I spin a top on a marble surface. I’m scanning a server room, peeking into the nooks and crannies of the equipment. I spin the top again. A tower of dice collapses in front of me.
I’m in the driver’s seat of an experimental iPad film called Energy Flow. A collaboration between Creators Project—an outlet of Vice/Intel—and Field, it’s a daunting interactive iOS/Android app that translates the work of 30 technical animation specialists telling 10 stories 1,000 different ways.
To be perfectly honest, most of the time, I have no idea what I’m looking at. While I’ve been told there are allegories here—documenting the 2011 London riots, combat drones, LHC, or wildlife—the experience of Energy Flow is more like stepping into someone else’s dream than breaking down the metaphors of a narrative. You lack context for the hallucination, but once you resign yourself to that, the experience becomes, well, something new.
Each time I spin the top, I generate a new number between 1 and 999. That’s the "seed" of the film I’m about to watch, a new cut of the animated loops I may have spotted earlier in my viewing experience but are presented anew. On the backend, Field has cut the films algorithmically (through an AI editor), then pre-rendered all 1,000 videos so each permutation is ready to stream to my iPad.
"This way of fragmenting and remixing the stories reflects how we perceive news, stories, and information today, and that there’s never just one perspective on this complex world," Field’s Vera-Maria Glahn and Marcus Wendt explain.
Indeed, Energy Flow is part of a new trend in "film." Much like Bear71 and Clouds, Energy Flow is an interactive, semi-user-guided experience. While spinning a top to select a clip—essentially roulette—gives me very little power to control my cinematic destiny, tying the clips to this slight bit of control puts me in charge of titration. Am I ready for another clip? Or should I come back to the app later? Functionally, it’s not so different than a pause button. But in use, it makes Energy Flow feel as if the ideas are, in part, being generated by me on my terms.
"With the massive shift of tablets and smartphones dominating our digital experiences, people are more so expecting content to be delivered in an interactive way," the team shares. "They are also largely expecting a lot for free, too. Like magazines that move from print, which you’re happy to pay for, to an app that people expect should be free!"
And that’s a distinguishing point of Energy Flow. The 10 films, or 45 minutes of original video and 35 minutes of original soundtrack, cut 1,000 different ways are completely free to watch. It’s a necessary point for expectation, but it’s also a necessary point for general consumption: Could you rent this piece of software, like a movie? Or would you buy it blindly, like an app? Could you unlock video variations for in-app purchases? None of the models work.
As for the project’s future, much like Angry Birds is now on T-shirts and backpacks, so, too, will Energy Flow spread to the analog world. "The idea that the project will continue to expand beyond the app platforms was there from the start," the team explains, "that themes and storylines could evolve, and segments branch out into future projects."
So could Energy Flow be a video installation? Could it be a proper documentary? Could it be a series of prints? Of course. In the age of digital, art can take any form—far more than even 1,000 discrete clips—with a little imagination.