Monday, January 16, 2012

The Transmedia Beat

As some of you might have noticed, I published ”One Year in Transmedia” a couple of weeks ago, a curation of this blog combined with a number of interviews with some really intelligent and creative people in the field of transmedia. In one of the answers – ”What instrument do you see yourself playing in the transmedia orchestra?” – Andrea Phillips wrote something that got me thinking. She answered:
[…]I'd say percussion. I'm the inexorable drumbeat that keeps each section on time and coordinated as the symphony plays out. With no beat, the rest of it kind of falls apart, doesn't it? And even in places where there is no drumming, the section is still an invisible presence as the rhythm keeping time in your head. That's me!
This feels very true to me. If you talk about transmedia, one of the most interesting challenges is how to engage the audience in whatever you are trying to offer them, and once engaged, how to keep them engaged. In this, the “beat” that Andrea describes above feels absolutely crucial. Talking about rhythm it all makes even more sense:
Rhythm - Rhythm is made up of sounds and silences. These sound and silences are put together to form patterns of sounds which are repeated to create a rhythm. A rhythm has a steady beat, but it may also have different kinds of beats.
So you have the sounds of your transmedia property – the videos, the web sites, the blogs, the social media output and so on – developed and produced and distributed in order to catch the imagination of your target audience and hook them to your story and your content. Then you have the silences of your property. Some might call them ”sandboxes”, some ”cheese holes”; they’re the parts of your story and your content that simply are not there yet.

If you’ve designed your property and story well and hooked your audience, this is where they engage themselves to contribute, create and communicate. It doesn’t matter if it’s an ARG or a treasure hunt online, if it’s contributing to a book or a graphic novel or if it’s something completely different. These silences are where you give your audience two sticks and a drum, and ask them to keep the beat going. It’s a possibility to be genuinely amazed by the skill and the devotion and the creativity of the ones who engage themselves.

Personally I feel the studies of the art of composing and creating for a number of instruments bear a lot of resemblance, at the very least on a philosophical level, to the work of a transmedia producer, creator and storyteller. Just look at one of the definitions of the specific term ”upbeat”:
An unaccented beat or beats that occur before the first beat of the following measure. In other words, this is an impulse in a measured rhythm that immediately precedes, and hence anticipates, the downbeat. It can be the last beat in a bar where that bar precedes a new bar of music. 3. The upward stroke made by a conductor to indicate the beat that leads into a new measure.
Anyone else feel this is a good definition of one of the transmedia conductor’s important tasks? The task to get everyone’s attention and point to what’s coming next, to make sure the orchestra plays in sync and the audience stays onboard.

I think I’m going to study some more music :).

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