By Justin Sanders
The pandemic has been a devastating experience – but like many devastating experiences it has also been a catalyst for creativity. Over this past year, artists have found new inspiration not only in terms of subject matter, but in how they package and present their work.
Previously, we looked at how visual artists have adapted to this singular moment via interactive projects that often feel startlingly fresh. Now, we are happy to feature a handful of experiences culled from the world of music. Here are eight great interactive music projects that are breaking new ground in how music is made, shared, and consumed.
For those of us who have always wondered what life would be like if our every step were scored by a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, the free public art project Ellen Reid Soundtrack is here to help. Only, you have to get out into nature to experience it. Reid, who won the Pulitzer for her debut opera, prism, has created GPS-enabled scores that are synced up to beloved outdoor areas such as Griffith Park in Los Angeles and New York’s Central Park. To engage, just download the app, put on a pair of headphones, press play, and start hiking. The ambient soundtrack shifts between different “cells” of music depending on where you are in the park and how fast you are moving. The result is a socially-distanced, uniquely personal sonic journey that will calm your frazzled nerves and ease your troubled mind. And you’ll get some exercise, too.
Does anyone really enjoy watching live classical music via the go-to pandemic-era method of a video conference call? Not according to the talented Yale alumni behind The Wandering. “No one, not even my family is going to want to watch me sing Schubert for an hour over Zoom,” the show’s lead vocalist and co-producer Jeremy Weiss recently told the Yale Daily News. “So I started thinking about ways that we could innovate.” Those ways have culminated in a new immersive production that supplements stirring renditions of Schubert’s vocal music compositions with a series of short films – then ups the ante with an interactive online experience paired with physical materials that are mailed to ticketholders. The result is most assuredly “not a Zoom performance,” promises the show’s website. On the contrary, “People who are interested in theater and live music, drag, role player video games, escape rooms, art film, and augmented reality will find this show particularly cool.” You had us at “not a Zoom performance”.
Is Incredibox a life-changing musical event that will forever change the way you comprehend melody and song? Probably not, but sometimes you just need something that is 100% lighthearted fun in your life – and Incredibox has that in spades. Created and honed over many years by a trio of Frenchmen, the app lets you “create your own music with the help of a merry crew of beatboxers”, each one impeccably designed and effortlessly stylish. The process couldn’t be more intuitive – you just pick an avatar, assign him some combination from a toolkit of effects, beats, melodies, choruses, and voices, then pick another avatar, rinse, and repeat. And another and another, until a choir of sleepy-eyed hipsters has filled your screen with a delightfully rich piece of music. The interface is simple enough that it has been used to teach young children about music composition, but the endless number of sonic combinations, cool-as-a-cucumber animations, and gamification elements offer plenty for adults to play with, too. There are innumerable ways to make music on the internet – few have as much built-in joy as the deceptively breezy Incredibox.
The Spotify-cation of music – wherein seemingly every single song ever recorded is yours for a nominal monthly fee – seems like an amazing thing on its face, but it can also be a bit overwhelming. Sometimes it’s nice to step away from the platform’s algorithmic ocean and let a real-life person take care of your musical needs. Yes, we’re talking about the radio – and Radio Garden is the perfect re-entry point to the land of human curation. Like a Google Earth for radio, the project brings together what feels like thousands of local stations from around the world and makes them available to stream on one convenient website. The site’s interface is easy to navigate – just spin the digital globe to the country you wish to listen to, select one of the green dots, and drop on down to start listening. It’s a super-fun way to learn about new music and get a taste of a completely different culture than your own. Now, if you’ll excuse us, there’s a trap station in New Guinea we’ve been meaning to check out…
One day, your musical library will use everything from the words you say to the way your body feels to select and play tunes that match your mood. Cofounded by Tom Gruber, who also cofounded another offering you may have heard of called Siri, the “adaptive music platform” known as LifeScore seems primed to be a leader in this space. Its AI gave a tantalizing taste of what it’s capable of last May, when LifeScore teamed with Twitch’s live, interactive sci-fi drama Artificial to harness the audience’s sentiment and use it to shape the series’ musical score in real time. By analyzing the chat field running alongside each episode, LifeScore was able to analyze words ranging from “lol” to “pizza” to read the room and create music with varying degrees of emotion and intensity to match the similarly spontaneous on-screen action. The robots are coming… to sooth and lull us with their harmonious grooves.
Seasoned musicians will tell you that jamming with other musicians is the ultimate form of human connection. The Adjacent Possible Orchestra gives participants a little taste of what that feels like – no musical ability required. Ticketholders enter a virtual space where each person gets to pick an “instrument” from a selection of live- or studio-recorded sound samples. After a brief tutorial, the show’s “conductor” begins the concert, and the participants take over, improvising together with their chosen samples to make a new and unique piece of music. Perhaps most interestingly, the entire show is anonymous. None of the music-makers can see or hear each other, putting the focus squarely on the act of creation, and on distraction-free connection with others through nothing but ambient sound. The result is an extended meditation on the nature of togetherness at a time when we’ve never been so far apart.
The geniuses at Lego keep finding new ways to make their century-old brick toys feel fresh and new. Their latest innovation, Vidiyo, is an augmented reality app that lets kids build their own music videos starring a new line of Bandmate collectible minifigures with names such as Werewolf Drummer and DJ Cheetah. Users need just one of the toys to get going, along with a handful of physical tiles called BeatBits that unlock digital effects, animations, and dope sounds such as an air horn. Then it’s time to pick a song from an extensive catalogue of licensed music, including tracks from the likes of Katy Perry and The Weeknd, and start shooting and editing. With a little creativity, any real-world setting can be turned into a stage for the video’s starring minifigure, and the resulting masterpiece can be shared over a delightfully upbeat proprietary social network that doesn’t funnel children onto toxic platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.
So far, we have covered toys, parks, radio, and artificial intelligence – what could the next frontier for interactive music possibly be? How about one of the oldest forms of musical expression of them all – sheet music? While digitization has transformed nearly every aspect of our lives, sheet music – one of a musician’s most essential materials – has remained stubbornly stuck in the past. It’s difficult to track down, expensive to obtain, clumsy to annotate, and awkward to page through while playing. A new “intelligent sheet music” platform called Enote solves all of these problems – by digitizing more than 180,000 works of published composition, smoothly adapting them to any sized screen, and making them all available – like songs on Spotify – for a nominal monthly fee. You can make saved annotations on your selected work with a digital pen and instantly switch between different keys. What’s more, the app’s AI can hear and understand the written notes when played live and knows when to turn the digital pages as you move through the work on your instrument of choice. Like Netflix, Spotify, and other digital platforms have done for their respective content formats, Enote might even help with the pervasive sheet music piracy problem – by making sheet music easier and more affordable to access. An interactive project that helps creatives and cuts down on the theft of creative works? Now that’s music to our ears.
And that’s our round-up of some of the most innovative, interactive music projects we have found in the pandemic era. We hope you enjoyed it – and we intend to keep on providing more uplifting recommendations in the coming weeks as we all keep slogging through this tough chapter together. We’ll explore a new category of inspiring works each time out – dance, video games, TikTok, or even decorative pillow making!
Until then, find some creativity wherever you can, stay safe, and be well. #StandCreative