Get a vibe check with this stacked compilation of Ottawa-Hull and Canadian artists.
Mood Ring Vol. 2 features new music by Bucko Art Machine, Century Egg, Deidre, Klapshmock!, Mas Aya, Melody McKiver & Thomas Goguelin, Orchidae, and SlowPitchSound.
Mood Ring is an interactive mixtape curated by Debaser, the local arts organization and show promoter who has made space for more than 150 concerts in Ottawa and Hull, featuring countless independent and experimental artists around town. In the style of a choose-your-own-adventure online game, the Mood Ring website is designed as an entry point to a curated listening experience and an active way to discover new music.
“The idea grew from brainstorming ways to create a special experience of music discovery in the place of live shows,” says Debaser’s Rachel Weldon. “When the pandemic hit, there was very quickly a wave of live-stream performances happening, and over and over we were hearing that, while it was nice to have something to replace shows, a lot of the magic had been lost.”
View this post on Instagram
Each turn at Mood Ring generates a new path and varying results depending on how you respond to prompts like, “Are you light as air or rooted in the earth?” and “Will you wander into a forest or twirl through a meadow?” Based on your reactions, Mood Ring will guide you to one of eight tracks on the compilation record. A test group of Apt613ers who took turns at the game say they loved the buildup and enjoyed tracks that Mood Ring chose for them.
Designed and coded by Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan, with original artwork by Robin Richardson-Dupuis and a score from Emily McQuarrie, the web project is such a playful way to discover new music.
“At the beginning we sat down and talked about what sort of project we wanted to make,” says LeBlanc Flanagan. “We all felt drawn towards making something that invited curiosity, that felt peaceful and calm, a tiny journey of musical self-exploration.”
“We all felt drawn towards making something that invited curiosity, that felt peaceful and calm, a tiny journey of musical self-exploration.”
“We talked about mood rings, personality quizzes, webcomics with scroll animations, RPGs, choose your own adventure stories, tea leaves, and other kinds of gently interactive experiences,” says LeBlanc Flanagan. “I coded a few wildly different prototypes so we could get a sense of how different experiences might feel.”
Although Mood Ring offers a clean and smooth user experience, the coding behind mood-ring.ca is in fact quite sophisticated. The listener’s response to every question matters in terms of output and the path to each song is unique. One major challenge, says LeBlanc Flanagan, was making a game where the “reward” is a song. “We spent a lot of time listening to each track and mapping out a path that would honour the spirit of the song and guide the right listener to it.”
Contributing artists knew of the concept when Debaser invited them to submit a track. “However we didn’t prescribe a mood or anything,” says Weldon. “Each artist generally has their own musical vibe that we thought would work well in the project.”
Music is subjective, so mapping a meaningful path to each song with only words and images was indeed challenging. “The process in creating the path to each song was really collaborative, and super fun,” says illustrator Richardson-Dupuis. “We started by brainstorming words to define the mood based on our impressions and short descriptions that the artists provided, and worked from those to create visuals as we narrowed down the wording of each question.”
“We asked every playtester: ‘What do you think this thing is?'”
“We spent a lot of time listening, writing, and reorganizing the paths until it felt like everything fit,” says LeBlanc Flanagan.
Early playtesting of the beta version allowed the designer to get feedback to continuously re-build and refine Mood Ring. “We asked every playtester: ‘What do you think this thing is?’ Their answers—always different—helped us to know where to grow and where to cut parts,” says LeBlanc Flanagan. “Thankfully we prioritized early and rigorous playtesting.”
“The world’s tiniest and most introspective music recommendation engine.”
“I still don’t know how to describe this project to people. I usually describe it as ‘a tiny playful site,’ but maybe it would be more accurate to describe it as the world’s tiniest and most introspective music recommendation engine!”
There are no concrete plans for a Mood Ring, Vol. 3 just yet say the developers, but this won’t be the last of Mood Ring. “It was five years in between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2,” says Weldon. “So who knows, maybe it will be a quinquennial project.”
In 2021, Debaser is working on launching “a bigger project that has been in the works for over a year now.” There is more digital programming in the works—more on that in the months to come. In the meantime, Debaser is seeking community input through their 2020 Audience Poll to help guide programming and activities in the future.