A local band has created a soundtrack for the National Mall, and you are the conductor.
Brothers Ryan and Hays Holladay, the duo behind the band Bluebrain, recently released “The National Mall,” which they call the first location-aware album.
Instead of a predetermined set of songs, the album is a smartphone app that uses GPS technology to play different melodies based on the listener’s location.
But you can’t listen just anywhere. The album only plays when the listener is actually on the Mall.
As you move around the park, the music changes. Drums start to pound near the Washington Monument. Approaching the Capitol triggers an electric drone, while climbing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial sets off more whimsical harps and bells. Leave the Mall and the music fades out.
The app-album, which contains more than three hours of electro-pop melodies, took more than a year to produce. Roll Call spoke with Ryan Holladay about the process, the technology and its implications for the future of music.
Of all the art-inspiring places in the world, why did you pick the National Mall? This is the first in a series of location-aware albums. D.C.’s where we’re from, it’s where we grew up. For sentimental reasons this seemed like the most fitting for us. We saw our first concert on the Mall; I saw my first fireworks there; I had my first date at the FDR Memorial.
But also, for this first one we really needed to have somewhere close to home where we could test the technology pretty quickly. Driving up to New York every day didn’t make sense.
What was the process of putting the album together? A big part of the process was going down to the Mall and taking in our surroundings and drawing inspiration from that. We would start by walking around the Mall and getting ideas. Then we’d go back to our studio, write and record. We plugged it back into the iPhone and then we’d walk around the Mall again to see how it sounded. It was definitely the most exercise I’ve gotten working on an album.
The whole process took about a year. By the end, [we were on the Mall] certainly every day. After work I would go down there and try out the new version and troubleshoot it. It was constant. Rain or shine, we were definitely walking around.
How did you get the idea for the application? I can’t remember exactly how we got the idea, but I do remember having a conversation about a year ago with my brother. As with many of the projects we take on, it starts with a question — “How come nobody has done this?” Then the follow up question is, “Why don’t we do that?” The process is figuring out what the impediments would be to us doing something like that. We thought, since nobody else has done this, why don’t we do it?