Brian Eno once said something like, "Effects are the future." Since I can't find the exact quote, I get to make up what he meant by it.
Computers get a bum rap from many artists, partly because machines have long been assigned the wrong role in the creative process. They were touted as substitutes for human judgment which demeans both machines and humans.
What computers are good at is storage and variation without prejudice. This means that, like a creative ad agency, they produce a lot of weird and trivial stuff. But every so often they make something that is interesting: valid, beautiful, useful, unexpected, out of the blue, sensible, open to competing interpretations, concrete, emotionally resonant, inspiring, generative, worth thinking about. And as Paul Arden said, a few of those usually make up for all the other crap.
I've been using Ableton Live for some time now because I find it relatively easy to produce things I find interesting with it. That is largely because I focus on the accretive, almost geological, application of filters and other sorts of effects rather than trying to produce interestingness ex nihilo. I tend to start with a simple melody or rhythm, then add or subtract multiple effects and connect them via a few parameters so that there is a little bit of feedback going on. A little bit of interaction between the elements of a mix is important because it means that the ultimate result is coherent. The ear perceives a relationship between the sounds even if I didn't put it there explicitly. And coherence is what distinguishes an interesting result from a beautiful mess.
A few days ago, I discovered Motion, Apple's motion graphics program contained in Final Cut Studio. I now divide my life into Before and After Motion. Motion uses visual effects in a way that is similar to Live and other music software. With just a few filters exchanging a little bit of information over and over again, something big and complex and interesting can pop out. And since Live and Motion can also exchange some information, you can create interesting synesthesias with just a few clicks: Download Synesthetic mandala
The fact that this looks like an animated Grateful Dead logo begs the distinction between interesting (active) and mesmerizing (passive). In fact, there is some discussion among educational psychologists as to whether interesting material actually requires less active attention than boring material. It seems likely that we process interesting things more deeply, creating a mental model of the relationships between the parts which we can then manipulate, trying out variations not explicitly defined in the original material, rather than simply applying more attention to interpret it verbatim as we do with boring material. Which means:
- As a brand holder, you want people to process your messages at this deeper level. Interestingness is much more powerful and inexpensive than effective frequency.
- Interesting brands are brands that people find it easy and pleasurable to generate variations on. Generativity is a way to measure interestingness and should be a core brand measure.
- We learn and create by generating and trying out possible variations on things. Like computers. And neither humans nor computers are demeaned by this shared characteristic.