Astronaut: A Flickr-Generated Project
I have this weird thing about songs I like.
If I find one that I’m really into… I’ll listen to it. Obsessively.
And for some reason, I’ve got a higher threshold than most, when it comes to repetitive tracks. I can easily listen to something a hundred times in a row. It’s as though, once I’ve found a song I enjoy… I just don’t want to let it go.
A long while back, my friend Dan Frick sent me an album he made. Among the many songs on that CD, the one that caught me most was the opening track, a song titled Astronaut.
Recently, I found myself listening to this track once again. And even more recently, I found myself poking around the Flickr API. After looking around a bit and figuring out how to search for a specific keyword or tag, it seemed like a natural step to use Flickr’s search functionality to… well, populate the lyrics of a song. Namely, Dan’s song.
Instead of looking at groups of photos from one particular user, or looking at one particular tag from a group of users… I decided to gather the keywords from a song, and to make the song lyrics their own “group,” so to speak.
I’ve long been fascinated with repetition and variation, I like seeing both the patterns and the divergences that inevitably appear. One of my favorite Flash/Photo projects involved multiple people, working within a set constraint.
At the You Are I Am gallery show in Chicago, participants received a piece of paper with the words “I AM” next to a big blank space. While each person was photographed with the same piece of paper, everyone “said” something different about themselves. Repetition and variation. Love that stuff.
Tags work in a really similar way on Flickr. On their own, they’re a great way to organize your photos. But stretched across multiple users (who use the same tag on their photos), you can search for “dog” and get a thousand different results. A thousand at least.
Listening to Dan’s song, the speaker makes me think of someone fairly isolated – far away either due to distance, or time or both. When thinking of Flickr, I think of a multitude of people, all of them interacting with one another – sharing photos, comments, memories. I liked the juxtoposition of someone singing about solitude, but having his words represented by… well… by everyone else. By the rest of the world.
Each time the Flash file is loaded, new images are randomly pulled from Flickr. I’ve hard-coded 53 keywords at set points in the song, and when the page is first loaded… calls are made out to Flickr to retrieve these keywords. With each call, I vary the parameters a little bit.
Let’s say I search for the word “astronaut.” In searching, I randomly apply a sorting method (date posted ascending, date posted descending, date taken ascending, etc). This randomized sorting method allows for different photos to show up in my results (each search should result in about 50 matches). From there, I randomly select one image, add it to the queue, and move on to the next word.
In some cases, I’ve taken a few liberties with my searching. Instead of sticking exactly to the lyrics, I’ve substituted words in certain places, either to elicit an effect, or due to the fact that the word itself wasn’t returning enough results. I’ve tried searching all text, but found that searching specifically for matching tags proved the most accurate.
Over the past few weeks in testing this, I’ve noticed the photos changing. Over time, as new photos are added, the range of photos simply increases. I’ve seen several moments where the sequence of images was spot-on and absolutely breath-taking; I’ve also seen other moments where the photos are more humorous in nature, and totally subvert what’s going on in the song.
Ultimately, I think that’s the way this project should be: new and surprising with each refresh. I like that it changes with each interaction; I like that it changes over time. In many ways, it’s also what I like about people: there is a lot of repetition, and there’s a whole lot of variation.
I hope you enjoy the project (despite the somewhat lengthly load time). And I truly hope you like the song. Dan is a friend of mine from way back. He’s a good guy, and a good musician to boot. There aren’t enough people who know about him, and that’s a shame… because he’s got some great songs.
In creating this project, I’ve attempted to create a little randomized sliver of time for you to look at and examine. Hopefully, you’ll be inclined to set that sliver down and pick up another. And another.
I hope you like the song. I hope you find a photo you like.
I hope, after hearing and seeing all this, you don’t feel so far away.
