In the world of the internet, 60 seconds is a long time. On YouTube alone there are hundreds of hours of video uploaded every minute. A new “experiment in algorithmic filmmaking” taps into these vast swaths of video content, and turns them into an ever-changing music video for Manchester band Shaking Chains’ debut single “Midnight Oil.”
It means each time someone watches a video it will be different, unique—with code generating a near infinite amount of possible variations as it hijacks online video content, selecting footage from an evolving set of keyword searches.
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The video project is the brainchild of Jack Hardiker, who plays drums and sings in the band. The other band members are Jack Mahoney (lead vocals/guitar), Nathan Mcilroy (bass/vocals), and Alex Solo (guitar/vocals).
The inspiration for it came from the idea of surrendering authorship, of aleatoric art—like the music of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen—the way chance and discord can blend into harmony. It’s also a retort to how algorithms control our lives.
So Hardiker repurposed the algorithms that help refine and curate our experiences, to create something more chaotic and randomized from them. Something akin to a TV channel being constantly changed.
“I was looking to create something visual and emotive, even poetic, yet connected to the songs,” Hardiker tells Creators. “I sought to obliquely reframe the stuff we subject ourselves to (whether beautiful, distressing, mundane, frivolous or eroticized) and algorithmically cut them into a new context.”
The way algorithms have come to define our online experiences (and ergo our offline lives) is an especially hot topic at the moment. They’ve almost been mythologized, with their ability to sway elections, divide nations, mis-target adverts, and present us with a world we want to see rather than what is actually there. Hardiker wanted to tap into the latter, present something raw and unedited—uncurated, in a word.
“Here there is no filter bubble, since the viewer remains anonymous, and the content they experience can vary wildly,” notes Hardiker. “The code that makes the video is a machine, unobtrusive and in a sense pure. The viewer appears to get a blind and neutral snapshot of that moment in time—partiality enters through my search terms, and the viewers’ attempts to make sense of the sequence.”
As for what those search terms are, Hardiker isn’t going to reveal them. Well, he throws a bone by giving up one example “Black Friday fights.” He also says the terms reflect the song and, along with various aspects of contemporary culture.
These list of terms originally started at around 500 keywords but was whittled down to around a hundred. Hardiker then began downloading a few videos per search term for a reference cut, tackling it as he would a regular film edit. But then knowing that he wouldn’t have control over the way the content would fill various slots, he started to treat them in a more thematic sense.
But now that it’s online, it can begin to take on a life of its own, evolving as the keywords and uploaded content does.
“The content can come from anywhere,” Hardiker notes. “I have little control over that aspect of it, particularly now. The search terms are not fully fixed either—it’s an evolving list. We’re in the process of adding machine learning and devolving further curatorial power to the computers. Music videos are a strange beast: the press cycle for a single is short, and we’re a new band, with a small audience. But I love the idea of the film living on, autonomously, beyond that kind of attention span. The possibilities are vast. What might it become a year from now? It would be dependent on what’s happening a year from now, on what the internet holds for us then.”
You can check out the film here. Shaking Chains’ debut single “Midnight Oil” is out April 21, 2017 on Concrete Recordings. You can pre-order it here. Catch the band on their UK tour in Salford and London.
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