Thursday, January 12, 2012

Soundtrack for Spaces - Next Generation

I have discussed the concept  previous posts on the 'Soundtrack for Spaces', where I was making connections between physical locations in the landscape and the potential to imbue place with appropriate musical accompaniment.  These varied, but included looking at the Fleet Foxes as driving music in the Columbia River Gorge, the video customization for Arcade Fire's 'The Wilderness Downtown', and another video stitched together from Google Street View clips.

The ideas at the time were somewhat nascent, and sort of hinted at the concept of adaptable, location-specific music responsive to place.  This was reinforced by reading one of William Gibson's latest novels called 'Spook Country', which discusses the concept of 'locative media' within the storyline, which means media that is delivered "directly to the user of a mobile device dependent upon their location."  Another thread was a tale of games of location-specific 'Urban Pacman' taking place in Portland - using the game-friendly layout of Ladd's Addition as a container. 

:: image via Robot Mutant

An article from a few weeks back in the NY Times - "Central Park, the Soundtrack" takes this idea to an entirely new level.  Bluebrain, a musical duo have created.  The first of the series looked at the National Mall, and the second, of these 'locational' music pieces, 'Listen to the Light' provides an experiential soundtrack for Central Park.  From the Times article:

"As you walk, new musical themes hit you every 20 or 30 steps, as if they were emanating from statues, playgrounds, open spaces and landmarks... The themes layer over one another, growing in volume as you approach certain points on the map and fading out as you move away. It’s a musical Venn diagram placed over the landscape, and at any time you might have two dozen tracks playing in your ears, all meshing and colliding in surprising ways. The path you take determines what you hear, and the biggest problem with what the composers call a “location-aware album” is that you may get blisters on your feet trying to hear it all."
The Venn diagram looks something like this, and the tracks reference GPS coordinates.  A diagram or map of the overlay of different musical phrases, from the Bluebrain site:
You can get a taste for the 'classical' inspired work as well.

Central Park (Listen to the Light) - A New Location Aware Album by BLUEBRAIN from BLUEBRAIN on Vimeo.

Definitely check out the slightly longer 'making of' video for "Listen to the Light" for more detail on the technical aspects.  It is somewhat difficult to assess whether the piece is a success or not, divorced from context, but that might be the point.  For those of us who have a constant soundtrack going through our head - which hits shuffle based on a word on a street sign or a sight of a sunset, it does lead one to think that there many possibilities that we are just scratching the surface.

Another interesting example mentioned in the article was GPS Beatmap: Planet as Control Surface, which uses location-specific positioning to mash-up musical phrases based on where you are. Check out a video of this in action here:

GPS Beatmap from Jesse Stiles on Vimeo.

It's pretty exciting, even in these simple formats - and it isn't difficult to envision new radio stations that are location-driven, where users can select a genre, plug in headphones, and participate in an immersive, place-based experience customized to their own particular 

For more, check out ASLA's The Dirt post on Bluebrain here.

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