In 1877, there was a quiet rip in the fabric of space and time. Two men found a way to literally capture time itself and place it in a box. One box was made of wax and the other of film. Before that moment, music only existed in its original moment of creation. The only way you could hear it was to go to the physical space in which it was being created. When the performance was finished, the music simply faded into silence. The moment of time slipped into the past, never to be retrieved.
That fact is something we now take completely for granted, but imagine the wonder of being able to replay a moment for the first time. Imagine the original thrill of capturing a musical performance in a piece of wax and being able to resurrect it on a whim.
For the first time in the history of mankind, music was freed from the space in which it was conceived. It could now roam the Earth in its wax body and you could listen to music created in London on a phonograph in Egypt. As technology evolved, music became more and more portable. Eventually, the Walkman let you carry it in your pocket. And shortly after that, music freed itself of a medium entirely and slipped into the realm of 1s and 0s. Now with services like Spotify and Rdio you can access much of the world’s recorded music by pulling it out of the “cloud” and into your phone.
With all of this freedom, there is also a sense of loss. The space in which music is conceived is also an important part of its life story. Thankfully, technology has given us another way to experience music and now two men are pioneering a profoundly poetic way to reconnect music back to a particular space.
Enter Bluebrain. Using the GPS data from your phone, Ryan and Hays Holladay have created the world's first “location aware albums.” The albums are downloaded as an app and the music unfolds and evolves based on the environment around you.
“As an experience, the best way to think about it is like a choose-your-own-adventure in which all these different scenarios and options can produce different outcomes,” says Ryan. “Similarly, there are a multitude of musical options that can change entirely how the music sounds from one person to another based on where they walk.”
Bluebrain has created an experience where their music comes to life and evolves as you move through a specific space. In fact, you can only ever hear the music if you journey to that place. The music is still free of time but it is creatively and intentionally bound to space.
After crafting beautiful location aware albums for the lush natural spaces of Central Park in New York and the National Mall in Washington D.C., Bluebrain was asked to create and unveil a location aware album for this year’s SXSW in downtown Austin, TX. Designing this type of experience for an urban environment came with a completely different set of challenges. All of the sounds of traffic and city life had to be taken into consideration. Even the creative process itself was challenged by space.
The National Mall and Central Park albums were made after extensive time in the actual locations. For the Austin inspired experience, “The Violet Crown,” music was written by patiently and painstakingly walking through every inch of the 6×6 block radius of the SXSW festival grounds virtually on Google Earth. Though the Holladay brothers had been to Austin many times previously, they had to rely on technology to let them create from their homes in Washington, D.C.
“Creating music for this type of thing is a completely different experience from a traditional album recording process. Instead of a linear recording, we are putting together a set of variables that have to all fit together. It’s a challenge but it’s exciting. We are literally having to make up the rules for how to write music for this as we go along," says Ryan.
If you are attending SXSW this year, you should download this free app, grab a cup of coffee, and wander the 6×6 block festival grounds with your headphones on. Using all of the textures and timbres and rhythms and harmonies you’d hope for, Bluebrain wraps you inside an environment of sound and inserts you into a living work of multisensory aesthetic experience.