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R.E.M. Redefines 'Album' (and Ads?) for the 21st Century
By: Mark Sanderson
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When R.E.M. released their new album, Collapse Into Now, they opted to use “available technology” to get the word out rather than organize a world tour and follow the usual promotional model. In what has been dubbed the Collapse Into Now Film Project, Michael Stipe commissioned artists and film-makers he respected to create music “films” for each of the 12 songs on the new album. As Stipe explained at a special screening at SXSW, “The genesis of the project was in essence trying to figure out what the ‘album’ means in the 21st century. So, this was an attempt to bring the idea of a group of songs into the 21st century and to use available technology to extend the possibilities of what an album can be.”

Following this theme, the films are gradually being debuted on different websites. For example, on May 2, the film for “Discoverer” was debuted on nowness.com, while on April 26 the film for “Every Day is Yours to Win” debuted on the youtube.com homepage. All the films released to date can be viewed on R.E.M.’s Youtube channel.

In a further extension of what an album can be, the Collapse Into Now Film Project has been organized into an art exhibit at The Clocktower Gallery, the legendary alternative art space in Lower Manhattan. In a demonstration of context mattering, viewing the films projected onto a 16-foot screen in the main gallery enhances the artistic aspect of the Collapse Into Now Film Project in a way not entirely possible online, but that carries over when viewed again online. Each film becomes a meaningful work or art, rather than just another music video meant to entertain.

Comparing this film exhibit to a live concert adds value to Stipe’s new concept of an album. While a live concert focuses on raw energy and bigness, this film exhibit focuses on the artistry of each song and the small details that are often left out of a performance. While concerts are deafeningly fun and memorable, this film exhibit is intimate and meaningful.

In discussing the implications of the Collapse Into Now Film Project, Alanna Heiss, director of The Clocktower Gallery and organizer of the event, expressed, “I hope this exhibit will be a catalyst for further collaborations between artists and musicians.” When asked if projects like this would become the norm in the music industry, she replied, “It won’t happen,” explaining that record companies don’t have enough money to support such projects. She did, however, see this becoming a trend in the indie music scene, where artists have more free reign to experiment and collaborate.

While it’s unclear at this point if this film exhibit will travel to other art spaces — three galleries in Europe have expressed interest — it offers the potential for re-imagining what a world tour can be.

Extending this discussion beyond the music industry, it also offers an interesting perspective on what advertising can be or might become in the 21st century.

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About the Author
Mark Sanderson has a Master's Degree in Advertising from The University of Texas at Austin and lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, Emily. Visit him online here
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