Monday, February 11, 2008

Music Video and Literary Journal 2.0

I know, I know. This blog has been dead for a while. I did survive into the new year, and even managed to send off seven PhD applications. I'm hoping one of them comes through. I promise not to turn off the blog again for so long without notifying you, oh faithful reader.

In the meantime, I have become fascinated with interactive internet content—both musical and literary. For an awesome online literature experience, that turns poems and short stories into interactive art projects, check out Born Magazine. Poets and fiction writers are matched up with artists who work with flash animation, so that what emerges is sometimes much more than just the written word. I really can't explain it, but take a look at "What Afterlife" and "Five Kinds of Weather Roll Across Texas," to see some of the rich variety that the magazine offers. I'm excited because this is, I think, what the internet should be doing for literature. Other than making it more accessible (which is huge), the internet hasn't really added much to literature as a form. Born is starting to push the boundaries of literary art and interaction. I have recently been studying methods of literary interpretation, and this seems to me to have all sorts of implications that I won't really get into, except to say that the idea of a piece of literature as fluid might gain credence by more extreme means of user interaction.

The title screen of "What Afterlife" from Born Magazine.

But this interaction is not limited to literary works. Bands have started in with interactive music videos. The Arcade Fire, long a favorite of mine, have released a video for Black Mirror, a song from their latest album, Neon Bible. What's unique about this one, though, is that users can change the actual music of the video by toggling off and on (at will) individual tracks like drums, bass, guitar, lead vocals, backup vocals and etc. This is surprisingly intriguing, because it lets the user create custom videos.

The protagonist of "Black Mirror" stares into a Dante-like abyss. Notice the numbered triangles at the bottom of the screen. Each triangle indicates that the track is on.

Rolling Stone recommends turning off the drums (track 2) for an amazing and unique version of the song, but I think what fits the video best, and its stark and surprising images, is turning off tracks 1-4, which leaves track 5 (backup vocals) and track 6 (background classical score). This transforms the video into an eerie silent film, with occasional moments of clarity. I love the entire aesthetic sensibility of The Arcade Fire, which comes through in their website design and videos.

Mr. TV-head stares at the viewer while my track preference is displayed.

Taking their cue from no one, an up-and-coming band from Brooklyn, MGMT, has created a downloadable interactive video of their song "Electric Feel," from their new, aptly named album Oracular Spectacular. Checking in at over 400mbs, it lets users edit the images that show while the song is playing. The bottom of the video player in Quicktime is a set of multi-colored rectangles and circles, each of which alters any given frame of the video. Some change the background images, others the video footage, while some superimpose other images or textures over the video. It's pretty crazy and hard to describe. You really have to experience it for yourself. I have literally watched it eight times, and keep finding new images. Watch out for the walrus, he scares me every time I accidentally click on the far right circle at about 50 seconds in.

One of the MGMT guys stabbing what appears to be a pig pinata with what appears to be a spear, while what appears to be a military helicopter flies by in the background.

I also recommend watching the video, not interactive, but just as psychedelic, for their song "Time to Pretend." This overwhelming stream of images and colors somehow fits the uninhibited, melodic and electronic style of their music. For my first entry of 2008, I leave you with what appears to be three dancing Andy Warhols superimposed over a stylized portrait of the other MGMT guy. Who says drugs never helped art?