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May 27, 2012

Event: Songbird (as part of the Singapore Arts Festival 2012)
Venue: Various (starting point at the Esplanade Park)
Run: 24th – 27th May 2012

Gonna Find Me A Songbird

Every now and then you come across a gem of an artistic idea which seems fresh and unique, unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.

“Songbird” is essentially an app-based interactive journey that allows you to trace the mysterious disappearance of a singer-songwriter named Songbird, and in the process gather more clues in the hope of solving this mystery.

The entire journey is only made possible with either an iPhone or an iPad, and the team at Studio Now & Then were kind and meticulous enough to make provisions to loan out iPad sets to non-Apple users such as myself.

The adventure begins at the rooftop of the Festival Cafe, where we are greeted with the unexpected no-show of Songbird, who was supposed to take to the stage for a performance.

From there, we constantly consult the sagely iPad to pepper us with morsels of information to aid us in our journey, whilst leading us to various checkpoints such as the Fullerton Hotel, the Stone Benches, the Limousine next to ACM, and The Arts House.

QR codes play an important role in this adventure in releasing to us the various clues, and while the majority of clues were in the form of well-enacted video clips, there was also the odd simulated phone call as well as simulated text messages between the characters in the story and us, the app users.

What I really liked about the entire “Songbird” experience was the sheer attention to detail.

You had the sense that Tara Tan and the entire team from Studio Now & Then had put in many painstaking hours attending to every single detail in the show – from the design of the sleek and intuitive app, to the filming of the various video segments, to the curating of the mini art gallery at the Fullerton, to the opulent limousine experience, to the construction of the exquisite white birdcages.

I also liked the concept of the “press conference” at the Arts House.

It was all these little touches and ideas which made the entire journey such a delight.

Another very clever touch that some might not have realised was that the “show” had already begun a few months ago, when Songbird released her debut single “Maybe” on YouTube. (Catchy song, by the way.)

All this was carefully constructed so as to create this seemingly authentic “Sherry” persona, which would later also receive some mysterious notes from a stranger in the days leading up to the actual performance.

But while the whole “Songbird” journey was physically and technologically engaging, I found myself being strangely detached on the emotional front.

I felt the story itself was somehow unable to draw the participant into it, and soon the whole exercise became more of a casual early evening stroll round the Civic District, visiting spots I would otherwise seldom explore, and looking out for checkpoints.

It came to a point where I was merely interested in visiting all the checkpoints just so we could scan the QR codes, view the clips and move on in the journey.

And as Corrie Tan had already mentioned, I found the ending rather disappointing, as it offered scant resolution to the entire story.

For a story that seemed to build and build, you would have expected a slightly grander finish.

I was half hoping that we would have eventually been treated to a little live performance from Songbird herself, as a small form of payoff for all the walking around the past hour or so.

That would have been a beautiful way to cap off the journey.

But it just seemed to me a bit odd to me that we never really got to meet in real life any of the virtual characters that we’d been conditioned to feel for throughout the journey.

It just made things all seem a bit unfulfilling.

Nonetheless, I found the entire “Songbird” experience to be both fresh and delightful.

Studio Now & Then is definitely on to something in terms of its concept and execution.

It’s got the hardware all figured out – from the all-important app to the hit theme song to the logistics to the branding, so now it’s just a matter of finding a way to fully engage the participant, and making the entire show a truly immersive one.

Only then could you say the show has truly learnt to fly.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ilkosa permalink
    June 12, 2012 9:07 pm

    I felt the same too.

    The detective in me enjoyed the journey and process, finding and following the clues that pop up with the QR codes and GPS tracking.

    Unfortunately, the story was not much of a mystery eventually, and the ending a little unresolved with the 3 characters just going their own ways like that, and yes, unfulfilling as you put it.

    But overall, I think it was a nice concept and experience. I liked the music too.


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