Back in the day
I remember being in amazement and wonder when Final Scratch and subsequently Sarato was released to the post rave generation. These were amazing innovations that punctuated the beginning of the century and marked the beginning of mainstream adoption of digital music, allowing the use of analogue record decks to mix digital audio tracks live! In this article I will take a look at a modern innovation in biofeedback in this same space.
One of the features of these systems was to pitch shift music “on the fly”, a privilege not afforded to the true vinyl aficionado without experiencing a change in both pitch and tempo simultaneously, with the speed of the record rotation dictating both. The ability to separate the two was revolutionary at the time, allowing all sorts of creative tomfoolery, but the concept of playing a piece of digital vinyl was really just part of the tide of digital innovation in music that has given the masses access to previously unimaginable levels of control and creative capacity in the production of music.
Grown up innovation
The world has matured in 20 years and pitch shifting could be adequately tackled on your latest Google phone. However, the connected world has offered still more amazing new innovations and Weav, a London technology startup, have a revolutionary biofeedback concept, which is both audacious and ambitious. It promises to evolve the very nature of the humble audio track into a multi dimensional, adaptable real time composition.
The basic principle Weav are touting to not only shift the tempo of a given tune, whilst maintaining the pitch, but to also allow on the fly remastering of the mix, based on the tempo at which the music is being played. This means that for a tempo of say 80 beats per minute (bpm), a song is maybe melodic and relaxed. As the tempo is increased the sounds can morph and build and by the time it is cranked up to 250 bmp, the track has developed to include all the signatures of a stomping drum and bass riff.
Are there any applications?
On the face of it this may all sound a bit of a novelty, but it’s not. The philosophy here is one of interactive, immersive, responsive soundscapes. Imagine plugging in your heart beat, or your running cadence (step rate) into the system to provide the control signal, allowing the beat and the song to evolve as your exercise changes gear. It is also possible to use the music to regulate your work out and hit training zones, allowing a heads-down approach to training, where you don’t need a display present to train accurately and the biofeedback is seamless and intuitive. Reversing the whole concept, imagine using biofeedback to down regulate your body and create dialed-in stress relief by slowing your heartbeat. There are many compelling use cases and Weav see themselves as a platform, facilitating a service for many such vertical applications to be built on, which to my mind is absolutely the right model to investigate potential use cases and weed out the great application areas.
When we bumped into Weav frontman Lars Rasmussen recently in their London Bridge office, he was talking about the opportunities in the running world, but we have clients who would love to use this technology across a range of other wellbeing applications and Lars was keen to emphasize that their philosophy is one of opening up a platform. God knows, Lars knows about platforms, (being the co-inventor of the precursor to Google Maps, sold to Google in 2004).
Here’s the tech bit
The technical details of this concept are where it gets really interesting. Each track must be prepared from source. That is, the file required to work on the Weav system needs considerably more information than a ‘standard’ audio composition. However, as Lars points out, this is not as problematic as it sounds, because the task really only involves creating a remix of the music from the original source and any additional sound elements required by the remix artist. This is almost identical to the current process of remixing and releasing new versions of songs. The remastered version of the work will allow the flexibility for manipulation of tempo and composition by the end user under the Weav application. This process must be performed with an artistic approach, not a computer program, with the producer tasked with creative license to dictate the way a song develops as the pitch is modified.
Impossible, but maybe essential?
Weav are coaxing us to reconsider the very fabric of music, opening up another dimension and offering incredible possibilities to link music, the body and mind in life enhancing ways. It suggests we start again with a fundamental promise of composition and production, thus offering musicians in their bedrooms, basements and gyms new ways to invent soundscapes, immersive interaction between the analogue and digital worlds and new ways to market their products in an increasingly digitised and competitive market.
On the one hand this project is ridiculously ambitious and the obvious criticism is to point out the significant production costs, the requirement for artist adoption and the challenges of securing user adoption, but adoption is driven by solving problems and as evidence builds on stress reduction, wellness, the ridiculous may just become sublimely relevant and applicable in an ever evolving and dynamic space of intuitive biofeedback wearables.