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A GPS-Enhanced Album In Tune With Central Park

Bluebrain tells Co.Design about the making of its location-aware follow-up album to “The National Mall.”

A GPS-Enhanced Album In Tune With Central Park

We were one of the first outlets to cover Bluebrain’s GPS-enhanced app-as-album experience, “The National Mall,” so we were delighted to hear about their new follow-up project, “Listen to the Light.” Like their previous work, “Listen to the Light” uses the iPhone’s GPS system to synchronize Bluebrain’s meticulously composed tunes to the physical path you walk–this time, in New York’s Central Park.

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I was curious to know if Ryan and Hays Holladay, the brothers behind Bluebrain, had learned anything new while translating their concept from Washington D.C.’s Mall to the sprawling greenery of Central Park. For one thing, it was a lot easier to compose music when the technical backend was all pretty much worked out. “When we made ‘The National Mall’ album back in the spring, a lot of the time was spent troubleshooting the actual technology behind the app,” Ryan tells Co.Design. “We literally were down on the Mall every day, on the phone with Bradley Feldman of Bradley Mobile Media, our developer, and working out all the kinks until we felt confident that it would do what we wanted. With ‘Listen to the Light’ for Central Park, much of the backend was taken care of and we were really able to focus on how to make the musical experience as rich as possible. I’m proud of both albums, but this one, I think, is the full realization of the concept.”

But Central Park posed new challenges outside the technical. “It’s nearly double the length, and where the Mall is primarily an open strip of grass, Central Park has paths that wind through woods, under bridges, intersecting with one another,” Hays adds. “Musically speaking, it was just a totally different challenge to bring it to life. But one of the things we decided to do was to make every piece of music either in the same key or a complementary key so that even if the listener walked in a way we weren’t quite expecting, the musical shifts wouldn’t be too jarring.”

Ryan and Hays add that the Central Park Zoo offered up a special creative opportunity that they couldn’t pass up. “It’s a non-musical zone, and we used the opportunity to dive into sound design and create animal sounds that do not exist in nature,” he says. “Those sounds were then placed in the different animal habitats, so as you walk through, it feels more like walking through a zoo on an alien planet.”

“Listen to the Light” is, like its predecessor, only available for iPhone–which means that Android-using chumps like me are out of luck. Then again, between this album and Siri, I might just be ready to make the switch.

[Download “Listen to Light” for free in the iTunes App Store]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.

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