into a performance works brilliantly - the early Gorillaz shows, for example. But again, that was when the technology was serving a very clear artistic purpose. I'm going to give it another go tonight. I'm off to see a site-specific show called Roadkill that I understand relies heavily on audio-visual technology to deliver its narrative punch. I'll report back.