Just in case you’re one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t yet encountered OK Go’s “Rube Goldberg Variation” video of This Too Shall Pass, let’s get that out of the way:

As far as I’m concerned, OK Go are winning at internet video. From the self-conscious genius of A Million Ways, iterating through Here It Goes Again, stopping at the artistically hip Do What You Want, before blasting through CDMo favorite WTF? to the new hotness of This Too Shall Pass, which they’ve actually released two completely distinct single-shot videos for this year!

Their work has run the gamut from ridiculously simple and cheap, to equally ridiculously complex and expensive. Throughout this progression, they’ve produced work which is varied, yet instantly recognizable. The productions maintain a thread of simple, effective, creative concepts, and each has been appropriate to the band’s available resources.

I think this is the essence of creativity, and what makes “indie” production so compelling. It’s not sustainable to continuously produce work which strains your budget or resources, so we all generally work with a set of constraints built around what we have available. Record labels have ready access to film studios with white walls and bright lights, so a frightening majority of label-released videos follow a sadly predictable path of “something something story something, and then the band mimes along in a white-walled studio with bright lights”.

OK Go are on a label (Capitol/EMI), but they’ve definitely managed to maintain the level of control required to call the shots, and decide where their budgets should be spent. Gizmodo just posted an interview which purports to “tell the secrets of the band’s geeky videos”. I didn’t really discover any production secrets, but the band’s attitude towards creativity, and  record label constraints is quite interesting:

Our label, bless their moronic hearts, was given our record nine months ago. It kept getting pushed back. We basically wound up with several months of our lives to just get in trouble. If we’d had to go into promo land and get on tour we wouldn’t have time to do this kind of stuff. Basically I got home when the record was done and wrote down my dream list of videos. This whole project started with a two-paragraph description that I put down online as a job post, essentially. I asked for two creative engineers, because I figured that’s about what it would take. Two engineers, and a couple of months. It ended up being more like 60 engineers, and five months of work.
[from Q&A: OK Go's Lead Singer Tells Us Secrets of the Band's Geeky Videos]

For me, “wrote down my dream list of videos” is the key phrase here. None of OK Go’s clips are contrived or cynical attempts to “go viral”. They obviously love the medium, they love creating new things, monkeying around on treadmills, making the world’s biggest tv-smashing, paint-firing machine. They’re obviously having a blast while they’re doing it, and if you love what you’re doing, your audience can’t help but love it too.

OK Go – WTF? from OK Go on Vimeo.

When WTF was released, I wrote about “originality”, and the concept of making creative work from well-understood building blocks.

As long as you produce something which has personality, and creates an emotional connection with your audience, then I think anyone who accuses you of being “unoriginal” is missing the point.

The Rube Goldberg Device is the ultimate collection of “well understood building blocks”, and a beautiful metaphor for the art of the visualist. We’re taking the objects we have ready access to, building new things to interface them together, and making something amazing.

Update: Just to hit home on the topic of record labels not understanding truly fresh, creative work, Techdirt are reporting that OK Go have left EMI and started their own label, after repeated issues with the label turning off embeds and generally acting like soulless fatcats who don’t at all understand how viral culture works.
Update2: Official Announcement on their site.

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  • http://www.digitalmediajockey.com Kevin Hackett

    I wish you could see my smile right now.  Thanks for the great video and creative inspiration.

  • silvertron

    It's great but I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned that it is basically a rip-off of The Way Things Go made in 1987 by the Swiss artists Fischli and Weiss.  Once again visual artist's get "borrowed" from (ala Mark Romanek) and some band and/or Music Video director gets undeserved credit without even a nod to the artist.

  • Laurence

    @silvertron

    hmm well  Fischli and Weiss could have got the idea from "Back to the Future" or "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" or any other "rip-off " of a Rube Goldberg style machine.

    Sometimes it's not about the idea itself, but the presentation of said idea.

    I wouldn't deny the band/music video director/ engineers credit  for their 5+ months of work that went into the video just because the idea isn't original. If

    Create Digital Motion/Create Digital Music has taught us anything is that many times creativity comes from the reinvention and repurposing of older ideas and older technology.

     

     

  • http://noisepages.com/members/jaymis/ Jaymis Loveday

    Whoo @Laurence. I'm glad someone was paying attention!

    There is no way any "rube goldberg machine" style video is a rip off of anything. It's a homage to the great Rube! I personally started pre-production a couple of months ago on a music video which uses a similar, if vastly less complicated, mechanic. Am I going to stop making it, now that OK Go have had a big, popular version of it? Hell no! It's fun, and it's still creative even if someone else has "done it before".

    Do artists spend hours nodding to Renoir and Rembrandt before their brush hits the canvas? Hell no! They just start painting.

  • ml

    The Fischli and Weiss piece was distinct from the other films because it used a 'one shot' format to show the device in action, thus proving it's 'authenticity'.

    Then the Honda Cog commercial used more or less the same idea and won more or less every advertising award a few years back. Again, done in one shot for real, as a bit of anti 'doing it in post' thing. (although they may have cheated a bit). This video is the basically the same thing, but done with a bit more soul and humour.

    Normally it goes…. Art Piece… gets ripped off by music video…. gets ripped off by commercial. So this video is a nice twist. Take the idea from a commercial.

    It has a nice 'authentic' lo-fi video look to it, Like all their mates came over and happened to knock this together over a weekend over beer and a pizza. But it's not low-budget, by any means.

    What feels great about the video is that it feels like you are being given it as a a present. Let's face it, you're not going to buy the single, are you? And they seem to know this. So what's the game plan? Interested to know how a band makes a living when it isn't planning to sell records or tickets. Will the Karmic model work for them?

  • http://noisepages.com/members/jaymis/ Jaymis Loveday

    I personally bought their album after seeing this video, going to their site, and noticing that they have no-bullshit digital file distribution.

    I've done the same for quite a few bands, if I like their work, I consider it a kind of "donation", even if I don't like or listen to their album, it supports them in making more art.

  • http://www.metamindcr.com metamind

    Don't care if it has been done before (of course it's good to recognize break through pioneers), just the will the do it once again in such a nice way is million times worth. Creativity can't stop at the first shot!

  • http://www.digitalmediajockey.com Kevin Hackett

    "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." -Albert Einstein

  • fleaBitHound

    To me, the biggest problem isn't that the concept isn't original, it's that it's boring the way they've done it, but then I think it's a completely forgettable band in the video anyway. To each their own.

    Art is about ideas and there just aren't any ideas that I've ever seen beyond the basic notion of a Rube Goldberg machine, that I care about. Which is to say  I believe that as conceptual art, Mr. Goldberg did all that needed to be done with his proposal for a category of machines that accomplish simple tasks through convoluted means. That said, for sheer inventiveness, these beat the hell out of the OK Go video.

    http://www.break.com/usercontent/2008/8/PythagoraSwitch-2-553678.html

    They are made for a Japanese children's show from what I understand. Hard to imagine anyone too much older than about 10 really getting into watching them though.

     

  • yair

    http://www.megavideo.com/?v=X1NAY2AJ

    the way things go, streamed. warning, there's a popup in it for you

  • Kakei

    In order to claim that someone rip off another Rube Goldberg video, one has to have the exact setup. As far as we've all observed, none of the Rube inspired setups are replica of another. Everyone has to work within the constraint of the materials and space they have on hand.

     

    A nice touch: notice how the metal balls in the beginning are in sync with the drum beat.