What Sigur Rós Taught Me About Creative Communication

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A while ago, Kati and I spent a weekend in Bend, Oregon. We hiked Smith Rock State Park, an amazing rock structure on the edge of the mountains and desert, and we saw Sigur Rós perform an outdoor concert. Both experiences were pretty amazing, but I realized something about art and creativity because of Sigur Rós.

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If you don’t know the band Sigur Rós, look them up. They’re a few guys from Iceland who make really beautiful music that sounds like it belongs in a film soundtrack. Some people describe the genre as ambient, ethereal or “post-rock.” But the most unique thing about Sigur Rós is what they sing.

Sigur Rós doesn’t sing in English.

The vocalist, Jónsi, sings in Hopelandic, a completely made up language. Some of their songs are in Icelandic, but they prefer to use the unidentifiable words they chose because they matched the melodies of the music, rather than express a meaning (that we know of). Sigur Rós is more concerned about how the music and voices blend together than how their lyrics are understood (check out their explanation here).

Content and Communication

Sigur Rós’ performance made me realize the compelling nature of good art. Even though I didn’t understand what Jónsi was singing, I was hooked. I wondered what he was thinking of as he sang morose-sounding minor tunes. I wondered what the Hopelandic words meant. My eyes were glued on the stage for the whole show. I didn’t want to miss anything, because their music was beautiful to hear and the visual light show reinforced it.

Artists should create experiences that people are immersed in, even if they don’t understand it. Make them want to understand what it is you’re communicating by how you present it. In creative work, there are countless ways of presenting content. And content always does best when you also consider context.

Whether you’re a writer, painter, photographer, filmmaker, graphic designer, hand-letterer, or anything else, you have a means to communicate, and you have a message to convey through your art. Even if it’s not a grandiose, complex idea, at the very least your art communicates the message that there is beauty in the world. Your craft can communicate that and a whole lot more, too. There are hundreds of social networking platforms available to use. How do you choose? If you want to express a deep, complex, nuanced theory or a detailed personal story, Twitter’s not your best mode of communication. Choose the one that best suits the message.

As creative artists in different fields, we each have the responsibility to do meaningful work and produce meaningful content. (tweet that)

A really smart communications philosopher said something in the 1970s that still rings true today.

“The medium is the message.”
– Marshall McLuhan

Sigur Rós communicated their content of inciting wonder through the curiosity and mystery of a made up language and resonating, epic music. Their content and format matched.

If we want to serve content that people will be attracted to and engage with, we must offer the content in an appropriately fitting way to best serve the message of what’s being said. And if your content isn’t easy to understand, don’t stress. Some paintings take a few minutes to really see. Rather, embrace the mysterious nature of your craft and hone the way you let others experience it so the mystical, compelling tone of it attracts people. Make listeners and viewers and readers want to understand more. Help them to see with new eyes.

At the core of it all, I think this is what art is really for: to give us fresh perspective.

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Do you agree that “the medium is the message?” How do you see this practically play out? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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