Interactive album apps to engage the listener #ARP2016

A new interactive music format for enhancing listener engagement with recorded music

Rob Toulson

(more about Rob’s research)

screen322x5721Rob begins with a discussion of what it means to manipulate music ‘not as the artist intended’, citing DJ culture, mashups, sampling, replaced drum beats etc, from the 1950s to the present day. In each case he’s referring to the manipulation of the final stereo mix.

Examples given include DJ Dangermouse’s The Black Album and NIN’s The Hand That Feeds, leading us to more recent works such as Rock Band/Guitar Hero, Bjork’s Biophillia app, and Gwilym Gold’s Tender Metal music app (2012), an album that never plays the same way twice.

We now look in more detail at Piano Ombre, a dynamic ‘album app’ by Francois and the Atlas Mountains, which Rob co-produced. He notes that the album, like an app, can be updated after release.

Piano Ombre was non-interactive – the user could only play the tracks. We now look at a more interactive approach, an artist called Daisy and the Dark.

In the original sessions, they recorded six versions of the same song, all to the same time grid. (app download). We hear (straight from Logic) six different recordings, with 6 tracks each – Drums, bass, strings x2, vocals and synths.  So it’s possible to listen to the ‘intended’ six versions, but it’s also possible to mix and match stems in any combination. Rob talks us through the algorithmic auto-mixing mastering builds this required. There are three technical layers to the app: GUI, rulesets and engine.

screen322x572We see the app in action, and Rob drives it live for us. It effectively auto-solos certain stems but smoothly transitions between them [JB comment – it’s a very smooth and cool user experience!]. There’s also a mix window. Rob uses the app interface to ‘crossfade’ between dubstep, acoustic and EDM versions while the song is playing. There’s a number of extra features, included guitar chords as an embedded in-app purchase.

We see the data behind the app evaluation – Rob mines the user data to understand how users were interacting with it. We see flurry analytics and an in-app questionnaire. Users liked the fact that the app was a complete package, and, interestingly, responded more favourably to interactive elements (mix, guitar chords) than to broadcast elements (band journal). The iPhone 5 version (which was more interactive) received more listener engagement.

Rob concludes with some meta-questions about the future of ‘Interactive Music’, and finishes with the observation that the content has recently been incorporated into a driving game. We see the game in action – a car drives at different speeds around a 3D environment, and as it accelerates the mix/drums become more rhythmic and aggressive; as it decelerates the band ‘chills out’.

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