The Unique Experience of Interactivity

Filmmaker, researcher and RMIT teacher, Patrick Kelly examines the ways that Spectacle: The Music Video Exhibition bridges the gap between new and old media, resulting in unique user-generated experiences. 

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A Spectacle guest interacting with Radiohead’s House of Cards. Image: Mark Gambino

Upon arriving at the ‘interactive’ exhibit in Spectacle, one is greeted with a sign that reads: ‘Until very recently there was a clear line between those who made music videos and those who watched them. But now that videos have gone interactive, that distinction has blurred’. The very transition from stand-alone to interactive is, of course, representative of the internet’s progression from a one-way, informative Web 1.0 to a more open and communicative Web 2.0.

Spectacle does a fabulous job of making this progression clear. From displays of The Jazz Singer (1927) and early music videos of The Beatles, through to the playfully knitted worlds of Michel Gondry and Encyclopedia Pictura’s beautiful stereoscopic work for Björk; one simply cannot shake the fact that technology has been an enormous factor in the creation of music video.

Tim Dunlop recently wrote a piece for The Wheeler Centre about how ‘we need to stop talking about new media versus old media and instead look at ways for them to work together’. He principally refers to journalism in his article, however what is interesting when applying this notion to music video is that the newer works at Spectacle do exactly this, by allowing the viewer (User? Creator?) to generate their own original content.

This experience is most noticeable with Chris Milk’s video for Arcade Fire, The Wilderness Downtown/We Used To Wait (2010), an ongoing HTML5 multimedia video project, which creates a unique vision for each viewer, constructing video of their street from Google Maps and Google Street View. Canadian scholar Kathleen Irwin notes that the project ‘… crafts an experience that is personalised and deeply personal as it takes you down memory lane through the streets where you grew up…’. In doing so, the piece incorporates the user’s own experiences and memories. Irwin goes on to write:

‘When I first viewed it, it affected me on a very visceral level. I watched it an absurd number of times and forwarded the URL to friends. On both an audio and visual level, I found it mesmerising. I also enjoyed the interface itself – its extremely good use of new media. During long hours in front of the computer, I sometimes drift to Google Earth exploring the streets and addresses where I have spent years that span the relationships that comprise my life’.

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A Spectacle guest enjoying A-ha’s Take On Me. Image: Mark Gambino

What Irwin is describing here is the connection that she feels to the streets of her past – the same streets that she is able to interact with through Chris Milk’s work. By utilising the HTML5 technology, Milk is able to create a unique set of images for each user. Before this technology, a music video was produced as a single rigid, unchanging piece of work.

This piece is a great example of what innovative technology can do for, not only music video, but also media in general.

Granted, some of my favourite pieces in this exhibition are the stand-alone ones from single authors (A-ha’s Take On Me is an old faithful I use when teaching rotoscoping at RMIT), but the interactivity offered by some of the newer works appears to be a glimpse into the future of this art form: a unique experience for every one of us.

– Patrick Kelly is a filmmaker, researcher and teacher at RMIT University.

Spectacle: The Music Video Exhibition is a historic collection of clips, recreated sets, props and costumes that spans the history of music videos. Open from Thursday 26 September to Sunday 23 February. 

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