You might recall in 2007 when the Arcade Fire released the brief but visually haunting interactive piece for “Neon Bible,” featuring the stoic, disembodied head of Brendan Reed and hands, which you could control with the click of your mouse. The experience was memorable, but with Chris Milk‘s interactive film “The Wilderness Downtown,” featuring the track “We Used To Wait,” the experience has been personalized down to the level of the individual viewer through the use of a clever mash-up technique that creates a music video based on a neighborhood of your choosing.
The technology behind the film, which incorporates multi-channel videos of composited Google Earth and Street View maps, uses the powerful new web language HTML 5, and is part of a series of Chrome browser experiments that are being documented here. Before now, these have been mostly exercises to test the browsers’ capabilities with very little artistic merit. Chris Milk leverages the explorations into a full-fledged experience that goes beyond the typical web video by using digital montage, synchronized window control and even a timed segment where you’re allowed to write your own message, which is then animated.
I experience one hiccup trying to input just my old city name, “Ocala, FL”, which seemed to not be specific enough. Providing an entire address got me started with a long establishing video of someone running, reminiscent of a Rocky training segment. It wasn’t until the first of many views of my old neighborhood showed up that I started to understand that the character (identity left purposefully vague) might really be going down my street, even past my house. I was skeptical of the map visuals since I tend to use online maps daily, but I was compelled to lower my guard and enjoy the various panning effects and flyovers. They eventually come across as more cinematic than informational.
I’m not sure if the effect holds true for people who have always lived at the same address, but it does provide yet another way to think about web technology and how it connects us with various things. Yesterday it was video call, today it’s mapping software connecting me in a visceral way with childhood memories. Take your own trip down down memory lane and tell us what you think of “The Wilderness Downtown.”