Inception – Mobile Music #6


Inception the appInception the app is a collaboration between Reality Jockey, the people behind RjDj, and Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer, who worked on the Inception film. The app provides the listener with dreams–augmented sonic experiences– featuring music from the soundtrack of the film. It comes with one dream and listeners are able to unlock others by using the app in different situations. There is a traveling dream for when you’re in a car or train or a Sunny dream if you’re using it in good weather or the Africa dream in case, you guessed it, you’re in Africa.

The app is really exciting, partly as it brings together RjDj and Hans Zimmer, the lead player in mobile music apps and one of Hollywood’s most prolific film composers, but also due to the exposure that its created for mobile music. Below is a video of Michael Breidenbrücker, from RjDj, and Hans Zimmer talking about the app.

The technology

The technology behind the app is the RjDj sound platform. RjDj is a platform that allows sound artists and composers to create apps of augmented sonic experiences. RjDj is based around the Pure Data audio programming language, which can run on smartphones using the libpd wrapped. I took apart the Pure Data patches from the Overture dream to see how the audio was put together.

The patch uses 8 short audio files, of music and recordings, along with a delay effect to create the sound of the app. There is a global clock and the delay effect is triggered at irregular intervals to augment the listener’s environmental sound. Each time the delay is triggered its parameters are randomly changed, changing the sound. The most obvious parameters changed are the delay repeat, time and pitch. The effect sound is interspersed with the samples. These are mostly musical cues from the soundtrack, but it also includes some recording including one of a train. All the audio is passed through a reverb effect and fed to the output.

The experience

I’m using an old version of the iPod Touch so the only dream I can try is Overture. With Overture the audio is a combination of the samples from the Inception film and effected audio from the mic input. The sound you hear is mostly effected audio, with the samples coming in an out. The ambient nature of the music and the processes are relaxing, with the reverb giving you a sense of space and giving everything a breathy feel. The music from the soundtrack and the processed audio really complement each other although it might be good to have a tighter link the between the music and the input audio. I would be interested to hear the pitch of the delayed sound  matched to the samples to see if it creates a more immersive experience.

The story of Inception, the idea of being in a lucid dreaming state where anything is possible, really helps the experience. It puts you in a state of suspended disbelief leaving you open to the sonic dreams. If you’ve seen the film the music from the soundtrack helps to reinforce a pseudo-dream state, blurring the real and surreal.

To sum up

The pairing of the augmented audio experience with the Inception film was a great match. The audio experience on the app really complements the storyline of the film and it is an interesting mix of precomposed audio and realtime effects. Apart from the collaboration there are some good ideas going on. I like that they’ve gone with an album style idea with several different dreams (songs) collected together.

The idea of creating music that can only be heard under certain conditions is a novel way to think about audio. Its a more macro way of thinking about mobile music than simply effecting the audio. I can imagine a point where you’ll be able to listen to an app based album. Once which changes over its course based on different sensor information to create a single piece of music that evolves and adapts. A single continuous album that is structured but that has indeterminate sections and which is different each time you listen to it.

Inception the app is certainly making waves at the moment. Along with Bluebrain it’s getting the idea of app based music out to a wide audience. Proving that music delivered as an app has potential. Adaptive music has the potential to be a future medium and its going to be interesting to see if it will be adopted by the masses or remain the fancy of a minority…