Perry Hoberman
Empty Orchestra Cafe
The Empty Orchestra Cafe (1991) is a radical reformulation of the typical Karaoke bar. Instead of the familiar pop standards, it features original Karaoke video "songs" created by artists. While these videos follow the usual Karaoke format (highlighted subtitles for a live performer), they go far beyond Karaoke as we know it. Exploring new and unusual alternatives, The Empty Orchestra Cafe includes Karaoke songs with original lyrics and music, dramatic scenes, poetry and other unclassifiable hybrids. These works encourage a variety of possible vocal approaches, including singing, speaking, screaming and muttering. Any audience member who wants to perform can select a song from the playlist, fill out a request slip, and wait for the MC to summon them to the stage. Once onstage, they are free to perform the lyrics in any manner they choose. Videos are displayed on a podium-style monitor (for the performer reading the words) and on a large projection screen behind the performer (for the audience).

In karaoke, any distinctions between performer and audience breaks down; anyone who wants to can become the center of attention (for a moment). The performer/participant, who until a short while ago was just another member of the audience, immerse him- or herself in a media spectacle, a kind of primitive pop cultural proto-virtual reality. Once onstage, they are free to perform the text of the karaoke any way they desire. Karaoke has both an inside - the performer immersed in the image of the music video - and an outside, the hybrid live video performance witnessed by the audience. Karaoke isn't truly interactive (so far); but it is participatory, which is probably more important. Instead of holding up a tired notion of limited multiple-choice control of the media, karaoke allows the participant to mold an existing media spectacle into something of their very own.