The web is fun,’ states Vincent Morisset on his website. And in his hands, it certainly is. When Morisset burst onto the music video scene back in 2007 with his interactive promo for Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible single, he was quickly heralded as a director who could take an ailing industry into a new era.
As with all the best ideas, the Neon Bible site (beonlineb.com) is brilliantly simple. Visitors are greeted with Arcade Fire singer Win Butler looming out of a pitch-black background. Butler appears as a kind of magician-cum-shaman, and as he solemnly sings the track, users can play along with him, clicking on his head and hands to make him perform tricks and conjure effects. By avoiding anything too ostentatious and gimmicky, Morisset created a video-website that is perfect for the song, and which demonstrates how music videos, previously so wedded to film and tv, could have a new lease of life online.
“It’s about storytelling and user experience,” says Morisset of making an online video. “Presenting content online allows new parameters to play with. I see those possibilities as new words and expressions added to our existing media grammar.” Tellingly, Morisset doesn’t see online sites for songs as entirely separate from the traditional music video, however. “On a production level it’s different because the workflow and collaborators are not the same,” he says. “On a communication level though, for me, it’s similar to a traditional promo. I try to do projects that are surprising and different, hoping that they will be remembered the next day.”
Other projects for Arcade Fire followed. These include a site for the single Black Mirror (rorrimkcalb.com) where instead of playing with the visuals, users were invited to mess about with the song itself. “The band members were thrilled with this possibility,” says Morisset. “The interaction on the music also affects the actual mood of the video.” More recently, Morisset created a website for French singer Emilie Simon, showcasing a number of tracks from her new album The Big Machine. Each song has an ‘interactive vignette’ on the site, linked by Simon spinning a cardboard disc in each. By clicking on the disc, different effects occur, including, charmingly, clouds of ink that fill the screen for the song Chinatown.
While the online experience is crucial to Morisset’s work, what also connects his projects is a keen interest in film and narrative. He studied cinema and animation alongside multimedia, and these older media inform his website work, giving it a richness and quality that can occasionally be lost online. It is not surprising then to discover that Morisset has also made longer films for both Arcade Fire and Sigur Rós. For these movies he drew inspiration from earlier band films: “I prefer to watch older music documentaries,” he says. “Little details start to be really interesting. A specific mic in the background, the way a dude dances, a billboard in the street…. In these projects,
I also try to stay as close as possible to the music, to the act, the cause and the effect.”
Despite the enthusiasm that has greeted Morisset’s interactive web offerings for bands, the music video industry has been slow to engage with what might be possible online. There have been odd moments of excitement – James Frost’s no-camera video for Radiohead’s House of Cards, where users could play with the open source code to make their own versions of the vid online, particularly springs to mind – but most bands use the internet more as a channel than as a place to truly experiment. For Morisset, it’s not a case of one format replacing the other in the future, however. “Interactive is a word that is used way too much in the media industry these days,” he says. “We’ve used it so much that it’s started to lose its meaning. The internet and other on-demand networks are and will be, for sure, platforms of choice for music and music promotional content. But linear music videos won’t die.”
Morisset is currently working on a new project for Arcade Fire, as well as on an interactive piece that is being produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Despite the links between beautiful film and serious web skills in his projects, Morisset’s forays into the world of advertising have, as yet, been minimal. Certainly his talk at cr’s recent Click ny event was met with great enthusiasm by the assembled creatives in the audience, many of whom pledged to work with him soon. It will be fascinating
to see what may emerge from those plans.