acoustic medium

“Acoustic” was mostly used as a metaphor for “many things happening at once”

Any jazz lover can tell of the marvellous ways in which a simple riff becomes a rich, complex, unique piece of art through methodic experimentation and endless variation around a central theme.

A couple of years ago, inspired by the popularity of Lonelygirl15, I wrote the post lonelytv:

First consider the fact that TV is mostly an exercise of serializing and organizing a complex story in a way that can be digested by the masses with little effort: from the rigidity of weekly schedules, seasonal programming, series of predefined length to the organization of several threads of action into a cohesive sequence that eliminates any possibility of misunderstanding the story. It’s not too different from the organization of a novel in a book that must address several tracks in a way to keep the reader engaged. The advantage of this approach is accessibility. Very little effort is required to consume.

However, for a new generation of viewers, viewing is not enough. Participation is a must. The Lonelygirl15 phenomenon provides a preview of the type of interactivity that the audience is demanding. Unscheduled snippets of action, very short, cuasi-serialized but easily interchangeable, many different levels of stories that may appeal to different participants, alternate channels to get involved whether providing comments or producing additional snippets of content and endless hooks to plug-in their own ideas into the story. In this new medium there are no rules on how to consume the message

Three different stories in Wired magazine made me realize how far that vision has come and the many ways in which it is being realized:

  • Clive Thompson on How YouTube Changes the Way We Think: comments on the innovative ways in which people are using new video tools (web cameras, YouTube, etc) to create powerful messages that span many individual videos. His take is that after the expected “adoption” phase where people try to use the new technology in very much the same old ways, we’re finally seeing the innovators creating a whole new medium with it, enhancing our abilities as humans.
  • David Downs on how Yo-Yo Ma Brings Remix Culture to Music’s Ivory Tower by providing the initial musical track to a yet unfinished piece that will only be complete when mixed with one of thousands of submissions. More importantly, by recognizing that any personal contribution to the body of knowledge (or art in this case) is only a piece of the puzzle, and encouraging others to contribute, augment, modify, Yo-Yo Ma has started a musical theme that will likely exist in many different ways and will be consumed in many different versions. This reminds me of the work that Creative Commons does and their “shared culture” statement.
  • Sonia Zjawinski explains how Interactive Film Gives Editing Tools to You, in what seems to be a real production of the participatory experience I described a couple of years ago:

    watching Lonelygirl15 or its next incarnation will allow the audience to react to the story while endless threads of stories become available, allowing every single person to experience it in a different way, requiring a strong oral tradition among those participants to maintain a global cohesion and ultimately realize the vision of this new medium. The “acoustic” approach would require not just watching all the snippets associated with a particular thread of action, but also catching up on what others have to say about the snippets they have uncovered. The story as a whole exists only when the community comes together to share their experiences consuming their individual versions.

McLuhan wrote about the return of society to its tribal ways, pushing the literate man back to an “acoustic” world where oral tradition is the preferred mechanism for cultural transfer. Just like when a jazz ensemble improvises a piece, starting with a simple riff and adding complexity as the ideas evolve in the minds of the musicians, we’re seeing the beginning of a radical new way of building up our cultural heritage by purposely creating simple “riffs” that must be enhanced, mixed and experienced multiple times in many different ways. No consumers, we are all producers in this new medium.


One Response to “acoustic medium”

  1. mrs. Flower April 17, 2009 at 10:47 am #

    Love your logic

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