February 19, 2013

Last Thursday, Brooklyn synth rockers Tanlines launched a website for their new interactive music video. It’s designed to imitate the Photoshop interface, which gives you the tools to do things like change the background and re-size footage of the band playing their instruments. Digital design firm OKFocus (the clever authors of artornot.info and whodat.biz) adapted the band’s self-directed linear video into this playful remix.

The original video for “Not the Same” draws attention visually to the sonic layers that make up Tanlines’ sound. Every instrument heard is also seen. By compositing video footage, the pop duo multiplies themselves into a 14-person band. In the interactive version, this audio-visual relationship is taken a step further. As you cut and paste the band member’s video avatars, you make the corresponding musical tracks appear and disappear.

The layers refer as much to the website’s technology as they do to the band’s sound. It’s a very new thing for layers of video like this to be supported by HTML5. In the past five years, interactive music videos have come a long way and it’s thanks to these advancing technical boundaries. Just take a look at what Vincent Morisset did for The Arcade Fire back in 2007–arguably the first interactive music video. Although it was a milestone, it was limited by what Internet browsers couldn’t do then that they can do now.

“Alpha-channel video in HTML5 is new and exciting territory,” explains Ryder Ripps, one-third of OKFocus, based in Long Island City. “We are excited to push it forward, and the raw display of that motivation becomes a type of expression.”

If you have no clue what alpha-channel video means, this video actually gives you the most tangible explanation. Most of what you do in OKFocus’s remix is play around with modifying video channels and layering them one on top of another. In this way, the site makes a new frontier of web design relevant and understandable to an audience that doesn’t speak Java.

It’s all very accessible. And that might be due partly to the site’s familiar and ironic packaging. “It mixes what I feel is a sincere song and sincere technical motivation with a tongue-in-cheek interface/aesthetic,” says Ripps. For me, no detail screamed “irony” more than the optional Stone Henge background.

Ripps adds, “It’s inescapable and becoming harder and harder to make something relevant without it being a reference or mockery of something once sincere.”

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