BlueBrain Turns a Stroll Through Central Park Into a Musical Instrument

Posted October 4

Max Mathews is widely known as the father of digital music, the man mostly responsible for turning the computer into a musical instrument. Hays and Ryan Holladay of the band Bluebrain are true soul sons of the mythical Mathews, taking another unlikely concept — a landscape and the experience of being within a landscape — and making it musical.

In May, the Washington, D.C.-based band released an album titled The National Mall via a very unorthodox medium: a location-aware iPhone application that only works in D.C’s National Mall. As the user walks through the landmark, the music changes to suit the landscape, creating an immersive, interactive composition that you yourself control. Naturally, the band wrote and performed all the music on the app, but in execution, the app makes mashup artists of us all.

The app gained its share of attention — including a nomination for an O Music Award for Best Music App — but the band refused to rest on its proverbial laurels. Mere months after the first disc/app/whatever dropped, they’re out today with a new work, titled Listen to the Light, which can only be experienced in New York’s Central Park.

“We’d worked for months and months with our amazing developer, Bradley Feldman of Bradley Mobile Media, getting the technology into place for The National Mall,” Ryan Holladay says. “It took many, many tries to get it right and a lot of patience and dedication from everyone involved. For this version, we used the same engine but changed the music and the mapping. So it freed us up with having to troubleshoot the backend and really focus on the music.”

When it came to composing, Holladay says, “It was just a gut thing. We would walk the park, take notes and photos and think about the basic musical sketches and how they would dovetail into one another. It was sort of like a puzzle where there was no correct answer but when it was right we kind of just knew it.”

The layout of Central Park brought new challenges for the band — especially since it’s a much more dense, forested place than the expansive, sweeping American landmark. The most difficult area, according to Holladay, was the zoo. “It seemed like writing a piece of music to go in there just didn’t work,” he says. “So we decided to have fun with it and do something less musical. We actually designed sounds for a number of the habitats in the zoo that are completely non-existent in nature — sounds that no animal would actually make. So walking through it, you get the feeling of traveling through a zoo on another planet!”

If you don’t live in NYC (or can’t find a good enough excuse to cut out of work today), you can check out the band’s making-of video above.