Saturday, March 01, 2003

This Is Where The Story Ends

Here's the message, do you care about the medium?
Media has evolved, and instead of growing bigger, it has gotten smaller –along with our attention spans, I might add. As such, it demands shorter, faster delivery times.

It's as if there's hardly time to finish and you've only just started to say, 'Once upon a time...'

Therefore neither composers nor sound designers can continue take the same approach to the application of creative sound solutions to other media platforms as they have in the past with film and traditional video formats.

There is simply no longer any time to tell a STORY, only to convey a MESSAGE, and nothing conveys a message as rapidly or efficiently as a SYMBOL.

At the same time, the number of platforms on which to broadcast that message is multiplying. It is not just a convergence of technologies, but a convergence and deconstruction of communication delivery techniques, and our concept of Story will not go unchallenged.

In 1998, when I co-founded Blister Media, Silicon Alley's first interactive music and sound design company servicing advertising agencies, I initially found myself confounded in any attempt to define a narrative or story element in the new media and sometimes cross platform projects we began taking on.

One can certainly think of audio elements provided for an Interactive Interface or Electronic Game Play as 'helping to tell the story', but only if one loosely defines any framed experience as story.

Me, I'm a purist: There is no story without conflict or dramatic action.

In other words, Is Navigation Narration? I think only when it serves an objective purpose, i.e. when it represents a Journey. Clicking a link is not the same thing as experiencing a Story, although certainly, hyperlinking concepts and platforms do and will continue to contribute to Storytelling techniques.

High-order electronic games that deliver an interactive film-like experience, such as HALO, do indeed provide a story experience. But small electronic puzzle games, as often do not.

Additionally, many such experiences, such as a telephone connection tone or an audible response confirming an action or command on an electronic device, may only last a single second.

Some clients will remain happy with a set of stock clicks and bells, but others will develop or commission a proprietary family of sound and value those elements as brand assets.

What is required for such projects is neither a slow build to a dramatic statement nor any random selection of stock sound/s.

What they will demand from their creators is adopting a unique Philosophy of Sound for each individual commission.

Evolving Media formats require deftly executed audio solutions that clarify navigation, maximize entertainment value, and in the case of branded experiences, fulfill a communications strategy in the audible equivalent of a blink of the eye.

In short, as it is conventionally defined:

STORY IS DEAD, and the era of STORY IS OVER.

And I believe that we have now entered the ERA OF MESSAGE.

For audiences, this does not mean the end of all stories. Entertainment outlets will multiply and content demands will actually increase by an exponential order. But in a post post-production world, commercial creative artisans producing communication projects will need to possess a deeper understanding of a given client's brand strategy before they embark on development.

Increasingly audiences will share less and less of their time getting to know a brand. Even word of mouth may one day seem to take too long or just too much effort, but an individual consumer just might afford you the time to exchange the electronic equivalent of handshake. If nothing else, you will need to convey your message at first point of contact (with the user/consumer), because you may not get another chance.

And since my specialty is sound, one might reasonably ask how this will affect sonic artisans. Well, the bad news is now you have homework. Because if one can reasonably imagine that a message is to be conveyed using sound as the carrier, then one may also reasonably suggest that in addition to music theory and performance, some study of symbols and sound will be required of future sonic artisans. Thus, archetypes, memes and semiotics will be as important skills to our craft  as Harmony and Technique. The good news is an increased skill set should also result in higher value for your contributions.

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