Friday, October 22, 2010

The Wilderness Downtown

I have in the past alluded to the 'Soundtrack of Spaces' linking music to our physical environment.  I know most people have amused themselves with this video experiment, but I finally found myself engaging with the Arcade Fire's interactive video 'The Wilderness Downtown' - perhaps a literal interpretation of the space/music connection.  The narrative film, which juxtaposes an address (in particular, the home where you grew up) with the song 'We Used to Wait' off the recent release - 'The Suburbs'.

The interactive film, by Chris Milk, provides an interactive journey using footage along with Google aerial and street views to provide a 'story' based on a familiar location from one's childhood.  In this case, it's a quasi-suburb in Minot, North Dakota, where I spent a good portion of my childhood in my post- air force brat youth.  While, it is virtually impossible to capture the narrative in stills, but here goes - which takes the viewer through the stages of running, locating in the neighborhood, discovery, and inevitably transformation. Whatever address you choose - just try it (although you must have the latest versions of Safari or Chrome for performance).



You find youself transfixed to the images, both to find out what is coming next, but also to catch a glimpse of the house, the yard, the street you grew up on.  It's a fascinating interpretation of the song, which After a brief pause, there's an interlude of interactivity, where you are prompted to write a postcard to yourself as a young person - as you contemplate the meaning of the lyrics (which much as cities, spaces, and childhood memories, are innately personal).   From the first verse:

But by the time we met
The times had already changed
So I never wrote a letter
I never took my true heart
I never wrote it down
So when the lights cut out
I was left standing in the wilderness downtown

And then the transformation of the place to the 'wilderness' begins, with an eruption of vegetation emerging from the streets, bursting forth in vegetal violence.  It's not imbued with a great amount of depth, other than the regret of youth and the inevitability of change - simplified in verse.

So what does this mean?  Without overdramatizing it, and not to cop out on the narrative implications (well sort of), but it means different things to different people.  It might be an impressive demo for Google, or maybe a mark of the creativity of an inventive Indie band trying to differentiate from the growing Indie masses.  I think it's more a question of representation and context - an anthem, given a flexible visual, for the conceptual framework of 'The Suburbs' in which the artists sing about.

It infuses the music, and why not the video - personalizing the alienation of suburban experience, wishing for something as dramatic as foliar anarchy - not a beanstalk to climb, but just for a short break from the boredom and monotony of the place.  The interesting aspect, brilliantly rendered in the snippets of video, is that the theme is somewhat universal - as the tone of the song and the moody visuals lead one, even if set in downtown Manahattan, to a suburban experience in need of transformation.  That's the power of music as a soundtrack for spaces, and that's kind of the point.

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