My Words Elsewhere

So, it's article recap time for me (and consequently for you).

While listening to Joni Mitchell and experiencing something akin to nostalgia I am pushing you vicariously towards two art/ music articles I wrote a few months ago. The first is an article about a young artist called Katie Surridge, which was published last week on a sort of arts/music/culture website called The Medium Of... It has been edited down to the bare bones of itself, but, hey, that's what editors are for, right? RIIIGGGHHTT???

And the second is one I wrote about that obsession I could not help but share with you again - yes, it's YET ANOTHER outlet for my Iamamiwhoami fixation to explode out of the web page in mandrake-ridden, tinfoil coated, creepy glory. This article, despite being really quite good (if I don't say so myself) I didn't even get a response for, and, consequently, was super miffed about it. Supremely, utterly, profoundly miffed. So HERE IT IS:

(Shit! I shouldn't have said it was great and then let you read it!! What if you hate it? GULP!)
Its kind of a meditation on TV and The Internet and using IAM as an example of how The Internet is taking over from TV in lots of ways because, as I feel about blogs also, they are entirely based on meritocracy, not money.

Anyway, I'm blathering and spoiling it - Here you go:

Time to Change the Channel?

As television ratings slump, one mystifying project causes speculation across the Internet, blurring the lines between those who appear on the screen and those who watch it. But could it provide an answer to our flagging arts and entertainment industries?

Jonna Lee, the singer of the 2010 viral video mystery
known only as I amamiwhoami. Are they the future of the media?
(Courtesy of the Iamamiwhoami Facebook Group)

While some people spent their time flicking through the endless repeats on television this Christmas Season, or picked sides in the rival period drama debate, others looked elsewhere for entertainment. And with the general quality of television shows ranging somewhere between watching Katie Price chomp on a shark’s eye to the lurid inspection of the clinically obese, always with an exploitative lens, it is not hard to see why.

We hear constantly that the music industry is changing, that the BBC have no money to produce good quality programmes, that culture in Britain is at risk from the most recent budget cuts. While this is evident in the cuts to university funding, the Arts and the standard of television as a whole (the cheap to produce cult of reality TV forever rising in dominance), it is clear that artists, television producers and musicians need to start thinking differently about how they can best utilise the media – preferably in the cheapest but most expansive way possible.

One of the most obvious solutions is of course the Internet. While we can now catch up on our favourite programmes on BBC iPlayer, 4OD and ITV Player, as well as numerous streaming sites such as Surf the Channel and Megavideo, this is not sustainable for the television companies, which would ultimately render the catch-up sites useless. If there are no television companies to produce the shows, how on earth will you be able to watch them later, on their respective websites? The newspapers, quick to realise that if the public can read their articles on the website will think otherwise when purchasing a physical copy, have begun to charge for the privilege of browsing the pixelated pages in a way only an Internet browser can.

We are now in the transition period, where one media form is jostling with another, one of much vaster appeal. Television, newspaper, radio, music, postal service, and now book – the Internet is all these things combined, for a fraction of the price and with much more coverage than any of these individual formats could ever encompass. But, like the ratings battle between ITV and the BBC’s ‘coincidentally’ similar costume dramas, is it a war or is it a learning curve?

One such example of how the two can successfully coalesce is the ongoing music/video project known only as Iamamiwhoami. Broadcast exclusively on video-sharing site Youtube, the mysterious videos first appeared on 31st January 2010, shortly after getting emailed to many top music critics and reviewers. Starting as a series of minute long teasers, the videos centred on dark images of a blonde woman, caked in mud, writhing around naked in a forest where some of the trees sprouted human limbs. These ambiguous, unsettling images were set to the ethereal whisperings of a woman’s voice often over heavy synths and layered vocals. Gradually the videos morphed into what could more easily be defined as music videos, yet not the kind we are accustomed to – these being part of a fragmented narrative that could not quite be totally comprehended.

What compelled the thousands of viewers to discuss on forums, on Youtube and on music blogs, were the mysteries inherent to the project. Who was this woman, unrecognisable in the first few teasers? What were these grotesque suggestions of a kind of primal sexuality with Nature really about? Where had it come from, and where would it go?

The questions kept thousands of viewers from all over the world hooked, gaining more and more attention throughout the year. Gradually the identity of the mysterious blonde woman was revealed to be Swedish singer Jonna Lee, and the occasional other characters her band mates. But by then the trick had worked; tens of thousands of people were rooted to their computer screens as Iamamiwhoami announced a concert and asked its followers to elect a representative from among their ranks. We then followed the supposed unknowing representative in a series of video diaries as he telephones, flies and drives his way towards the concert.

When the concert was broadcast through the new but predominantly featureless Iamamiwhoami website, the young representative was led by Jonna Lee around a forest, performing the now famous songs, before taping him into a cardboard coffin and appearing to burn it in a cardboard fort. The concert was not live as such; it was more like footage of a live event that was then uploaded to the site, but it was as close as onlookers were going to get. And now all the tracks, including versions from the ‘concert,’ are available to buy on iTunes.

It is interesting to note the way this phenomenon has upended the notions of live and recorded in popular music. It usually works in reverse; the artist plays a great deal of live shows and eventually gets a record contract, records their music and makes a promo video. Iamamiwhoami have worked precisely the other way around, utilising the power of the Internet to reach a wider audience while maintaining their mystique. The poor representative may very well have been a plant to draw us in – and it worked. Unlike television, where there is no dialogue between creator and audience (except in the highly controlled reality TV format), with a project such as this, there is constant communication between the two. At least, there would be, had the Iamamiwhomi team not continued to be so guarded with their identities.

This project clearly had some money and industry pull given the quality of their offerings, but totally unknown members of the public have likewise achieved international stardom from their bedrooms, entertaining their followers with wit, music and talent that would never have been discovered in the pre-WWW. era. Unlike reality television, people on the Internet only achieve fame if they actually have a talent worth watching. In this way, there is nothing more democratic than a media form based largely on merit, instead of money or private connections. 19 year-old American musical comedian Bo Burnham burst onto the worldwide comedy scene this year, all via his Youtube channel, quickly taking Edinburgh Festival by storm – success that would never have been achieved had the Internet not been a tool there to be utilised. Other Youtube success stories include pop musician Little Boots, who posted videos of her playing covers and original material on the site before gaining a record deal. And we have all seen the infamous satirical Gap Yah sketch, the protagonist of which spent much of the year ‘chundering’ across office computers and personal laptops worldwide.

While now, sites like Youtube have been the kingdom of young musicians and comedians, I suspect it is not going to be long before the older members of the media have to really re-think the way they – and we – use the Internet. Jordan and the shark eye still come at too high a cost.


You know what's great about articles online? The links! You can go all over the place with an online article, where as on the page you are left wandering what in the hell did that mean?, continuing the next sentence are forgetting all about it. Yeah, come on internet - who needs to get published in a stupid magazine anyway?? I'm not bitter, I'm not bitter, I'm fun to be with.

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