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Art and Application: a Strange Musical Love Story of Snapchat

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The millennials’ guide to garnering a social media audience instructs the use of updating one’s “stories” each day that remains for a short time and then disappear the next, allowing us to document the food we meet, the places we visit, the friends we meet, adorable babies’ and toddlers’ firsts and the putting on of hilarious filters to ward off our Monday blues. It is a hassle-free method of keeping all around us updated about our lives which appear to be more happening than not, and bridges gaps created by time and distance.

Who knew art could be created amidst the drone of eventful existence? Those of you who form a part of Snapchat’s 1.91 million daily user family might not have thought about your app companion in this light. Artist Christian Marclay has thought of the app “more as a microphone than a camera” and, with its engineers’ aid, has produced a spectacle exhibiting the concoction of what he calls his “Sound Stories.” It will run from June 18 to June 22 at La Malmaison in Cannes, France, as an individual participant in the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, and rightly so. Snapchat’s “public stories,” which can be viewed by anyone, will now be used as an art-creating mechanism.

As per the details of the exhibition, it shall entail five pieces of audio-visual work, all displayed in different rooms. Led by Andrew Lin, the team of engineers, in collaboration with Mr. Marclay, has promised to create something extraordinary. The first piece, “All Together,” is an amalgamation of sincere and calculated curation from hundreds of such “public stories,” and what might sound like a random cacophony emanating from 10 smartphones is only the preparation of the visitor’s senses for the rest of the journey.

Based on a 2002 composition by the artist, the second piece called “Tinsel Loop” is an 18-note melodic expression based on this earlier creation. The engineers have spent countless hours creating matches between Snapchat “stories” and Mr. Marclay’s piece, ultimately resulting in the display of a number of posts responding to the original musical notes. For example, an eight-year-old screaming might be a C major scale depending on external sound factors.

The third, “The Organ,” is an interactive exercise as visitors are permitted to play keys on a full-length digital keyboard connected to a humongous screen that simultaneously displays posts corresponding to the particular note or chords being played. Mr. Marclay had planned on making the audience a “part of the composition”.

Artist Collaboration SnapchatThe fourth piece, entitled “Talk to Me/ Sing to Me,” is a literal one, for the audience can participate in the experience by singing or speaking into several smartphones hanging from the ceiling. It has been made possible by developing an algorithm that mimics sounds, helping in the interaction with one another.

The last is “Sound Tracks” which invokes an eerie feeling as it is situated in a dark room, echoing with terrifying cries. On second thought, after glancing up at the ceiling, one can see through cylinders, tablets playing warm and cheerful posts at a reduced speed, like children playing with animals.

“The thinking process behind the engineers and an artist is quite similar,” Mr. Marclay said. “You have to get out of your comfort zone and try to push the limit and see what can be done with what’s available.” He also added that he did not accept offers of this kind because of his aversion towards commercial ventures, but a bit of persuasion from Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, and Jay Jopling, Mr. Marclay’s dealer at White Cube, which happens to be a contemporary art gallery in London, propelled him to construct a piece coupled with his musical prowess, that was possible with technology.

This came at a crucial time because, as Sopan Deb, New York Times journalist, has said, Snapchat needed an uplifting endeavor because of its recent hiccup after it was redesigned when Kylie Jenner tweeted, “Sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me … ugh this is so sad.” and resulted in a massive dent in its stock price. This, along with financial troubles and Shannon Lubetich’s email testifying against a toxic work environment at the company, added to their list of concerns. Mr. Spiegel, Snap’s chief executive, sees this venture as an “empowering expression”, but did not reveal the cost incurred in the pursuit of the same, whereas their engineers have said that they worked on this project in addition to their day jobs.

Snap Sound StoriesAcknowledging the kind of effort we all put in to make out stories delectable, Mr. Marclay sees this collaboration as an artistic adventure and shall not create a Snapchat account of his own, owing to the fact that he avoids social media altogether.

Snap’s exploration into the world of art began last fall with their partnership with Jeff Koons on an “augmented reality” project to showcase his work superimposed on landmarks throughout the globe. Betsy Kenny Lack, Snapchat’s head of global brand strategy, expressed a keen interest in producing something similar, using Mr. Marclay’s most famous work, “The Clock” (2011), which portrays meticulous editing of numerous film clips of clocks, signifying the passage of time.


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