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Soundhunters: an interactive documentary experience capturing the world in samples

In All posts, Interviews, News & Events by Jess Linington

Recently released on the Arte site, Soundhunters is an interactive documentary exploring the connection between sound and culture.

At the centre of the project is four interactive shorts about four renowned musicians immersed in the heart of four cities across the globe, looking for sounds and inspiration. Their encounters with urban minorities in Sao Paulo, Lagos, New York and Berlin lead to the creation of four unique musical compositions.

Soundhunters was co-created by transmedia producers François Le Gall and Nicolas Blies – I caught up with them both to find out more about the project:

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Why sound – Is the project an ode to electronic music or the places and cultures it stems from?

François Le Gall: It’s really a mix of both!

On the one hand, each sound has its own inner history​ and is able to talk about the world. It’s a cultural footprint in a way. That’s why we ask users to tag their sounds, this is a first step toward a documentary approach. On the other hand, samples from our environment are a mean to reconnect electronic music with reality. By feeding machines with that kind of sounds, we try to give them more humanity.

Nicolas Blies: It’s a playful tribute to a cultural remix that lays foundations for a proper language – a musical one. We think that sounds (a sample) are like pictures. It’s a kind of footprint of our culture. Sound tell us how we live and who we are. So we wanted to create a universal project who will talk to everybody, everywhere in the world. Only music can do that! It’s a poetic and beautiful way to listen the world and play with him without any boundaries. For sure, after Soundhunters, you will never hear the world as before!

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Have you worked on anything like this before? How was the production experience of making such a multi-layered project and what made you decide upon a participatory approach?

FLG: We already were involved in interactive projects in the past but not with such a scale. The fun part of a transmedia project is really to figure out how to narrate a story which unveils on different supports/devices. But to remain consistent through this story, this implies to have a strong core idea and stick to it. And users are the engine of the story. If they are not part of it, your project is useless.

Each day you are able to find a new way to narrate your story. For instance, we came up with the idea to produce a music album based on a contest fueled by our expert audience creations which is quite bold in the documentary field!

NB: Also, the coproduction between my company a_BAHN and my coproducer (Camera Talk Productions) was really excellent! Working with a good team is of course a good starting point to make thinks work. We decided to incorporate the audience from the begining. The idea was to create a kind of “Instagram” of sounds and musics.

The competition element is really cool, but getting the audience to dedicate their time and attention to an experience is hard – how has the uptake been? Is there anything you would change if you could do it again?

FLG: The involvement of the audience is a tricky thing for sure. You really must consider your audience as something heterogeneous so it’s not possible to ask the same thing to everyone.

Regarding the contest, we really focused on hardcore electronic musicians either amateurs, students or semi-pro. It would have been a nonsense to ask the general public to create a music track on pro softwares! Our partnerships with Native Instruments (one of the leaders in the music software industry) or electronic music schools (Dubspot, SAE) have been crucial to reach this expert audience.

“You really must consider your audience as something heterogeneous – it’s not possible to ask the same thing to everyone.”François Le Gall

The contest is running so it’s difficult to make a definitive assessment but we are quite happy when hearing the tracks that have been submitted so far. Some are really of excellent quality! Maybe we would have made clearer some part of the rules like which types of samples are eligible for instance…

NB: In general, the project has been created for the wide audience. They are not obliged to do any competitions!

After watching movies, we offer them to create their own music if they want with the most simple music tools ever made: CREATE (soundunters.tv)  In this social network for soundhunters around the world, you can compose your first tracks, even if you know nothing about music. You can draw on the sounds from the films, your own sounds, and those captured by other soundhunters.

Currently, 800 tracks have been created all over the world in one month. It’s really cool! It’s a proof that the audience can dedicate their time to an experience when this one is simple and attractive.

I would like to add that we will reward the most popular track created on our platform by the wide audience by choosing it to accompany the final credits in the TV documentary (on air the 19th of september on Arte). It’s not really a competition because all tracks created are eligible but it’s a way to animate the audience.

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Looking to the future, do you reckon you’ll produce more interactive pieces? Any plans you can let us know about?

NB: With my company (a_BAHN) we are working on a new transmedia project called TOURIST about the most important industry in the world: Tourism. It’s an exciting subject who tell us a lot about our society and the evolution of human behaviour.

We are also working on a transmedia called The Uncondemned, which looks at how rape is a very efficient strategy, a devastating weapon in conflicts, reducing the future of a group and society to nothing. By leveraging in terms of spectator experience the mechanics of testimony, we will be unveiling step by step the strategies put in place to organize and systematize rape used for military and / or political goals.

From individual to the mass strategy, we propose a strong transmedia in which the viewer embarks crescendo in the mechanics of a destroyed humanity. It’s a real challenge to develop an interactive mechanism but we like telling strong stories. Maybe we will work on a participative approach but as you can understand, it’s a real challenge to find the good way to do it.

FLG: We are transmedia producers so yes the future is full of that experiences! Take a look at our websites to be updated www.a-bahn.com / www.cameratalk.fr 🙂