It’s not quite accurate to call Bluebrain’s location-aware music projects ‘albums.’ An album, after all, is a sequential collections of songs — and those songs are discrete musical compositions, each with its own key, instrumentation, and structure (like the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus pattern of many pop songs). The music Bluebrain makes isn’t like that.
Instead, brothers Ryan and Hays Holladay have created music that arises out of the listener’s interaction with a certain geographical location.
Speaking to what Scott Jenson calls ‘Just-in-time interaction‘ and Robert Scoble and Shel Israel explore in their new context-aware computing book. The combination of sensors, high accuracy location tracking and your connected devices are leading to new types of engagement opportunities with your immediate surroundings.
Bluebrain’s first such project, The National Mall, was inextricably tied to its namesake in Washington, D.C. As the listener moves around the designated area, they pass in and out of these geo-located sound bubbles and the music changes accordingly. An iOS app using a collections of tones, rhythms, and musical phrases manages the sound mapping of overlapping bubbles in the physical world.
The Holladays describe it as the musical version of a choose-your-own-adventure story. If you can make the journey, these not-exactly-albums offer an immersive listening experience that encourages and responds to your own curiosity and physical exploration.
Algorithmic or generative music is nothing new. Mozart, for instance, created a musical dice game for composing minuets, which can be played online. And the Holladays aren’t the only ones experimenting with ways to create mashups of music and physical space.
Volkswagen recently teamed up with the group Underworld to create an app that creates music based on the motion of a car — accelerating, turning, braking — and the car’s location. Many will also remember the video for Arcade Fire’s We Used to Wait, which was sort of the reverse of Bluebrain’s projects: the music was a traditionally-composed pop song, while the visuals were generated dynamically from Google Maps and Street View images of the neighborhood where the viewer grew up, eventually zeroing in on their childhood home.
To learn more about Bluebrain’s location-aware music projects, check out the video below. It’s a making-of documentary for Listen to the Light, their musical map of Central Park. To hear that or Bluebrain’s other projects, just download the app to your iOS device — assuming you’re in the right place.