The Mermaid Transformed

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The power and sheer size of the ocean have long inspired a sense of mystery. It can conjure a desire to stand still and embrace one’s smallness in the face of something huge. This same sense of mystery comes through in the lyrics and feelings evoked by “Dead in the Water,” a song by English recording artist Ellie Goulding. Her lyrics, sung over spare, minimalist instrumentation, allude to the vastness of the open sea and speak to feelings that are distinctly human: loneliness. Melancholy. Missing a loved one.

Máté Szabó, one of three winners of the Tribeca Interactive & Interlude Music Film Challenge, created his own visual interpretation of the mystery of the sea. “I wanted to create something she would love,” says Szabó. “And she did, apparently.”

Szabó was not only inspired by Goulding’s unique siren-like voice, but he immersed himself in her aesthetic. Her repeated use of triangles and pink-blue gradients in the artists’ earlier music videos and album artwork intrigued him. Her noticed that her fans had appreciated and adapted the look in their social media profile pictures, creating a world like a liquid galaxies when discovering her music online.

Szabó felt that Goulding’s aesthetic strongly evoked the work of ancient Greek mathematician Thales who taught that the repeated use of a geometric shape like triangles could mimic a fluid object, like water, despite being pointed. Szabó was entranced.

“For me, Ellie Goulding is a mermaid,” says Szabó. “Maybe she came from another world.”

In his interactive music video based on Goulding’s song, an animated mermaid faces an enemy that she alone can conquer. Using the video’s interactive technology, the viewer has the power to direct her journey to save her oceanic home. But when the challenge proves too big for her alone, Szabó’s heroine finds new purpose in an unexpected place.

“It’s not a sad thing to be dead in the water,” says Szabó. “It’s kind of a spiritual transformation from ice water to a cloud. And it’s everybody. We die at the end, and maybe we transform to another form of life.”

The 24 year-old Hungarian filmmaker plans to continue making art and interpreting what inspires him. His drive for success is outshined by his eagerness to learn. “I think nobody can be a professional,” says Szabó. “Everybody needs to learn for their whole lifetime, you know?”

This interpretation of Goulding’s powerful track was created by Szabó as part of the Tribeca Music Film Challenge, which we developed with our friends from the Tribeca Film Festival as a way to explore the evolution of film.

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