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Why Adaptive Audio?

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Introducing a fresh concept with a long tradition.
By Matthias Wagner

A short glance into history can tell us that musical practice has been adaptive and interactive throughout the ages, across all cultures. Human beings shared (and still share) their stories and feelings with their voices and instruments, playing and singing for communal dance, family gatherings or sacred rituals – naturally interacting with everyone around them.

Today we know that musical notation was invented more than once in different regions around the world, just to be forgotten again. Before some European monks invented neumes 1200 years ago, a piece of music usually just wasn’t something to be repeated the same way over and over again.

The situation even got weirder in the late 19th century when Thomas Edison (and some others) came up with some fancy new technology to record and reproduce sound. Since then, mankind has gotten used to experiencing music as a snap-frozen copy of a past reality. In short: we spend most of our days listening to canned music.

There’s no turning back

But please- don’t get us wrong: We adore great records. We love recording music in our beautiful analogue studio, combining high-end vintage gear with latest digital audio solutions. We spend our nerdy lives placing mics, turning knobs, and sometimes even slicing clips until things sound as awesome as they possibly can. By no means do we want to turn back time.

All we are questioning is the one-directional, prescriptive linearity of music, with consumers being left alone as totally passive recipients of an art form that used to be a social and interactive experience. We are absolutely convinced that it doesn’t have to be this way and we know that Adaptive Audio is about to change the game.

Music by chance: From Bach to Cage

At first, questioning prescriptive linearity of music may sound a bit abstract. But yet again, history knows better. In fact, the idea of the adaptive musical form can be traced way back to Johannes Ockeghem in the 15th century. In 18th century Vienna, the “Musikalisches Würfelspiel” appeared. For this “Musical Dice Game”, dice were used to randomly select pre-notated elements which were then put together into whole pieces. Legendary classical artists such as C.P.E. Bach contributed to this “genre”. Some works were even attributed to Mozart and Haydn.

Around 200 years later, the concept of chance in music was re-discovered when avant-garde composers like John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen tried out “Aleatoric Music” (from the Latin word alea, meaning "dice"). By fixing certain parameters of the music and leaving others open to the moment of performance, this concept – just like jazz or folk – transfers a lot of control from composer to performer.

Power to the listeners!

But still, that’s not really what our vision is. What we are developing at We Love Audio (WLA) will hand over the power from composers / producers not only to performers, but all the way to the listeners. And of course it’s not just our idea: Adaptive Audio and similar concepts of interactive/fluid audio are becoming more and more popular.

What is Fluid Audio?

Fluid Audio is quite a new term that recently occurred in discourses. In summary, the concept means that music is no longer a fixed product but a fluid material that consumers can manipulate and interact with. As a result of the social media revolution, for the members of Gen-Z the media world is not just about consumption but also about participating in the creative process. In postmodern music, digital re-creation may be traced back to remixing techniques in Hip Hop.

Today we find new trends on platforms like TikTok or Youtube, where the lines between content creators and consumers blur. For example, there is an increasing number of Youtube videos that consist of slowed down or post-reverberated content. With smart tools (like the ones we are developing at WLA), any consumer can get involved with mixing techniques like these and many more. As Kriss Thakrar puts it:

“Consumption and creation can become collaborative experiences that are simple enough for anyone to participate in. […] Technology is pushing the boundaries of consumers’ relationship with music beyond the original intention. […] Fluid audio means that music is no longer fixed, and this is a profound change in music’s format.”

A new era

So, with new, simple yet powerful tools like video editing apps for mobile phones or the duet-feature on TikTok every consumer can be a potential participant in the creative experience. We’re already quite used to this process with images and videos. But what about audio? As described above, music in the 21st century is understood as something fixed and complete, but before the era of recorded music, a song never sounded the same twice. Music would change and evolve, with listeners being an active part in the process. As Mark Mulligan proposed, music will be more interactive again, and songs will be Dynamic, Interactive, Social, and Creative (DISC-concept).

Everyone’s a DJ

We totally agree. Why not mute everything but that crazy guitar solo in your favorite rock song in order to hear every little detail of it? Or, while you're dancing, why not change the sound of a track, repeat your favorite parts over and over, decide about the timing, trigger the DROP when you want to, make it fit your mood and emotions in that very moment? Why not remove the beat from some Billie Eilish song, or maybe, if you feel like it, listen to that beat alone?

Sound futuristic? Well, it’s not. Take a look at Kanye Wests “Donda” Stem Player, released in 2021:

Without any doubt, mankind is ready for next gen audio. Listening to our favorite music with an adaptive tool box in our hands will be a common thing sooner than we might have expected. But let’s think big: there’s a whole world of possible use cases for Adaptive Audio, such as music for meditation or therapy, for yoga sessions, escape rooms, soundscapes in theaters, even sensor controlled music in your living room or your car.

Music for gamers – by WLA

You might be missing the most obvious field of use on that list: Computer games. Well, of course: in the gaming industry, adaptive sounds have been a necessity and, therefore, state of the art for quite some time now. Studies show that immersion increases dramatically if the music and ambiences fit the gaming environment and react precisely in different gaming situations.

At WLA, we are just about to take this immersive experience to the real world level: The first application we have been working on is for real world games, namely tabletop role playing games (TTRPG). The app is called TableTone, and it works on any smart phone or computer. We are all excited about announcing its release for 2023.

To us, Adaptive Audio has been a dream for years and years. Now, let’s just do it.

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