Listen up: music, journalism and interactive storytelling

The ‘N’ Word, NSA Files: Decoded and Snowfall are all great examples of interactive journalism which have garnered a lot of attention over the last couple of years – but alongside this, there’s creative things happening within music journalism that should not be ignored.

A couple of years ago I saw Pitchfork’s beautifully designed, in-depth interview with Bat for Lashes (aka Natasha Kahn) and now they have returned with an interactive piece on this years Basilica Soundscape festival.

Although the piece is fairly simple in terms of interactivity, it works with the nature of the content, something producer/director Jim Larson intended:

“Our goal was to make the viewer feel like they were at this specific festival just by scrolling through.  If you go to the Basilica festival you don’t just stare at a stage for one song then watch a Hunger Games trailer.  You explore the Hudson Valley and watch like 10 other bands!”

The videos blend shots of the Hudson Valley where the festival took place and the performances

The videos blend shots of the Hudson Valley where the festival took place and the performances

Questioning why they didn’t simply rely on Youtube to distribute the videos (as music festivals often do), Larson revealed his views on the platform, replying: “Although I love Youtube for certain things as a consumer I loathe it as a video maker.  To spend a significant amount of time and effort working on something that ends up being viewed on Youtube with a dozen thumbnails directly to the right for videos someone else made, with wacky keywords taunting the viewer not to concentrate on what is in front of them, while ads and annotations infest the screen makes me want to scream and then do something else with my life.”

So moving to the full screen video format removed the distractions and certainly positions the piece in another realm – something beyond watching these bands play a set, but get a slice of the festival experience.

And it doesn’t stop here – Larson continued: “After completing this specific piece I’ve realised the possibilities are endless when it comes to creativity.  A lot of the i-docs I’ve seen have been really inspiring, but as far as the content it’s mostly been educational or just kind of literal and clean.  I think the layout offers so much potential to get weird, and create an atmosphere that gives the viewer the feeling of being there…  So yeah we’ll definitely be doing more!”

This isn’t the first interactive piece that is focused around music, as well as Pitchfork’s parallax ‘Cover Stories‘ and the Guardian’s interactive music section, some other playful examples that are worth checking out include:

The Smiths interactive timeline – released earlier this year, this scrolling timeline includes Spotify integration.

Arcade Fire have produced three, incredibly cool interactive pieces now, that position the viewer in their videos: Reflektor, The Wilderness Downtown and Neon Bible.

On the same track, another example of interactive music videos is Pharrell’s 24 Hours of Happy – the world’s first 24 hour music video.

In a piece about Pitchfork’s Cover Stories back in May in the Guardian, Luke Turner, co-founder of British music website the Quietus, commented “I imagine that as the web develops and you can do more with it, more interactive features where you can listen to music and watch video in a more effective way than just YouTube embeds will become increasingly popular, and their Cover Stories are perhaps the start of that.”

Despite what you think of this work – some of it is obviously big budget, some of it is definitely not interactive documentary – the techniques being used can provide inspiration. The playful nature (and large budgets) of most of the work allows for experiments with interactive technologies and the affordances of the web. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes in the future.