In the 1950s, Experimental composer John Cage began to explore what would happen if certain parts of a musical composition were left to chance. Musical writing, as he understood it, was drowned in ego – like an artist’s self-portrait – and he envisioned a new form that could essentially compose itself. Cage began by abandoning the structure of the sound or tempo of the piece to the I Ching, letting the Chinese divination system infuse the composition with a random character that resembles a coin toss game.
His efforts paved the way for a new genre called generative music, which largely excludes the composer from the process and instead relies on rule-based systems for writing music in real time. Generative music has flourished in the digital age; composers today use algorithms to create original sound streams, freeing up their laptops for continuous riffs like improvised jazz musicians.
Now, a number of mobile apps are creating a similar experience right on your phone. Endel, for iOS and Android, uses the concept of generative music to create sound environments based on your surroundings. The app extracts data from your phone such as weather, time of day and your GPS location, then adjusts the sound output according to your activity and state of mind, whether you are at home, on foot or driving. hour of circulation. It can siphon heart rate and step data from your smart watch and create a rhythm to match your pulse or steps. The algorithm composes a truly endless melody, using familiar chord progressions to keep things from descending into sonic chaos.
Each of Endel’s soundscapes begins as a seedling, which grows and blossoms into a unique composition. You can group the settings by choosing one of the preset modes such as Relax, Focus, On-the-Go and Sleep; but most of musical creation is left to chance and data. Listen to Endel every day and you’ll never hear the same song twice. The artists, technologists and scientists who created the app believe it will one day fill hospitality and retail spaces. Record company conglomerate Warner Music has already backed the app with a distribution deal.
Other generative applications are positioned as ultimate study music, or providers of the type of soundscapes that encourage greater focus. Mubert, the world’s first generative streaming service, invites listeners to choose an intention like Study, Relax, or Dream to produce a unique sequence of electronic sounds. (It’s free, although âpremiumâ channels like Meditate cost $ 0.99 per month; an updated app is expected to arrive on June 6.) The result is something like listening to a DJ you’re sure to get. have heard before.
Of course, these machine-generated compositions have their artistic limits. The sounds are strictly electronic, it’s not Celine Dion. At their darkest, compositions can sound like bloated elevator music. Some of the apps produce an endless stream of dub-techno or stiff house music, presumably aimed at the college stoner crowd. (Mubert includes High as one of his six activities; another app, Hear, has been described by one reviewer as âmushrooms without the mushroomsâ.)
Still, those who are just looking to relax can find solace in these musical MadLibs. There is pleasure in hearing a beat that matches your heart, or a repetitive rhythm designed to simply isolate you. These songs aren’t meant to be hits, or even songs that you never hear again. Using one of these apps is more like putting yourself in a video game, with an adaptive score that follows your avatar around the world and changes in response to on-screen drama. Music isn’t there so much to be heard and enjoyed, but to help you take it to the next level.