Interactive music videos

On: September 8, 2014
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About Anne van Egmond


Its feels like yesterday. Me as a teenager watching MTV in my room all day long. But even more , I remember how frustrated I felt that I couldn’t see my favourite videos whenever I wanted. Not to mention the endless talks from the VJ’s about things I didn’t want to hear and the music I didn’t want to listen to, before I could finally dance and sing on the Spice Girls (preferably on ‘WANNABE’). Although I was very good at the dancing and singing part, I also looked at it as stories. A story I wanted to be part of. The interactive music video is where I’ve been waiting for.

More and more we’re seeing a formation of new music videos online that offer their viewers something more than traditional MTV-incarnation we’re used to. They accure in MANY DIFFERENT FORMS, but there is an important thing they have in common. Namely the way they position the user. Interactive music videos effectuates a spontaneous, engaged audience that is able to choose how they would like to receive the content. You don’t have to necessarily watch the musical story in a fixed lineair order, but instead you can choose your own path of navigation and in some cases add content. They belong to the maturation and constantly evolving modes of digital storytelling through the interactive potential the web offers. Like other works of of storytelling as gaming, documentary and film, the music video is now using technology to draw their audience in with interactivity.

Although the addition of the word ‘interactive’ suggests this as a distinctive feature for the new wave of music videos, this is somewhat misleading and should be specified. Lev Manovich is the least nuanced when it comes tot his. In his ‘The Language of New Media’ (2002) he firmly sets out ‘what new media is not’ (66): interactive. He avoids the term in his book because he finds the concept of interactivity to broad to be truly useful. Therewith, he stresses one of the most widespread claims in new media theorie that ‘interactivity’ would be the way to distinguish traditional and new (digital) media. This misconception is often made because interaction is mostly interpreted as merely the physical interaction between a user and a new media object. Interaction is more than pushing a button, more than choosing a link. Manovich points that interactivity is also mentally shaped: all classic art was already interactive in multiple ways (72). He makes a similar point as Espen Aarseth in his ‘All we want to change the World: the ideology of innovation in digital media’ (2009). Both auteurs argue that we always had an interactive relationship with text of any kind. Namely in terms of individual interpretative ability.

So if a traditional music video was already interactive in this sense, what is that is ‘the new’ in an interactive music video? I would like to adduce Sandra Gaudenzi’s idea about ‘interactive documentary’. The differences in relation to  traditional film and documentary concerns the fact that it doesn’t only require mental interaction but also a physical contribution/interaction. When applying this to interactive music videos it is this specific combination what makes interactivity different from interactivity in earlier forms of music videos. Furthermore, the  user and the way he interacts with the  story is part of the story. Physical(and cognitive)  interaction are a indispensable part of the presentational structure: “the audience must do something in order to fulfil the desire to know how the story will end, or to explore alternative story lines” (Gaudenzi 10), or in the case of the interactive version of  HAPPY, the exploration of different perspectives on the story).

Marles would calls this a ‘greater possibility space’. In this sense the interactive music video is a narrative that leaves room ” for known-knowns, know-unknows and unknown-unknows” that may exist in the same project. Narratives has been given a more flexible framework through digital media. The interactive music video is a narrative space where various meaning of the story can be created in a way that is simply not possible in a lineair, fixed arrangement. The bigger the database, the more likely it is that the user creates a unique story by the segments (or in THIS CASE the sides of the CUBE) they choose (Lister, 22). Instead, watching a traditional music video only requires mental interaction. While watching it, the story unfolds in a predefined way. The story doesn’t need me. Interactivity in interactive videos stands for my essential contribution as a user. Through the combination of cognitive and physical interaction I am creating a (version of the) story. Without me, this possible path would not be explored.The story wouldn’t unfold. This version of the story wouldn’t exist. I am an essential part of telling their story.

I wish the Spice Girls needed me that bad.

Gaudenzi, Sandra. The Living Documentary: from representing reality to co-creating reality in digital interactive documentary. Diss. 2013.
Lister, M. Dovey, et al. 2003. New Media: A Critical Introduction.
Manovich, Lev. “Principles of New Media”. The language of new media. MIT press, 2001.
Marles, Janet Elizabeth. “Database Narratives, Possibility Spaces: Shape-shifting and interactivity in digital documentary.” (2012): 77-92.

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