All Together Now

Watching the music industry wrangle with disruption and try to redefine its offer *and* its revenue stream has been both a decent spectator sport and a cautionary tale. But the power of musicians to connect with their audience and push creative boundaries has remained undiminished, even as business models have mutated around them.

Last week the Convergence festival hit London, with an interesting and experimental set of performances, collaborations and events curated to focus attention on the intersection of music, technology and art. We sent a group of BBHers along and below are some of the provocations and takeouts they brought back to the office.

On Music Vs Sport

Dan Deacon‘s tales of dumpster diving for food and couchsurfing across America amused/appalled many of our attendees. Annie Little and Alana King were struck by his desire to create a collective ‘vibe’ at his performances; “People at a gig think of themselves as I, not we. At a sports match it’s like ‘Yeah we played really well’ but at a gig it’s more of an individual encounter that everyone experiences differently.” As Alana discovered later that evening, Deacon’s demands for audience participation did produce a very different and very communal gig, though one that might be awkward for a more squeamish audience!

On Creative Collaborations

Mercury prize winning produce Dave Okumu is a prolific collaborator who has worked with Amy Winehouse, Jessie Ware and Theo Parrish to name three. Richard Birkett was interested to see that while creatives from different disciplines approach a problem from different directions, there is often parity in the process they bring. Okumu emphasized the human nature of creative collaboration, going into them without an agenda, treating them ‘like a child playing’. What is at the heart of the project is fragile, he says, and must be protected and nurtured. The best way to do this is to create a real connection between collaborators and create the right conditions for magic to happen.

On tangible data

Touching Air, by Stefanie Posavec - a necklace made of data showing a week of air pollution levels.

Touching Air, by Stefanie Posavec – a necklace made of data showing a week of air pollution levels.

Between them, the panellists at the Tangible Data session have produced many of the most imaginative and impressive visualisations of recent years. While she was seriously impressed with the beauty and craft on display, Elle Graham-Dixon found herself wondering whether there was a real need to make *all* data more accessible. The difference between data visualisations and interactive data manifestations is that the former are beautiful in their own right, whereas the latter require our participation – perhaps the early experiments haven’t quite balanced the value equation to make that happen naturally. Yet.

On not messing with our algorithms

Spotify’s Discover Weekly service is an amazingly rich personal recommendation service generating a playlist based on your listening habits cross-referenced with those of others who share some of your tastes. It made Laura Osborne wonder whether Spotify should introduce a ‘Don’t Mess with my Algo’ button to avoid playlist pollution, when a friend takes over your account at a party or when you are using Spotify to search for music for a mood film. When an algorithm produces such individual and useful results, perhaps we need help to keep the inputs as personally relevant as possible.

Convergence London is scheduled to return next year. In the meantime check out their Facebook page for pics and videos of this year’s event.



Hello world: code and the future of creativity

This week we’re cross-posting some of the monthly tech columns we’ve written over the past year for Marketing magazine. In part so we keep a record of the topics that are vexing and/or getting us going here at Labs, but mainly because some of these topics keep resurfacing and seem worthy of on-going discussion. As always please let us know what you think in the comments below.

First up, a piece published in March this year on code and creativity.


Sample of Beatrix Potter's code, source: (yes, that's right)

Sample of Beatrix Potter’s code, source: (yes, that’s right)

A biography of Beatrix Potter published last century may not sound like it warrants a mention in a column about technology. Yet when a friend sent it to me recently I was surprised: as a child, Beatrix had conceived her own cipher or code for use in private journals that she wrote well into her late twenties. 200,000 words in total that were only successfully decoded two decades after her death. So why did she write in code? And why was there such baffled curiosity that a creative writer did this?

The thoughts Beatrix encrypted were neither controversial nor particularly personal. The biographer speculates that she was a lonely, if intelligent child who sought refuge in her own imagination. Described as a peculiar act of creativity to escape an otherwise colourless childhood, if you will.

Reading it, I was struck by how little fundamental attitudes to writing code have changed in decades. In our industry, as in others, there’s positive intent and considerable uptake of courses designed to teach the basics of programming languages, sure. But reading and writing code is still not a part of the fabric of life the same way learning a language, sport or an instrument is. Many still see code as intimidating, or the preserve of the solitary (male) computer science geek.

Even as we grasp how code and the role of different languages are transforming marketing output and our ways of working, still too many of us step back from getting to grips with code directly and personally. That’s for newcomers to the industry, right?

Yet it’s no more complicated than anything else we learn over the course of our lives and it’s part of the day job: we already know the Internet has been the biggest advertising sector in the UK for the past four years (IAB data) and that it will register double digit growth every year for the next four (PwC’s Global Media & Entertainment Outlook for EMEA, 2012-2016).

So what now?

Perhaps we don’t all itch to shape the way the web develops, but let’s embrace the fact that, at its simplest, code is how things get made on and for the web. Much as Beatrix Potter understood a century ago, code is creative. Of course there’s much to do here: if code in combination with its older siblings, art direction and copy, is to grow up faster, better, stronger it needs leadership at every level. We don’t all need to learn to code necessarily, but we do need to know what code can do.

Time to get with the program, people.

More on the topic:

Google’s “Art, Copy & Code”

A series of experiments launched at the start of the year designed to re-imagine advertising, reflecting the triumvirate now at the heart of commercial creativity. and their video ‘what most schools don’t teach’ featuring Zuckerberg, Gates and a host of other geekarati championing code. If I were Secretary of State for Education, I’d make it mandatory for all girls in secondary education to watch this.

Decoded – The original “learn to code in a day” training course. You may not emerge a fully fledged developer, but you do leave with a good grasp of the history and roles of different programming languages, plus an app you built yourself. Intelligently designed course, highly recommended.

Dr Techniko

Teaching kids the basics of code through a parent-child physical training session where the parent is the ‘robot’ and expected to respond to specific commands: “How to train your robot”. Every small child’s dream.

And as a counter-point: Learning to Code is a Waste of Time (Forbes)