Exterminate All Rational Thought, Massive Attack Edition


The app, described as a "sensory music player," provides us with four new Massive Attack tracks. Each is a totally unique remix for every user, created by an algorithm in the app that collates data from sensors in your phone to create one-off remixes you can then record and share.

"Why would we put a premixed album out when there's algorithms that'll mix this for you?"

The limitless potential of a project like this seems to fuel Del Naja's creativity. "I keep thinking about what we could do next; for example, if you aggregated the personal data of everyone at a concert who had the app then you might be able to remix the music we're playing in real-time," he imagines. "So you could create a sort of group sensory experience. It changes the way you think about performance, because while one might see apps like this as an escapist experience, it might be more pervasive. I think there's potential for it to affect the way we go out and how we share music with the people around us."

To create the experience, Thomas and Del Naja used studio masters of the new Massive Attack tracks and broke them down into minimalist fragments. In the app, these tracks evolve in accordance with personal and environmental factors picked up from the user's movement, camera images, times of day and location -- as well as biometric signals such as your heartbeat -- in the iPhone and Apple Watch. "I think people understand now that devices can use a lot of our personal data for useless stuff like targeted advertising," says Thomas. "But what we're producing is almost the complete opposite of that. It takes your data and creates a really great experience for you, without storing it or trying to sell you something. It's creation in the moment and a logical avenue for artists to explore."

According to Thomas, it's all about striking a balance between "nonlinear" composition and the formality of conventional music. "I think the mistake that people make when they think about this kind of work is that it's all randomly thrown together, but the way to make this stuff well is to build rules into the system," he says. "We have to make sure it makes sense melodically: so a piece from the chorus will never appear alongside a verse, which means the behavior of the system can change, but it will always change in a musical way."

"We have to make sure it's rewarding for the user and interesting artistically, never working against the musical intentions of the material."

Thomas is cautious about how the musical interaction with the user happens. "It's very curatorial" he tells me. "We have to make sure it's rewarding for the user and interesting artistically, never working against the musical intentions of the material. But in the future we're looking towards AI taking over some aspects of that curation, so it would be possible for a meta-reworking, where multiple remixes are possible."

This thing is really cool. Also free!

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17 Responses:

  1. Lloyd says:

    app requires a minimum of an iPhone 5s. too bad, all you Apple Watch-wearing iPhone 5 users. Massive Attack has no sympathy for you.

    • Lloyd says:

      It's utterly saddening that this app prevents you from using your slow, clunky old iPhone with your slow, clunky new Apple Watch. Teardrop.

    • Photar says:

      That's like 3 iPhones ago.

      • Lloyd says:

        Running a current operating system, though. at his isn't Android. It's not like compiling for 32 and 64-bit is hard.

        All you people who bought 32-bit Apple Watches are going to regret it when they go 64-bit and Retina displays.

        • rmitz says:

          Why would I regret it? I’ll just buy a new one.

        • Photar says:

          Apple Watch is already retina.

          • Lloyd says:

            it's not retina, even though it's similar dpi, because it's held closer to the eye than phones/pads, Look at the jaggies on the sweeping clock hands...

            in soviet russia, retina display watch.. YOU.

              • Lloyd says:

                That's just marketing material.

                iPhone: doubled ppi with move from iPhone 3G to iPhone 4.
                iPad: doubled ppi wih move from iPad 2 to iPad 3.
                iPad mini: doubled ppi with move from mini to mini 2.
                MacBook: doubled ppi with introduction of Retina display models.

                Apple Watch: has not yet doubled ppi.

                • Photar says:

                  Retina display is a made up marketing term. Anything is a Retina display of Apple says it is.

                  They say it is. It's certainly higher res than any of their non-retina displays.

                  In summary. You're clearly wrong. Good day.

  2. Juha Autero says:

    Next version could sample your phone conversations!

  3. phuzz says:

    I'm going to see Massive Attack on saturday, yay me :)

  4. margaret says:

    in russia music listen to you

  5. thielges says:

    This is awesome. At first I thought "big whoop. So they're just seeding their random number generator with environmental inputs". But after listening it is clear they're doing a much higher level extraction.

  6. Dan says:

    Reminds me of a very old windows 3.1 interactive music CD from Todd Rundgren, "No World Order". It had several pre-made remixes built in, let you control different aspects of the music, etc. All of the music was broken down into 4 bar samples so that it could be reassembled and remixed in real time. On Windows 3.1.

    It actually still worked until the switch to 64bit Windows killed the backward compatibility for apps that old.

  7. Lloyd says:

    This doesn't seem too far an advance on varying the soundtrack with play (loops, echos, inserts) on SSX3. There joystick and virtual environment were the inputs.

    Oh, SSX3 is totally chill.

  8. Jonathan says:

    It's very rare that an app comes out which makes me wish I still had an iPhone; but this looks like fun. It reminds me of the inception app a little bit, which was also quite fun: http://www.wired.com/2010/12/inception-app/

    I might try crow-barring this onto my ipad.

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