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.

This Post Has 28 Comments

  1. wow. the song is beautiful and i love the idea of the random photos. great work! =)

    g Reply

  2. 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~-Walt

    Walt Dietrich Reply

  3. 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 Reply

  4. internet killed the video star. awesome work!!!!

    nathan mckenzie Reply

  5. Absolutely fantastic. I watched it once, and then watched it again with different pictures. Stunning.Excellent song, too.

    Aaron Scott Reply

  6. Awe-inspiring work, and a beautiful song to go with it.

    Lee Jian Ming Reply

  7. I love that – song, randomness and everything.

    Nick Reply

  8. 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 Reply

  9. 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 Reply

  10. wow. so emotional. thanks for sharing this. you should just let it pick a random song from your music library.:o)

    bon bon Reply

  11. very nice indeed. I found you through boingboingciao!gc

    Gianfranco Chicco Reply

  12. I’m with Michael Combs and Chris Genetti: make a web-app of this, please‚Ķ I would very much like to post a version of this on my band’s blog :D

    Calu?£ Reply

  13. 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!

    Amit Gupta Reply

  14. 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….dave

    dave Reply

  15. 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 Reply

  16. 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 Reply

  17. 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 Reply

  18. 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 Reply

  19. Lovely project!But I am here to offer some constructive implementation criticism regarding respecting authors content and their licenses.1. Your arrow links go to a location that is not necessarily viewable, depending on if you are logged into flickr or not. The “all-sizes” page is not the link that the API Terms Of Use request you to use, instead the main photo page (the publicly viewable one) should be the link provided. The resultant behavior is that many photos you include are completely without attribution of any kind.2. Derivative works, adaptations, and licensing. I think most would agree this presentation, a web-based music video/animation constitutes an adaption. You should NOT be using “All Rights Reserved” photos in this context even though you can see them via the API. I saw many such photos when I viewed it. You can however use the Creative Commons content licensed specifically to allow adaptations provided that you honor the license terms, which usually include full (visible) attribution to the author, and display of the appropriate license logos and or links to the license deeds. Certain licenses, if included in your adaptation, even require that you release this project under a similar license. Which would entail sharing the ActionScript source code that produced this, as well as perhaps releasing the song under a share-alike license. But as implemented, I believe you are in violation of all the licenses on these photos, even though you may have been attempting to be in compliance with the API TOS, but that is not the only thing authors need to consider.I know your intentions were nothing but the best, but there is a recurring theme of people overstepping the bounds of how content acquired via the Flickr API is intended to be used. Please consider this message a friendly reminder from a member of the flickr community.Thank youRyan Gallagher

    clickykbd Reply

  20. This is uber cool and superbly beautiful. I am totally floored.

    Moses Reply

  21. 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 Reply

  22. 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 Reply

  23. 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 Reply

  24. amazing. my, you’ve come a long way baby. :) both music and project bring back a rush of emotion….

    sara kim herrman Reply

  25. 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 Reply

  26. 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 Reply

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