iPhone's GPS lets music morph as you meander

Electronic musicians Bluebrain take music into new terrain with site-specific compositions that shape-shift in response to a listener's wanderings--thanks to the iPhone's built-in GPS system.

Mapping music: Bluebrain's Ryan Holladay makes sheet music out of a landscape as he diagrams "pockets" of sound in Central Park's North Meadow. Screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

Imagine popping in your earbuds, queuing up some tunes, going for a stroll, and then listening to the music morph in response to your surroundings.

Thanks to electronic-music duo Bluebrain--along with a clutch of willing musician friends, the expertise of a software developer, and the iPhone's built-in GPS system--that Brian Eno-esque fantasy is, in fact, a reality.

Washington D.C.-based brothers Ryan and Hays Holladay are continuing their push--perhaps the better word is "meander"--into a new musical realm with their recent album/iPhone app "Central Park (Listen to the Light)." The piece uses GPS to monitor a listener's movements through New York's famous green oasis and play different tracks keyed to specific locales--or "zones" and "pockets"--within the park.

The tracks fade into and out of one another, and the overall shape of the album is an everchanging affair, based on a given listener's wanderings. It's a "choose your own adventure of an album," the duo likes to say, conjuring up memories of those children's books that let young readers pick alternate outcomes and endings.

The Holladay brothers--along with, in this case, Brooklyn-based software developer Brian Feldman--aspire to something more than a gimmick, and the work not only treads new territory as far as the listener is concerned, but requires a different approach to composition as well.

As Ryan Holladay says in a "making of" film about the project (embedded below), "The idea wasn't to create an album as an app. It was really to create music for a specific location. And because of the phone's built-in GPS capabilities, it was just the best way to...realize that idea. But the process is totally different...writing, recording, and then plugging it into the app, walking the park, and then going back and doing it again and again until it's right."

"Listen to the Light" was preceded by "The National Mall," a work similarly pegged to locations in D.C.'s grand public space. And the brothers are reportedly planning a piece for Highway 1 in California, the ribbon of road that runs along much of the coast and is just over the Santa Cruz Mountains from Silicon Valley.

"Central Park (Listen to the Light)" is available free for the iPhone and the iPad. Here's a short film that sheds a little light on the creation of "Light":

The Making of Listen to the Light by BLUEBRAIN from BLUEBRAIN on Vimeo.

(Via The New York Times)
 

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