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)

Leave it to the Russians (QR Code Extravaganza!)

Full disclosure… I hate QR codes.

Yes, they serve a purpose, and so far, from what exists in the market, they are “revolutionizing” how brands communicate and “interact” with their customers (this of course is a pleonasm as the only one doing any interaction is the user… not the brand).


They are esthetically unpleasing, sometimes bulky and attention deviating, most of the time extremely badly utilized in where they are presented and ultimately, bothersome.

A QR code, to me, looks (and feels) like a barcode – extremely effective in keeping track of a given product in a production line, but occupying premium advertising space in the cover/package of any well-developed object/content persona.

Barcodes… they are scanned by a laser reader, right? In a conveyer belt, right? Wouldn’t it be cool if we all could scan a QR code in the conveyer belt of daily life? Wait… what am I saying… of course we can.

Let me see:


 What is that over there in the corner? The lower left-hand corner… Is it… YES!!! I believe it is! A perfectly located and strategically poised QR code (the lower left-hand corner is by far, the worst place you can locate a QR code, but in this advert, since the supposedly readable text is in the left, whomever developed the ad thought people would be easily directed to it).

Let me see if I can scan it:


Hmm… no… too far… but I really wanted to know what Emperor Qianlong’s concubines are doing… OK… let me walk a few steps to another advert and try again:


Closer Diogo… don’t be afraid to go closer! It’s nothing but an MTR train line between you and the enormous portal of knowledge that a QR is – and a train coming in 2 minutes. If you fall, it’ll be for the greater good!!!

SUCCESS! I can see the code in the camera! Let me go just a bit closer…

Damn… blurry image.

 Train comes… I’ve just lost 3 minutes of my life trying to scan a little sequence of squares and dots 3 meters away (and no… the fault wasn’t my phone or my hands… the camera can see some of the mountains in the moon in a clear night and I’m pretty steady with my hands, so I’d think both would be good enough to scan something that’s so close ahead of them).

But I don’t give up. That’s just not my style (hmm we’ll let that slide). On the next train stop, I see this marvel:

 I scan it and it directs me to a facebook page… Eureka! But… wait… it’s the same facebook page that right next to the code is perfectly advertised by a Facebook logo and the search query a user would make to find the product in the social network.

I start thinking… it’s just me. I must be stupid. Or rather, technologically impaired.

So I continue:


Yes. Right-hand corner. You see it. I see it. I scan it. Failure… The rim of the ad space glass/metal cover  is obstructing half of the code.

I walk a few steps out in my stop and…




But wait!?! Which one should I scan?

The Ultra-Big-Awesome-Eye-Popping one to the left? Or the once again (Cof Cof) strategically located, one to the left?

I’m incompetent… I know… I scan both. Same page. Both of them. Success!

2 out of 5 ads in one night take me to a desired page. A “more information” page. A “trackable page”. An advertising, market strategy, mobile justifiable java enabled page.

I get out of the MTR glad from my evening’s successful advertisement consumer enterprise. Right next to my apartment entrance what do I see (I live in Mongkok so this wasn’t entirely unexpected):


Another code.

At this stage I’m tired of the previous ordeal. I still try to scan it; too far away; go close to it; too far away; change to the camera not the scanner; take a picture; blow it up and… give up. But I think in the back of my head “I’ll just test it when I get home”.

And then it hits me.

Weren’t QR’s developed so advertisers could track and test out which costumers were willing to search for their products online? The ones that would be as interested to buy or at least learn about the product? The ones who would go to the trouble to take their phone out of their pocket, direct it at the ad, locate the QR, open the app, scan the image, wait for the page load and then get to where they (the advertisers) were trying to get them?

Yes… yes they were… but I’m a lazy consumer. I went to my browser, searched for the product name and I got all the information I needed to find me interested or not in the Vaio. I even got 2 pages that had pretty interesting reviews on the product and a great video advert from Japan, something that I didn’t get when I ultimately tested out the Code – it took me to the official page of the product – a page where the most valuable information I got was the price in HK dollars and some of the specs of the product.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying QR Codes are evil or that they should be completely discarded from any and all physical/digital adverts existing in Hong Kong.

In an ideal world I’d just scan an ad (any ad) and the scanner would take me to the same place as a QR code (this exists, of course, but the technology is still in its early stages of “Augmented Reality Development”).

I’m just saying… If you go through the trouble of setting up a Code link, at least give me, the customer, some valuable information, enticing information, attention grabbing information on my mobile device.

Something that makes it worthwhile to go through the trouble of the situation that some customers might be put through while being “guided” by your market strategies. 


Confirm that the package where you put your product and your code, don’t have enough gloss to almost make the customer go to a dark alley so they can scan your code (all criticism aside, this code takes you into the Apple Store where you can download a pretty neat app that further augments the experience of eating Skittles and advertising it – pushing it – to your network of Facebook/Twitter friends – by making you a Skittle-faced customer!).

Ohh… and by the way…. When you do put a QR Code on your product, a difficult to find, almost completely impossible to scan Code on it – Make it have fun content behind it.

Like the Skittles thing. But take it further.

I’ll give you an example. Sure… an extreme example, but a fun example nonetheless.

2 Months ago, out of nowhere, the advertising campaign for Branded started appearing in zee interwebs. Branded looks like a weird, weird experience for the movie goer, so they developed a great little advancement to their story &ndas
h; Branded content through QR Code dissemination – 100 QR Codes to be exact, the idea behind it is that the audience by interacting actively in their weird, advertised, universe, they’ll slowly see what the movie might be about (the global distortion of perception, advanced and perpertraited by big Branded companies).

And where can you see them? Their trailers, their posters, their everything!

Give it a try (this is the first trailer of the campaign):

Can’t get any? I’ll help you with one of the pages:


But wait… there’s more, lots more… if you look hard enough, you’ll find them.

It takes time. It’s a pain to stop the videos. It’s frustrating at times but, you’re watching something new. Something that doesn’t appear if you search it online. New content. A new experience. You’re augmenting the experience of watching the trailer for a film. You’re using a QR Code the right way. The although hard and confusing, satisfactory way.

Here’s more (on the second trailer the codes are even harder to scan):

Once again. Stop the video. Can’t get them?

Here are some of them:


Like I said… if you do use QR Codes – Make them fun.

Or else…

Leave it to the Russians.