Olga Nunes is a musician, songwriter and producer talented in many media. I first met Olga when she sent an email to the Jejune Institute. She inquired if our fictional character, Octavio Coleman, would like to appear in a video alongside other non-fictional luminaries like Lawrence Lessig and Neil Gaiman. It was based on the xkcd comic based on the Discovery Channel ‘Boomdeyada’ commercial. (Short story: Octavio sang, Olga made it fabulous and it’ll make you smile.)
Since then, she’s only been up to even more exciting things, including her latest project, LAMP. I invited her over to chat a little about making an album that tells a transmedia story.
Sara Thacher: When I initially found out about your project, LAMP, I tweeted:
LAMP is @olganunes’s new album — I mean love story — I mean mystery adventure.
I wrote that because 140 characters didn’t seem like quite enough to explain what was going on (not to mention, I wasn’t all that certain myself). So what is it exactly? A concept album? A transmedia story with music as the central platform?
Olga Nunes: I’ve always referred to LAMP as an album with a story built around it — LAMP is the soundtrack to a story which is still being written.
When I started, I knew I was going to write these songs, and I had a rough idea for the narrative. I knew I wanted people to interact with it, and discover the songs and story in an interesting way. And I also knew I wanted there to be room for people to jump in and collaborate– so I did things like put out a call for people to send me their love letters, many of which ended up in the LAMP story.
ST: Tell me a little about the story. It looks like it’s divided into three chapters with specific tracks and videos associated with each. Were you thinking about the classic three-act structure when you wrote the music?
Yes! I was. I wanted the album to be released in three parts, each tied to an act of the story.
The story itself is about two people who have lost each other, under what end up being interesting circumstances. It begins with a woman writing letters to someone she’s lost track of, and because she doesn’t know how to find him, she puts those letters into bottles, ties them to balloons, and releases them into the sky.
Chapter 1 begins when those letters come back down again.
ON: There’s always an interesting dilemma when you want to create something that feels like it blurs the borders of reality. Think of it like being in Disneyland. When you get in, you’re given a map and a list of rides. But when you’re on the Peter Pan ride, you’re meant to suspend disbelief– to think these characters are real, and that you are now in a pirate ship flying over Peter Pan’s London.
ST: How did the project come together? Did you have the story first and then write the songs? The other way around? Did you know from the outset that you wanted to make something narrative that would play out across multiple platforms?
ON: The story and the songs have always been created in parallel, but they are sort of like lovers winking at each other over a backyard fence. They both have each other in mind, and they have this ongoing flirtation, but there’s room for them to grow independently of one another.
When I launched my Kickstarter for this project, it was framed as an album and a story told in art installations, short films and other things to give people different ways to interact with the album. It has definitely become those things, while having grown into something more.
ST: There’s a live event associated with the first chapter taking place this weekend (February 9th) in San Francisco. Is this a format that you’ve worked with before? What inspired it?
ON: I think that I have a hard time doing just one thing at a time! Though, to be fair, I have always been fascinated with the idea of alternate reality games, and things that sort of bend reality and place people inside of the fiction. I remember when I first came across a walkthrough of The Beast (an interactive story created for the movie A.I.), I tracked down Sean Stewart who was the head writer, and asked him all sorts of questions. How does this work? How do you make something like this?
Then in 2008 I created an alternate reality game for Amanda Palmer’s album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, while I was living in London. (I think it was in part inspired for her by Nine Inch Nail’s Year Zero game, which coincidentally Sean Stewart also worked on.)
I was already writing songs at the time, and it was fascinating to think about how you could create a story that bent around music.
While the Amanda Palmer ARG took place in cities all over the world, I think the idea of doing a single-day event in one place started to come into being when I came across the Jejune Institute. It started to snap into focus, then– a way to create a story that you could walk around inside of for a single day, that had a relationship to the songs.
ST: How does the live event factor into the album or the content that you have online?
ON: The live event is the Love Letter Scavenger Hunt – it is the day in the story when all the love letters that have been released into the sky fall back down to the ground.
Love letters are going to be popping up all over the San Francisco Mission, and people are invited to come help find them, and figure out a mystery.
As to how the album factors in… let’s say that it’s a major part of how the characters in the story got into the predicament they’re in. You’ll have to come to the event or follow along at the website to find out more. Grin…