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    Location-Aware Music


    What if the next time you went on a road trip with friends and family, you didn’t fight over the car radio or organize your own digital playlists. What if instead, the journey and path you take creates a symphony for you?


    Sounds poetic, doesn’t it? But it is actually true. We watched a TED Talks video featuring Ryan Holladay about location-aware music, which plays beautiful music based on where you are and the direction you travel. Think of it as the choose-your-own-adventure books you read as a child and applied it to music.


    Holladay and his brother Hays use GPS (the same technology that gives you driving directions when you’re lost) and created their first composition in 2011 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  Walk by one section of the mall and you’ll hear string instruments, walk to another and you’ll hear chimes and harps.


    “It’s an array of distinct melodies and rhythms that fit together like pieces of a puzzle and blend seamlessly based on the listener’s chosen trajectory,” Holladay said during his TED Talks.


    Once you leave the mall, the music disappears and there is no way to hear the music again, except to return to the mall.


    When the app was initially released, The Washington Post wrote: “Sounds geeky, right? It is. But like the most fantastic collisions of music and technology, it feels magical. And in an iPod era, where bite-size MP3s have threatened to vanquish the traditional album format, Bluebrain is helping redefine what an album can actually be. Somewhere, Sgt. Pepper is smiling.”


    Since then, they have released three other apps in including those for New York City, Austin and Ballston. They are also working with Stanford’s Experimental Media Arts Lab to create a score for the entire stretch of Pacific Coast Highway. Given the beauty of Hwy 1, from the ocean to the trees, we cannot wait to hear the app! Apparently, the brothers are also astounded by the beauty and feel a little overwhelmed but we hope to hear it soon!


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    Watch Location-Aware Music on TED Talk

    In this TED talk Ryan Holladay of Bluebrain tells us why he is experimenting with what he describes as “location-aware music,” a project that he created with his brother, Hays.  Location-aware compositions are special albums composed specifically for a particular place – in this case, Central Park – and each track on the album is synced with the listeners locations within the area.  Remarkably those outside of Central Park can not access this album – the music is only available through an app, and then only for people walking through Central Park.  The app is called “Listen to the Light,” and uses a phone’s GPS location to weave together musical themes inspired by New York City’s Central Park.  Ryan and his brother, Hays, who together formed Bluebrain, went to college in New York City and were inspired by Central Park, which motivated them to use this location for one of their location-aware music projects.

    The Huffington Post describes how the app for “Listen to the Light” works: As you approach one area, you hear one piece of music. As you move, the music changes — the melody could be generally the same, but the piece may begin incorporating different instruments, different volume levels and other variations.  As you move to other areas of the park, the melodies may change completely. How it changes is up to you and how you move through the park, but it’s designed to always blend seamlessly.  Since the app is determined by a person’s movements, there are countless musical journeys from which to choose.

    In this image of the Washington Monument, you can see some of the circles of sound that will play different compositions depending on the location of the listener:

    Location-Away Music

    This map shows the circles of sound that will play different tracks of Bluebrain’s album.

    Many of us who jog or take walks with our little white earbuds connected to our iPhones know how much music can enhance an outdoor experience.  What is unique about a location-aware musical experience is that the music is composed for the space, forever linking the composition to the location.  This creates a new dimension that has never existed before.  It’s important to note how technology has enabled this experience, which would not even have been possible before the creation of “apps.”  If more musicians take on this initiative, every large city could have its own location-aware music compositions for its most popular landmarks.  This could create new activities for tourists, and add more access to artistic experiences for the community.  Let’s get Bluebrain to Griffith Park next!

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