The Valtari Mystery Film Experiment

Transmedia “in the way” of Icelandic Post-Rock Musicians


To those who know what Valtari is, this post won’t be even a little bit new to them (or maybe it will… who knows nowadays) but, for those who don’t, they might be pleasantly surprised by the ingenuity of its creators.


Valtari is the sixth music album by the Icelandic (post-rock) band Sigur Rós.

Musically it’s similar to most of the sound coming from the band (specially its frontman Jonsi) even being described by their bassist as a non-functional album (at least in its conception). When information about it started to come out early this year, people started worrying that the band (coming from a 3 year hiatus), was becoming tired creatively – a fear that was never confirmed.
Hmmm… waaaiiiittt…..

What in the name of (choose religion here) is a Transmedia company doing by talking about music?!?

Let me help… I’m going to talk about the Valtari Mystery Film Experiment – an experiment that was launched at the same time as the first single from the studio album, not the music.

Some context – I first heard of Sigur Rós in Vanilla Sky’s soundtrack back in 2001. At the time they already had 2 albums out and were cultivating a pretty decent following in Europe and the Indie circles around the world (I later saw them live in Portugal and was pleasantly surprised by how “un-Indie” their following was, comprising 50 to 60 year old rockers and 12 year old teens alike).

Me living in the edge of Asia, here they were never big enough to garner interest and so I had to follow them mostly by “ear” and by what films, tv series and commercials gave me (Channel V and MTV were starting to show mostly tv shows so new bands wasn’t (((isn’t?!?) their thing).

A few years later, I went to Europe and when I started doing little short-films in my first years of college, I started hearing Sigur’s music all over other student’s projects – at a point I’d stupidly become jealous they’d have the courage to use the band’s music in their projects (in my head their music was always so ethereal that all I’d do would never be good enough to have the music in the background), this feeling was initially fostered because I thought they were using the music incorrectly and after a while, because I’d thought no student project could get to the awesomeness that was most of their music videos (always relying in simplicity rather than million dollar budget productions and slowly emerging through the waves of the now TV series ridden “music channels”).


Sigur Rós has always been a band that’s been umbilically connected with filmmakers (Cameron Crowe made them bigger in the states first with Vanilla Sky and now with We Bought a Zoo), film students (they let any student use their music for projects, just as long as the students don’t profit from their music) and advertising companies (they’ve never shied away of letting ads use their sound, sometimes – like for a few charity campaigns – even letting them do it for free).

They’ve been pioneers in the “pay for what you listen” movement of the mid noughties (much like Radiohead and a few other big guns), they’ve had free concerts given to their favorite cities around Iceland (where to be there to listen to the band, all you’d have to do is, be part of their network of friends, friends of friends, or biggest fans on Twitter, Facebook, Homepage – the concluding piece of work of these concerts is masterfully shot in the documentary film – Heima), and along the way they’ve helped a handful of other Icelandic bands have worldwide exposure by touring with them every year (Parachutes, Amina, etc).


Back to Valtari – The concept is pretty simple – out of their music from the album, create a “one consciousness Film” divided into several small short films and by pushing the envelope in what is considered a “steady musical campaign”, Sigur Rós have created a 6 month experience around a single album that would otherwise be left in the ether, cannibalized by the other hundreds of much more popular, “edgier” POP music videos.

Note – They even streamed the album live on their site for their “Valtari Hour” in order to get people excited and “imagining the imagery that could accompany thei
r music” as a teaser for what was about to come.

Their basic idea? “Why not just give the money we have for music videos to filmmakers (a selected few), and ask them to transmit the feelings they have from the music we create without us, the musicians, distorting their vision”?

And that’s what they’ve done. They ask filmmakers to close their eyes and then create short films to introduce Sigur Rós’ music, making no restrictions over what the filmmakers make or the message they portray.

You can see each of their videos (for now only 5 have come out with another 9 on the way) here:

The visual results so far, are pretty impressive.


Not happy with changing just the rules of music video creation for the Music Industry, they’ve even gone one step further… from the 9 upcoming videos, they asked their listeners, longtime fans, whomever, to submit their videos, to complete the 6 month experience/experiment – and have their video selected to be part of the Valtari Experiment (while winning a juicy price of 5k US dollars to boot – this is not a new “fan gathering technique” but, it has been poorly used in the past).


Every 2 weeks (more or less) one of their new videos comes out and the internet is abuzz, first with the “naked Shia” video, now with the “beautiful New York” one, almost every single one of the already 5 created, garners more media attention than is common from a single music video from any band outside of the “Billboard mainstream” without the band having to do any single round of PR.


With the experiment, they’ve gone the Transmedia route having an adjacent media do all the work necessary to garner attention to their final product – the music, but they’re using Transmedia to transmit (sorry… no pun intended) an experience (a 6 month one), rather than a single stream of story development.

They’re letting people around them invent their experience/experiment as they go along, using Transmedia at its purest form – their fans, listeners, friends – control the story, the experience, not them, engaging everyone around them to the point where they’re the creators and the band is a mere spectator to the evolution of their initial creation.

It’s been an exciting and fulfilling experience till now, let’s hope it continues breaking the norm and the band continues to grow with it.


(BTW… Valtari, for those who are wondering, has been the band’s most successful album to date, not because they are selling their music in spikes – like most artist do nowadays with sales of their albums going up in the billboard lists in one or two weeks and then being immediately forgotten – but because they are consistently selling their album to those who take their time to understand what the Valtari Experiment and the band’s sound really is, not forgetting to live through the experience of Sigur Rós’ music – instead of listening to it once and then discarding it like everything else in the rapid consumption world of musical entertainment)


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