What makes Chinese New Year songs so “Chinese New Year”?

Country/area: China

Organisation: The Paper (澎湃新闻)

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 13/02/2021

Credit: Xu Xueqing, Zou Manyun, Kong Jiaxing, Wang Yasai, Du Haiyan, Lu Yan, Gao Jianping


Xu Xueqing & Zou Manyun: pitching story; planning UX roadmap; interviewing; writing; project coordination

Kong Jiaxing & Du Haiyan: project developers

Wang Yasai: data visualization; UI Design

Lyu Yan & Gao Jianping: project coordination

Project description:

Chinese Spring Festival songs are similar to Christmas songs: the moment the melody is on, listeners will realize, “Oh, this is a Chinese New Year song.” However, it is hard to find a detailed and vivid analysis of why they are so recognizable in China. Our highly interactive project fills the gap. We deciphered the shared rules applied to popular Chinese New Year songs by playing song clips, presenting professional musical analysis, and visualizing various elements of the songs. We even created a songwriting game based on our discoveries, demonstrating how the Spring Festival vibe was conveyed through those songs.

Impact reached:

As mentioned above, this project fills the gap in media coverage. It provides an in-depth and lively explanation of the phenomenon of Chinese New Year songs, which seemed to be well known, but unexplained for a long time. The audience who participated in this interactive project may smile knowingly when they listen to these songs again, as the mystery that puzzled them in the previous Spring Festival has been revealed.

And because of the fact that the Chines News Year is the most important traditional festival year-round for Chinese people, this project is infused with longevity: it may be re-shared with popular Chinese New Year songs in every following Spring Festival. This is also what makes this project unique.

In addition, this project has been recognized by China’s data journalism industry, winning the Silver Award of “Best Mobile Interactive” in the China Data Content Competition 2021.

Techniques/technologies used:

p5.js: We used this creative programming library to deconstruct audio files, obtain their amplitude data, and present them with visual elements. And in developing the interactive songwriting game, the functions embedded in p5.js enabled us to flexibly set audio speeds, playback positions, etc. And this created a smooth user experience: when the audience clicked different play buttons in the game, audio clips can always be connected successfully.

D3.js: Mainly used in the simulation of audio tracks, using different graphic elements to visualize the amplitude of different instruments.

What was the hardest part of this project?

There were tricky issues both in content presentation and UX design.

Firstly, we needed to fully explain how the atmosphere of Chinese New Year was presented through music. We interviewed two musicians and their detailed analysis laid the groundwork for the project. But we still had to figure out an appropriate way to present professional insights to the general audience. We finally decided to integrate music clips, infographics, and interactive features. In the beginning, we took the most familiar Chinese New Year song “Congratulations (Gong Xi Gong Xi)” as an example: by breaking down and reconstructing the musical elements of the song, we showed the audience how the festive atmosphere was enhanced step by step. Then we provided the audience with 12 classic Spring Festival songs, visualized each of them in the shape of winter jasmine (which is the symbol of spring in Chinese culture), and displayed their common features through the visualization. In this way, we revealed the mysteries of why the Chinese New Year songs composed by different musicians would sound so similar.

Also, to ensure a rich and smooth audiovisual experience, we needed to clear technical hurdles. One was audio visualization. We conducted quite a few research on audio visualization technology libraries, but they either had system compatibility issues or had audio parsing or articulation problems. We ended up choosing p5.js which was a good fit for our project. Another was synchronizing audio. Especially for the “songwriting” part, where the audience were offered several play buttons to change the melody, speed, rhythm, and instruments, there would be a lot of combinations and adjustments. We spent a lot of time debugging to make sure that all audio clips would play in sync in any combination.

What can others learn from this project?

It’s not uncommon to come across similar situations as Chines New Year songs’, especially in the realm of popular culture: the public may have realized the existence of a certain cultural phenomenon, but may not be clear about the reasons behind it. So one of the inspirations this project may provide to other journalists is, go and dig out story ideas from these phenomena. And once you find one and explain it fully and vividly, the life of the project is very like to last longer than a lot of news pieces.

And in terms of content creation, we think it may not be a bad idea to use different audiovisual elements boldly, which would be quite useful to deliver information more flexibly and joyfully and enrich the audience experience.

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