Science Meets Art #001: An amazing, but sadly impractical, new way of experiencing music

Development/Tech, Experience, Music Technology, UX
A Reify Token coming to life through augmented reality app Stylus (credit to Interview Magazine)
A Reify Token coming to life through augmented reality app Stylus (credit to Interview Magazine)

I’m a big fan of that sweet spot between science, technology and conceptual art, so you can understand my excitement when New York based company Reify revealed their new sculpture-triggered, music streaming augmented reality app; a beautiful fusion of 3D printing, sculpture and digital animation, augmented reality and music.

A snapshot of the music “video” for Health’s Dark Enough, as seen through Reify (credit The New Stack)
A snapshot of the music “video” for Health’s Dark Enough, as seen through Reify (credit The New Stack)

From what I can gather, Reify works like this: A 3D sculpture (known as a “Totem”) is automatically generated from the waveform of an audio file using software called “Harmony”. The auto-generated sculpture is then tweaked to suit the artistic qualities of the band and track, then linked with an audio track and an animation, which is designed to be intrinsic to the sculpture, helping create the illusion that the animation is growing out of it. When the physical version of the Totem is viewed through the app (known as “Stylus”), it is recognised and triggers a stream of the appropriate animation and audio track. The smart thing is that it can recognise the sculpture from any angle and align the animation accordingly.

With Reify, you can own your favourite album as a set of sculptures (credit The New Stack)
With Reify, you can own your favourite album as a set of sculptures (credit The New Stack)

I love this for many reasons: Firstly, it’s great to see how several technologies can be exploited alongside each other to create a stunning interactive experience. Secondly, it’s great to see the music industry innovating in the space that is also responsible for the decline of record sales — fighting fire with fire.

It’s unlikely that this technology will fundamentally change the way the general population listens to music for a number of reasons: If one pocket-sized sculpture equates to one track, an album would require a handbag and an Mp3 collection would require a shopping trolley (“I’m sure Bohemian Rhapsody is in this pile somewhere”). It’s also not very ergonomic — try commuting and/or dancing whilst pointing your device at Donna Summer’sLove to Love You Baby Totem for the full duration of 17 minutes. Even You Suffer by Napalm Death (1.3 seconds) requires more concentration than simply hitting “play” on a standard music player. Plus, if you’re getting really pernickety, there’s the issue of sound quality: Streamed music through a smartphone sound card? No thanks.

Fine, so Reify in its current form is not going to completely disrupt mainstream music, but there are still many great applications for it. Imagine a limited edition, 3D printed version of Dark Side of the Moon above your fireplace, with each track represented as its own beautiful sculpture, for example.

Let’s also not forget that this sort of conceptual thinking inspires bigger ideas in the future. Standing on the shoulders of giants like these, I’m excited to see what will come next. So let’s have a round of applause to the Reify team for breaking the mould of music consumption.

More on Reify

http://www.reify.nyc/

http://noisey.vice.com/blog/reify-health-dark-enough https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/reify/reify-music-you-can-hear-see-and-hold

http://thenewstack.io/reify-turns-music-into-3d-printed-sculptures-encoded-with-an-augmented-reality-experience/