wow. the song is beautiful and i love the idea of the random photos. great work! =)g (August 1, 2007 at 9:22 am)
very cool projectLove your fine work, and I particularly appreciate your sharing the story behind it…you had me hooked from the beginning with your words “I have this weird thing about songs I like.If I find one that I’m really into… I’ll listen to it. Obsessively.And for some reason, I’ve got a higher threshold than most… “I so understand.the last song that got me like this was recently when I heard John Legend’s Save Room for the first time… I’m still not cured of the urge to hit the ‘back’ button over and over when it is on my iPod rotation…cheers~-WaltWalt Dietrich (August 2, 2007 at 4:03 pm)
Wow! Boing-boinged!Great work, Felix!FJeff (August 3, 2007 at 11:51 am)
The song was beautiful and I love your project. I wish I could apply this to any song I wanted, because I’m like you – I will listen to one song, especially one with personal meaning, a hundred times in a row without tiring of it.Thanks for sharing your project.Tracy (August 3, 2007 at 11:59 am)
internet killed the video star. awesome work!!!!nathan mckenzie (August 3, 2007 at 12:10 pm)
This is gorgeous, I can’t stop playing it.Brianna Privett (August 3, 2007 at 12:48 pm)
Absolutely fantastic. I watched it once, and then watched it again with different pictures. Stunning.Excellent song, too.Aaron Scott (August 3, 2007 at 1:35 pm)
Awe-inspiring work, and a beautiful song to go with it.Lee Jian Ming (August 3, 2007 at 1:59 pm)
I love that – song, randomness and everything.Nick (August 3, 2007 at 2:33 pm)
This is wonderful! Will you be able to make a web app out of this? Maybe something that’ll allow us to use different songs or use a list of photographers?michael combs (August 3, 2007 at 2:36 pm)
Hey, I second Michael Combs’ motion to make something that will allow the use of different songs and lyrics.For example, you could allow the user to provide a mm:ss time at which to use a photo from _______ tag, etc. or the option of specific URLs or feeds, or something along those lines.Just a thought. It’d be awesome. But great work :)Chris Genetti (August 3, 2007 at 3:02 pm)
wow. so emotional. thanks for sharing this. you should just let it pick a random song from your music library.:o)bon bon (August 3, 2007 at 3:37 pm)
very nice indeed. I found you through boingboingciao!gcGianfranco Chicco (August 3, 2007 at 4:09 pm)
I’m with Michael Combs and Chris Genetti: make a web-app of this, please‚Ä¶ I would very much like to post a version of this on my band’s blog :DCalu?£ (August 3, 2007 at 8:07 pm)
I’m with everyone else–a version where you could upload your own music and assign keywords would rock.If you need hosting or any other kind of support, drop me a line. And if you end up doing it, we’d love to feature it in our newsletter. Let me know!Amitwww.photojojo.comAmit Gupta (August 4, 2007 at 1:23 am)
I love this song and image idea. How hard would it be to allow the user to point the flickr fetch to their own images. That would be kind of cool. Especially if we knew the tags you were using in the fetch. I know this reduces the randomness of the images though….davedave (August 5, 2007 at 8:26 am)
Wow. I wish I could do this to my songs. I actually started something like this just grabbing things from creative commons, but this is a lot cleaner and smarter. Good job.eric (August 6, 2007 at 12:35 pm)
Amazing!!! do you think is possible to convert your application to an re-usable app?, like your flash file, any mp3 and a text file with a list of times and keywords…Alo (August 6, 2007 at 2:00 pm)
Great song, Dan. And nice use of Flash and Flickr, Felix. :-)Can I suggest an improvement? Instead of the “video’s” viewpoint having a fixed location, how about making it slowly scroll to the right across a really long wooden table then having your photos appear in random locations in the current viewpoint, then eventually scroll out of sight to the left. I think this would make for a more beautiful video. The fact that the video is static during the times when no new picture is being added makes for a bit dragging presentation.Eugene (August 7, 2007 at 8:05 am)
Excellent work! As others have already stated: An application that lets one define (mm:ss, tag) pairs to create such an astonishing experience for every favorite song would be fantastic.The song is really cool BTW!Tryan (August 7, 2007 at 2:41 pm)
This is uber cool and superbly beautiful. I am totally floored.Moses (August 10, 2007 at 9:08 pm)
Wow. Utterly amazing. Technically impressive. Artistically valuable. This is perfect.Now, really, this could be extended to ANY song.All you need is a list of timestamps and lyrics.This is already done. The “LRC” karaoke format is used quite frequently with various applications (such as EvilLyrics) and hardware (Cowan’s iAudio mp3 player).They look like this:[01:44.20]Welcome to the hotel california[01:48.20]Such a lovely place[01:51.80]Such a lovely face[01:57.20]Plenty of room at the hotel california[02:03.40]Any time of year, you can find it hereSo, what I humbly request is that you have a way to upload an LRC file, so that we can see any song we want using this awesome technological masterpiece.Pleeeease. I would LOVE to do this for soooo many songs. Everyone would!ClintJCL (August 11, 2007 at 12:36 am)
I think the issue to make this flash app generic stems from 1. RIAA and Copyright lawsuits and 2. Usability.If this were a stand-alone app that could run as say … a screen saver that taps into flickr and iTunes then that would be a different story altogether.The idea is genius and very simple. End users don’t need to fiddle with settings to purely see a great video experiment. Doing so at this level would have detracted from the overall effect.Paurian (August 14, 2007 at 3:23 pm)
Beautiful song and beautiful code! If I ever get the time I want to try to make a dynamic version for a norwegian website for new music. We store lyrics, but doesnt do much with it, but something like this would rock, even without perfect queueing to a spesific mm:ss. I suppose a few bands would love to manually insert mm:ss and match to words in the song, but not many. A different idea would be to use the tags a user has inserted on each song, and simply pick random images from one or all of these tags. It wouldnt have the same impact as you version, but still, better than nothing!Morten (November 30, 2007 at 6:20 pm)
amazing. my, you’ve come a long way baby. :) both music and project bring back a rush of emotion….sara kim herrman (August 11, 2008 at 7:47 pm)
Had to go to your site after seeing you at Chicago Pecha Kucha! Such creativity astounds me. I’ve sent links to your site to my adult children and many friends. Inspiration!BK (June 3, 2009 at 2:30 pm)
Love the concept. I feel like with the apis available now, it would be easy to generate a project based on song lyrics pulled from an api. Bigger words => Get an image.James (April 10, 2014 at 4:47 pm)