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Stunning ‘experiment’ from Google and Arcade Fire showcases HTML5

There are some articles that you have to write because they are timely, relevant and newsworthy. And there are some you are compelled to write because you have witnessed something new, beautiful and extraordinary and you want, in some small way, to be part of it. The Wilderness Downtown falls squarely into the second category. It’s a labour of love.

Here’s the official line on what it is: “The Wilderness Downtown” is an interactive interpretation of Arcade Fire’s song ‘We Used To Wait’ and was built entirely with the latest open web technologies, including HTML5 video, audio, and canvas.”

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So what does that mean? Basically, it’s a website. On the site is an interactive film by renowned music-video director, Chris Milk. It’s also a glowing recommendation of the potential of HTML5. It’s all of that and more.

If you were feeling bitter, you might say it’s simply promotional material for the Montreal-based alt-rock band, Arcade Fire‘s new album, The Suburbs.

But in my view, it’s a breakthrough mashup of music, video, interactive technology and narrative storytelling which uses the dominant technologies of our time to create a spectacular, highly personal narrative that explodes out of your web browser and into your consciousness.

The Wilderness Downtown was created by Chrome Experiments, a division of Google, in collaboration with Arcade Fire and the director. To create the experiment, as it is known, the team employed “choreographed windows, interactive flocking, custom rendered maps, real-time compositing, procedural drawing, 3D canvas rendering”… and bucketloads of imagination.

Arcade Fire is gaining a reputation as a band willing to push digital boundaries. In August, they streamed an entire live concert on YouTube, directed by Terry Gilliam, in which audience members could choose a camera angle and submit images of the suburbs where they live that would be incorporated into the live show.

The process of creating this experiment was intense and you can see a step-by-step breakdown of how it was done here.

Google wants users to know that Chrome is not your average web browser, so it initiated Chrome Experiments as a platform for showcasing what can be done in the browser using the power of Java Scripts.

Aaron Koblin of Google Creative Lab wrote in a blog post of March, 2009, “When Google Chrome first launched with V8, its superfast JavaScript engine, it got me thinking about ways to visualize speed within the browser. So I contacted a bunch of JavaScripters from around the world and invited them to do something creative and unusual. These artists did a lot of tweaking and tinkering to push the boundaries of JavaScript design, and to illustrate what’s possible with this new generation of JavaScript engines. Today, we’re launching Chrome Experiments — a set of games and visualizations that let you see the kinds of things that JavaScript is making possible.”

I won’t ruin the experience for you by giving away what it’s all about. You need to experience it fresh for yourself. But it certainly feels like a breakthrough that could refresh the tired, formulaic old music-video and break open a whole new genre.

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