sponsored links
TED@BCG San Francisco

Ryan Holladay: To hear this music you have to be there. Literally

October 30, 2013

The music industry has sometimes struggled to find its feet in the digital world. In this lovely talk, TED Fellow Ryan Holladay tells us why he is experimenting with what he describes as "location-aware music." This programming and musical feat involves hundreds of geotagged segments of sounds that only play when a listener is physically nearby. (Filmed at TED@BCG.)

Ryan Holladay -
Brothers Ryan and Hays Holladay explore the intersection of art and technology with an emphasis on music and sound, with projects ranging from multichannel audio installations to interactive performances to mobile apps. Full bio

sponsored links
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
(Music)
00:14
For any of you who have visited
or lived in New York City,
00:19
these shots might start to look familiar.
00:23
This is Central Park,
00:27
one of the most beautifully designed
00:29
public spaces in America.
00:31
But to anyone who hasn't visited,
00:34
these images can't really fully convey.
00:36
To really understand Central Park,
00:40
you have to physically be there.
00:42
Well, the same is true of the music,
00:45
which my brother and I composed and mapped
00:49
specifically for Central Park.
00:52
(Music)
00:55
I'd like to talk to you today a little bit about the work
01:00
that my brother Hays and I are doing --
01:03
That's us there. That's both of us actually —
01:06
specifically about a concept that we've been
developing over the last few years,
01:10
this idea of location-aware music.
01:13
Now, my brother and I, we're musicians
01:17
and music producers.
01:19
We've been working together since,
01:21
well, since we were kids, really.
01:22
But recently, we've become
more and more interested
01:24
in projects where art
01:27
and technology intersect,
01:29
from creating sight-specific audio
01:32
and video installation
01:34
to engineering interactive concerts.
01:36
But today I want to focus on this concept
01:39
of composition for physical space.
01:41
But before I go too much further into that,
01:45
let me tell you a little bit about how we got started
01:48
with this idea.
01:49
My brother and I were living in New York City
01:51
when the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude
01:53
did their temporary installation, The Gates,
01:55
in Central Park.
01:57
Hundreds of these brightly-colored sculptures
01:59
decorated the park for a number of weeks,
02:01
and unlike work that's exhibited
02:04
in a more neutral space,
02:06
like on the walls of a gallery or a museum,
02:07
this was work that was really in dialogue
02:10
with this place,
02:13
and in a lot of ways, The Gates
02:14
was really a celebration
02:16
of Frederick Olmsted's incredible design.
02:18
This was an experience that stayed with us
02:20
for a long time, and years later,
02:23
my brother and I moved back to Washington, D.C.,
02:25
and we started to ask the question,
02:28
would it be possible,
02:30
in the same way that The Gates
02:32
responded to the physical layout of the park,
02:33
to compose music for a landscape?
02:36
Which brought us to this.
02:41
(Music)
02:44
On Memorial Day, we released "The National Mall,"
02:49
a location-aware album
02:52
released exclusively as a mobile app
02:55
that uses the device's built-in GPS functionality
02:58
to sonically map the entire park
03:01
in our hometown of Washington, D.C.
03:04
Hundreds of musical segments
03:10
are geo-tagged throughout the entire park
03:12
so that as a listener traverses the landscape,
03:15
a musical score is actually unfolding around them.
03:18
So this is not a playlist or a list of songs
03:21
intended for the park,
03:24
but rather an array of distinct melodies and rhythms
03:26
that fit together like pieces of a puzzle
03:29
and blend seamlessly
03:31
based on a listener's chosen trajectory.
03:33
So think of this as
03:35
a choose-your-own-adventure of an album.
03:37
Let's take a closer look.
03:39
Let's look at one example here.
03:41
So using the app,
03:43
as you make your way towards the grounds
03:45
surrounding the Washington Monument,
03:47
you hear the sounds of instruments warming up,
03:49
which then gives way to the sound of a mellotron
03:53
spelling out a very simple melody.
03:56
This is then joined by the sound of sweeping violins.
04:01
Keep walking, and a full choir joins in,
04:07
until you finally reach the top of the hill
04:11
and you're hearing the sound of drums and fireworks
04:13
and all sorts of musical craziness,
04:16
as if all of these sounds are radiating out
04:18
from this giant obelisk that punctuates
04:21
the center of the park.
04:23
But were you to walk in the opposite direction,
04:26
this entire sequence happens in reverse.
04:29
And were you to actually exit
the perimeter of the park,
04:34
the music would fade to silence,
04:37
and the play button would disappear.
04:40
We're sometimes contacted by
people in other parts of the world
04:43
who can't travel to the United States,
04:46
but would like to hear this record.
04:48
Well, unlike a normal album,
04:50
we haven't been able to accommodate this request.
04:53
When they ask for a C.D. or an MP3 version,
04:55
we just can't make that happen,
04:58
and the reason is because
05:00
this isn't a promotional app
05:02
or a game to promote or accompany
05:04
the release of a traditional record.
05:07
In this case, the app is the work itself,
05:09
and the architecture of the landscape
05:13
is intrinsic to the listening experience.
05:15
Six months later, we did a location-aware album
05:19
for Central Park,
05:22
a park that is over two times
the size of the National Mall,
05:24
with music spanning from the Sheep's Meadow
05:27
to the Ramble to the Reservoir.
05:29
Currently, my brother and I are working on
05:33
projects all over the country,
05:35
but last spring we started a project,
05:37
here actually at Stanford's
05:39
Experimental Media Art Department,
05:41
where we're creating our largest
location-aware album to date,
05:44
one that will span the entirety of Highway 1
05:47
here on the Pacific Coast.
05:49
But what we're doing, integrating GPS with music,
05:51
is really just one idea.
05:55
But it speaks to a larger vision
05:58
for a music industry that's sometimes struggled
06:00
to find its footing in this digital age,
06:02
that they begin to see these new technologies
06:05
not simply as ways of adding bells and whistles
06:07
to an existing model,
06:10
but to dream up entirely new ways
06:12
for people to interact with
06:13
and experience music.
06:15
Thank you.
06:17
(Applause)
06:19

sponsored links

Ryan Holladay -
Brothers Ryan and Hays Holladay explore the intersection of art and technology with an emphasis on music and sound, with projects ranging from multichannel audio installations to interactive performances to mobile apps.

Why you should listen

The Holladay brothers have done pioneering work in location-aware music composition: music created and mapped to a physical space, released as mobile apps, that use a mobile device’s GPS to dynamically alter the music as the listener traverses a landscape. Their first production, “The National Mall,” a location-aware piece mapped to the Mall in Washington, DC, was described by music critic Chris Richards “magical...like using GPS to navigate a dream.” They went on to create similar works for Central Park in New York and for SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, and are engaged in a long-term project of sonically mapping the entirety of the Pacific Coast Highway. Ryan is a 2013 TED Fellow.

sponsored links

If you need translations, you can install "Google Translate" extension into your Chrome Browser.
Furthermore, you can change playback rate by installing "Video Speed Controller" extension.

Data provided by TED.

This website is owned and operated by Tokyo English Network.
The developer's blog is here.