Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Interactive Music Video

I've been looking at interactive music videos, or what might better be titled 'interactive music' as the notion of 'video' is certainly challenged in the interpretations which I have examined so far. Below are three different examples which demonstrate the diversity of this genre:

The Wilderness Downtown is an online music video created by the band Arcade Fire. The viewer begins by typing in the address of where they grew up and using Google Maps, the location is then integrated into the music video. This work is interesting because it serves to reminds that interactive media doesn't necessarily have to involve the pushing of buttons or constant participation - the interaction here is more generative, as the viewer effects the video only through their initial input. An additional point to note is how the video operates across different spaces with parts appearing in opening and closing browser windows. This sense of multiple framings is highlighted because it appears not from divisions of a single space but across an array of different spaces entirely.

I've Seen Enough is an interactive video which demonstrates the active nature of the viewer or player as in this example you have direct control over the music itself (albeit within the limitations of the device). This is achieved by clicking on each of the four band members to adjust the part they perform. For example, you can toggle the guitarist to play an acoustic or an electric guitar, switch the piano to a synth or drums to a tambourine. The song progresses irrespective of these changes, changes which can be constantly altered. The resulting song is dynamic, offering a great deal of possibilities within the confines of the music’s basic framework. At first I considered this interaction to be quite restrictive but what adds greater depth is that it tracks the most popular combinations made by all the users who have engaged with the video and allows the player to choose these setups. What this means is that the interactions of the player however insignificant, contribute to part of the experience of this work adding a sense of vicarious interaction through a 'hive mind' which engages with other viewers.

Inside A Dead Skyscraper is an interactive music video which resembles a video game much more closely than the other examples which I have looked at. The player controls a character in a radiation suit exploring a frozen moment in time where a plane has crashed into a high-rise building. There are echoes of the 9/11 attacks which resonate both in the lyrical content of the song as well as through the game’s imagery. Time is suspended, the player can do nothing to alter events but rather simply explore this moment. As a game I don't think Inside A Dead Skyscraper isn’t anything particularly ground breaking though there are some original ideas such as being able to read the thoughts of the frozen characters but overall, what resonates with me is the liberation it offers to the way in which we think about music video and the application of interactivity within this genre. A lot of the examples that I have looked at in previous posts draw definite (however minimised) influence from video game convention. What immediately struck me when exploring interactive music videos is that this stem doesn't seem to exist. It is very much the conventions of music video which serve as the primary proponents of these works with the methods of interaction being less complex and much more focused on the player as a direct participant as opposed to a character in a world. Inside A Dead Skyscraper is in fact the only example I’ve found so far which breaks this mould.

To consider the agency of the player in the aforementioned examples:

  • Inside A Dead Skyscraper 
  • The player becomes an agent of affect through the game character and so too is affected via this mechanism.

  • I've Seen Enough 
  • The player themselves are direct agent of affect; there is no representation or avatar through which interaction passes through.

  • The Wilderness Downtown
  • The player (perhaps more viewer in this case) effects rather than affects. The result of this is not continuous. There is a lesser sense of feedback loop as there is no further interaction once the project has been started.  

This again highlights how interactive music videos in general offer much simpler interactions than perhaps what other forms of media are doing with the medium. Just A Friend is another interactive video which I would consider 'simple' in that offers a 'pick a path' type mentality. This could stem from the expiatory nature of a song itself in that it has to come to an end (or does it?). It really goes to show how the background from which interactivity is approached from has significant effects on the way a work tends to be constructed. I think interactive music video could learn a lot form video game convention, Inside A Dead Skyscraper demonstrates this but perhaps the same could be said for other interactive media taking notes from music video too as these simple interactions are much easier to control and in terms of mapping affect are considerably more precise in their intentions.

As a side note, I found the dialogue with the player's superior officer in Inside A Dead Skyscraper to be aptly provoking:
 "...please don’t be immature, this isn’t a game".

 And even more striking:
 "I know what you're thinking, history has huge inertia and your agency isn’t that much."

These statements are referring to the player's inability to change the events of the plane crash in the game, though it's quite uncanny how they can be taken as greater statements of the work itself as a piece of interactive media.

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