Philip Glass is the pop music of classical. His repetitious phrases hit you like a Justin Bieber hook, grind into your ears like electronica, and eventually lull you into hypnosis. Liberal use of cellos ensures that you can be super pretentious about it, too.
Not so long ago, Beck remixed some of Glass’s tracks, reeling in several fellow musicians to help create a two-disc homage to the master of minimalism. Now, Snibbe Studio (the same group behind Björk’s Biophilia) has released REWORK_, a universal iOS app version of the album. It’s a collection of Beck-produced tracks coupled with 3-D, semi-interactive animations.
"The musical album has essentially disappeared from popular culture, and people’s attention spans continue to shorten," REWORK_ producer Ahna Girshick tells Co.Design. "We see the app album as a new way to bring back that engrossing experience we used to have of buying a musical album and putting it on the record player for the first time, sitting on the floor and reading the liner notes and looking at the album art."
It’s an interesting experience. Not quite a music video but not quite a simple visualization, each track can be played with over an hour of abstract, 3-D animations. The tracks are interactive, but not to the extent of most apps. You can’t control their intensity or color, nor is there any sort of game involved, but you can pull and pluck the patterns, leaving your mark on them temporarily, while a physics engine rectifies your intervention like a pond rippling before going still.
"With the visualizations, we had to find a delicate balance. We wanted them to mesmerize a passive non-interacting viewer," Girshick explains. "The ‘medium’ of our studio, however, is interactivity, and we delight in using tablets to encourage playful engagement with the visualizations. Each visualization has its own virtual world, with its own laws of physics and interaction. When one touches the screen, one directly learns more about this world and its constraints. By somewhat constraining the type of interactions, users get transported into that space and get the chance to believe it."
On an 8.9-inch iPad screen, I’m not sure I’d call the experience immersive, but it’s certainly a satisfying way to fidget while listening to Beck’s take on Glass.
That said, the app does hide a very powerful, quite immersive audio mixer called the "Glass Machine" that allows you to instantly emulate Glass’s polyrhythmic counterpoints. You wield two disks, pinching to affect pitch, and using some simple controls to augment the patterns. Thanks to some obvious training wheels, it’s addictive to play with, and a pulsating visual delight to boot. Within about five seconds, you’ll be convinced you’re the next Philip Glass. And who knows, maybe you are*.
If you’d like to try REWORK_, it’s available in the iTunes store now.
*You aren’t. Sorry.