Fast Company

The Arcade Fire Duets With Google For Cannes Grand Prix Winner "The Wilderness Downtown"

Hot new code, three-way Chrome browser action, and tunes by indie rock darlings--it's everything a geek could want (short of a girlfriend). UPDATE: Arcade fire's feats win the Grand Prix at Cannes Lions!

Rock 'n' roll saviors Arcade Fire and "Jesus Walks" video auteur Chris Milk have seen the future of online video, and it requires your home address.

The Wilderness Downtown is an interactive, Web-based music video collaboration between the director--he's also worked on video projects for Barack Obama, U2, and Nike among others--Google, and the indie-rock darlings. Their latest, urbanist tinged album, The Suburbs, is a love letter to our idealized childhood abodes that often literally or figuratively crumble as we age. See for yourself with this interactive experiment: It uses Google Street View maps to quasi-personalize the video, which features a hooded man running through deserted lanes.

The Google Chrome blog helps explain some of the elements at work:

It features a mash-up of Google Maps and Google Street View with HTML5 canvas, HTML5 audio and video, an interactive drawing tool, and choreographed windows that dance around the screen. These modern web technologies have helped us craft an experience that is personalized and unique for each viewer, as you virtually run through the streets where you grew up.

And at around 90 seconds in, you'll probably be a little moved when asked to draw a little picture and write a postcard in a witchy font offering advice to your younger selves. (My postcard is strictly between me and young me, but let's just say if young me gets old me's message, he'll think twice about dying his hair black and getting really into death metal.)

For Google, this was a showcase for how well interactive, personalized, multi-window mini-movies can work if written for its HTML5-enabled browser, Chrome. Unlike previous HTML5 demos that leave the average person stumped about the invisible magic happening behind the screen, viewers of The Wilderness Downtown don't have to be code monkeys to get how bananas this all is as it unravels on screen. It also proves how well HTML5 can compete with Flash--it would be extremely difficult for a Flash developer to interweave publicly available databases with synchronized, multiple-window actions the way this does. Windows open, move, interact, and close, all timed to the downbeats in Arcade Fire's song "We Used to Wait." The developers who worked with Milk deserve credit for pulling it off.

Some hints on getting the most out of the experience:

  • Type in your exact childhood address when prompted--right down to the street or apartment number. And, yes, you're telling Google even more about your personal life, but remember, they have most of it already. This is the fun side of privacy invasion!
  • Put on headphones. This song sounds amazing, and the music is half the experience.
  • Don't touch anything. You'll be tempted to move around windows to see better, but it's supposed to look a bit jagged.
  • Close everything else but Chrome--all other browsers, tabs, and as many programs as you can. This thing will hog every processor cycle you have (it's unabashed about this).

Be patient while the program loads--it'll take up to 10 minutes or so, depending on your machine's speed. Still, it's nowhere as long as you used to have to bide time as an MTV-watching kid looking for Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher" to pop in between multiple repeats of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Like the song says, "We Used to Wait."  

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2 Comments

  • Tyler Gray

    It's true. It's the future. It's not immediately comfortable. Like the inevitable subcutaneous mobile communications/tracking chip. Adapt or die.

  • jesse paquette

    one problem - the multitude of tiny windows moving around evokes an overwhelming "god dammit, how do i stop this?" response.