November 13 – Lynda Paul – Las Vegas and Virtual Tourism: Sonic Shaping of Simulated Worlds

In 1998, anthropologist Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett noted that, “Increasingly, [tourists] travel to actual destinations to experience virtual places.” Over a decade has passed since Kirshenblatt-Gimblett demonstrated this phenomenon in Destination Culture: Tourisms, Museums, and Heritage, but the observation remains pertinent today: physically real locations—such as Las Vegas, Macau, and Disneyland—serve increasingly as the material grounds upon which virtual tourist experiences are carefully constructed. In such places, visitors from afar travel physically to one location in order to be immersed in sights and sounds that simulate other places and times. In the case of Las Vegas, the visual dimensions of such simulations (architectural replicas, etc.) have been theorized in a number of studies, but the role that sound plays in these virtual touristic experiences is only beginning to be addressed. This paper contributes to this discussion by investigating the multi-layered ways in which sound contributes to the creation of virtual touristic worlds on the Las Vegas Strip. I move from the sounds of the Strip itself (the hawkers’ cries, the casinos’ themed music) to the elaborate and frequently exotic sound worlds of the Strip’s most prominent entertainment today: its seven Cirque du Soleil shows. I argue that these shows self-reflexively mirror Las Vegas’s strategies of virtual tourism, using music in particular to evoke a sense of experiential travel by asking the audience to be virtually absorbed in a spatially or temporally distant world, and ultimately creating a sense of expansive touristic experience within the otherwise emphatically site-specific shows.