Life on the web, in the browser
Courtesy of Google Chrome Blog: Illustration by Jack Hudson.
Thanks to my friend Chuck @chakko, I heard about ‘The Wilderness Downtown‘, the online, interactive film by Chris Film. This fascinating collaboration between Arcade Fire (a perennial favourite of mine) and Google’s Chrome HTML5 platform.
Above: photo of Arcade Fire by Seraphina L on Beatcrave.
If you don’t know who Arcade Fire are, you might recognise them through their much-played song ‘Wake Up‘. Like me, you might not know much about HTML5 except that it has something to do with the web. According to a LifeHacker post, HTML is a major revision of the language of the web. Lifehacker has this great definition for HTML5:
HTML5 is a specification for how the web’s core language, HTML, should be formatted and utilized to deliver text, images, multimedia, web apps, search forms, and anything else you see in your browser. In some ways, it’s mostly a core set of standards that only web developers really need to know. In other ways, it’s a major revision to how the web is put together. Not every web site will use it, but those that do will have better support across modern desktop and mobile browsers (that is, everything except Internet Explorer).
Image courtesy of Bruce Lawson
What is it all about?
As Sam Biddle of Gizmodo describes in the post ‘Arcade Fire and Google pushing HTML5 together‘:
Rather than stick a traditional music video on YouTube, Arcade Fire’s “The Wilderness Downtown” is a Chrome “experience,” highlighting what modern, HTML5-compatible browsers are capable of rendering. Multiple windows run and close in coordination with the music, and—easily the neatest part of the demonstration—your browser will incorporate Street View imagery of your childhood home (after you provide the address).
How does it work?
I must admit, I was rather perplexed when I actually ‘experienced’ the phenomenon. If you go to the website you need to type in the address of your hometown and then the experience begins.
Erin Keane from The Courier-Journal describes the experience on a recent post:
Using Google street view and satellite maps, 3-D canvas rendering and real-time compositing, the movie follows an androgynous child running through a neighborhood that looks just like yours, followed by a flock of birds swooping across the aerial view.
This sounds rather strange but you’ll see what I mean when you try it for yourselves. Basically it’s a whole lot of browser windows opening, moving and closing in time with the music. It was really spooky to see images of your old neighbourhood (mine was Sunshine in Melbourne’s Western suburbs) intertwined with Arcade Fire’s music video clip. I love the idea but I’m not sure if this experiment has fulfilled HTML5’s true potential. My guess is there’s going to be more of this kind of ‘show-and-tell’ of technology through pop icons/references.
Is this art?
I do not profess to know much about art. I know little about video art and much less about social media art. But I am interested, namely because I’ve been asked to curate a social media art project and have began investigations. I have found fellow classmate Jimmy Langer to be a great reference point – Jimmy (if this is his real name – you never know in the world of Web 2.0) made some excellent musings on netart in recent weeks. I encourage you to read these posts if you’re at all interested in the relationship between art and media.
Arcade Fire who are known for embracing media are promoting Google’s HTML5 in The Wilderness Downtown project which features the band’s new song ‘We Used to Wait’ from the new album The Suburbs.
I was more impressed with Arcade Fire’s previous foray into Social Media where they used an interactive website promoting their album Neon Bible. The music video clip showed a singer from the band with two hands; the user is then invited to use their mouse to click on any part of the screen to see what visual surprises result.This is/was pretty damn cool. If you haven’t seen this, I encourage you to check it out as my explanation does it no justice. Be patient, it takes some time to load up and then as the song goes on, the ‘interaction’ gets much more sophisticated.
Is it art? I don’t know. I guess it all depends on context…a piece of rubbish in a gallery might be considered modern art. Is social media the next chapter in netart?