Music Videos, Sans Video (also, VOTE!)

Ransom Riggs

Making music videos used to be a straightforward kind of affair. You'd take a camera, shoot the band playing their song, and cut the footage together in a way that would induce motion sickness. But nowadays, more and more directors are pushing not only the envelope, but the medium itself -- eschewing plain-ol' pictures as their primary mode of musical storytelling. Instead, enterprising auteurs are turning to some very old techniques -- like hand-cranked cameras and stop-motion animation stands -- and some very new techniques as well, a few of which we'll look at below.

Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton, "Our Hell"

One of my favorite singer songwriters, Haines heads the Canadian band Metric and has lent her talents to indie heavyweights Broken Social Scene. We've featured her videos here before, but the technique used to create the video for "Our Hell," and the haunting effect it achieved, is like nothing I've seen.

At first I thought it was just treated black-and-white -- then I wondered if it was negative. None of the above: director Jason Albertin shot with a thermal imaging camera that records changing temperatures in stark contrast, rendering Haines and the actors as "something between mime and Kabuki," as Pitchfork put it. "Their behavior is fittingly stylized, with the eerie whiteness blanching beyond recognition the difference between, say, some late-night revelers dousing each other with alcohol and a middle-aged woman lathering herself with spray-on suntan lotion." And it helps that the song is pretty, too.

Radiohead, "House of Cards"

Radiohead is the kind of band that's become so stratospherically successful, they can make up their own rules, and certainly make any kind of video they want. They could make a video with hand puppets and paper dolls and it would still be worshipped -- or they could pioneer some crazy technological innovation that no one had even thought of doing before, as they did with the video for "House of Cards," from their wholly unconventional album In Rainbows. Before I even attempt to describe what it is, take a look:

Confused yet? On YouTube, the explanation is right there beside the video itself: "No cameras or lights were used. Instead, 3D plotting technologies collected information about the shapes and relative distances of objects. The video was created entirely with visualizations of that data." If you're still confused, as I was, check out this short making-of video, which explains what the hell a LIDAR 3D scanner is, and in which you realize that despite the most exotic imaging techniques available, it's impossible to make Thom Yorke's face look stranger in a video than it does in real life.

Bjork, "Wanderlust"

When Bjork doesn't do something strange, be it a music video or a song or an Academy Awards dress, that's an occasion for comment. But considering the topic of today's blog, it had to be mentioned: Bjork's recent "Wanderlust" music video is as strange as you'd expect a Bjork video to be, but with a technological twist: it was made in stereoscopic 3D. Which ends up being video, yes, but not normal music-video-video. In fact, there's only one place you can see it in true 3D online -- at -- and you'll need 3D glasses! Or you can settle for the 2D version, and still marvel at its weirdness:

This video has a making-of as well, though it focuses mostly on the making of those bizarre water buffalo creatures and not so much on the shooting itself. (Greenscreen shooting is pretty boring -- to do and to watch being done.)