A few weeks ago I woke up to some very sad news. A bunch messages from friends on my phone telling me that Chris Cornell has passed away. Like many other fans I was shocked and confused. No one saw it coming. He was young and fit and active. He was up on the stage on that same night. I wasn’t there, I wasn’t even on the same continent, but the news hit me as if I had been there, as if I had just seen him. Chris and his music have been very present in my life lately. I have been working on an experiment called Mailman.
In case you are not familiar with Chris Cornell, he was best known as the lead vocalist of Soundgarden. He was involved in many other projects, but Soundgarden, at least in my opinion, is where he was at his best. Especially during the Superunknown phase, their fourth album released in 1994. If you only know one or two songs from Soundgarden, chances are that they are from this album.
I always go through phases of discovering and rediscovering bands. About three years ago I was discovering Soundgarden again. This was around the same time I was finishing my Teen Spirit experiment and I knew I wanted to do more audio visualisations. I decided that my next one was going to be with a track from Superunknown. Not one of the most famous, most famous of the album, but one that I’ve always liked. Track #4 – Mailman. Powerful riff. Badass lyrics. Still my favourite to this day.
This was three years ago. The project was parked for a long time during this period. I picked it up and dropped it again dozens of times. A few months ago I found it again and decided to finish it.
It was never supposed to be a posthumous homage. It was about using code and real time graphics to visualise a badass rock song.
I haven’t tried to contact the band or the label, I am using the song without permission.
This is just fan art.
It started with the lyrics. For me they are about a guy who had enough of being trampled over and decides to strike back. The song starts like this:
Hello don’t you know me
I’m the dirt beneath your feet
The most important fool you forgot to see
I wanted to show the lyrics in the experiment. Not like karaoke, but as a visual element like Robert Hodgin did on his Solar, with lyrics.
The visuals were inspired by a bunch of different sources. I can mention the amazing work of Ryoji Ikeda and his bold black & white lines. Also the parallel hatching style on a poster I have on my wall created by Kii Arens. And also the ribbons on Yi-Wen Lin’s codevember /04.
Poster by Kii Arens
The band never released a music video for Mailman. The closest we get is a live studio performance for MTV in 1996 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kEVAcjgMSo
It took quite a lot of iterations to arrive to the current look & feel, but the idea is quite simple. The video is used as texture and the value of each pixel determines the thickness of the ribbon just above it. The audio frequency is used to modify the depth (or z position) of each ribbon.
The lyrics were mapped manually using Adobe Audition and exported as a .csv file. There are also other files describing the song structure (i.e. pre-chorus starts at 0:55.714) and some key video cuts. The data is used to apply different settings to different parts of the song.
Check the result here: http://mailman.acervo.io/
I had a great time working on this and I would love to make more interactive music videos. If you know a band that would be interested, get in touch!