Innovative synchronised artwork from Arcade Fire

Author: Colin | Published: 12/8/10

This article in The Guardian looks intriguing and, if it works, should go some way towards utilising all that computing power, only a small percentage of which needs to be used in playing back MP3s. Strangely, the download/purchase page linked to doesn’t mention any of the following at all. Are there any Arcade Fans out there who want to report back about this?

The Montreal rockers have devised bonus material for the download of The Suburbs, providing images, lyrics and videos to the accompany the songs.

The idea was conceived by Vincent Morisset, director of Arcade Fire’s Miroir Noir live DVD, together with designer Caroline Roberts. “Most of us now buy, share and listen to music through computer and portable devices,” he said on his blog. While the artwork for most digital releases consists of a jpeg image of the cover, “I wanted to find a way to get closer to [the physical experience]”, Morisset explained. “I thought about the relation we have with the vinyl cardboard cover or the paper booklet while listening to the songs. Flipping through the lyrics, looking at a band picture or a cool drawing related to a song while listening to it. With the MP3 player, we [lose] that.”

The solution, Morisset proposed, is “synchronised artwork”. Using the M4A format, artists can tag images to particular moments in an audio track, making them appear in iTunes or on an iPod screen. Traditionally, this is used for podcasts, to distinguish different topics of conversation. Morisset’s idea was not just to use images to distinguish each album track, but to synchronise graphics and hand-drawn lyrics with each musical moment. These images are drawn from the printed artwork designed by Roberts, and particularly Gabriel Jones’s photographs of the Houston, Texas suburbs.

Besides images, Morisset was also able to synchronise hyperlinks at particular points in the songs. “This gives the possibility for the band to add, at any moment, all kinds of references,” he said. “They plan to change and update those links occasionally.” The result is an album of fascinating connections: on the song Deep Blue, Arcade Fire point to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon and the cyberpunk fiction of William Gibson; on Empty Room, they reference an experimental classic by Alvin Lucier; plus veggie burritos, Woody Allen and lots of Ramones lyrics.

Although Apple invented the M4A format, the supercharged version of Arcade Fire’s album is not available in the iTunes Music Store. For access to the synchronised artwork, fans must download The Suburbs from Arcade Fire’s site.


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