Like Bjork’s Biophilia app or Brian Eno’s mind-altering Scape, Rework_ has one simple goal: To make you experience, and interact with, music visually. Developed by Snibbe Studio—the braintrust behind the much-celebrated Biophilia—the app is an adaptation of 2012’s Rework_, a tribute album to avant-garde composer Phillip Glass, which drew contributions from boundary-pushers such as Beck, Nosaj Thing, and Dan Deacon. And while the musical contributions were arresting, so, too, were Snibbe Studios’ contributions: The Rework_ app visually conceptualizes each song, allowing users to adapt each song on the fly and even compose tracks using Glass’s trademark songwriting techniques. It’s a music experience that’s beautiful yet interactive, passive yet active, detached yet immersive—and it’s not just a new way to listen to music. It’s a new way to experience it. Period.
We spoke with Snibbe Studios’ CEO-come-interactive artist, Scott Snibbe, to ask him about the pleasures of visually mapping music, the endorphin rush that comes with creating art, and the future of the music industry.
AUX: Thanks to Biophilia and Scape, interactive music apps seem to be on the rise. Is the trend here to stay?
Scott Snibbe: I sure think so. There’s a hole in the market for the A-V side [of music] that was once filled by the LP and the music video. But those two formats are basically dead; they don’t have platforms or distribution models. The question is: What comes next?
It could be interactive apps, like yours. Thing is, could you ever envision mainstream acts developing full-scale interactive experiences like Rework_?
You mean like Beyonce?
Or someone like her.
Sure. Have they yet? Not really. But we’re talking to a lot of major artists [about developing visual-based apps to accompany albums], and there’s definitely interest from them. It’s a wide-open frontier right now in music, and there’s no clear [dominant] format. The app isn’t a format; it’s a software delivery platform.
As such, you’ve priced Rework_ cheaply, at $9.99. Was that intentional? Because it’s about as cheap as buying an album on iTunes.
Absolutely. [It’s an alternative, because] you get the whole album, and an interactive visualization of it, too. Thing is, people aren’t buying albums—they’re not buying them on vinyl, and people tend to buy singles from iTunes. [An app like Rework_] gives people something, like an LP, that can’t be broken apart. The LP was a multi-sensory experience, with large 12-inch artwork, liner notes, and the tactile sensation—we’re like that, too.
Indeed. Phillip Glass said“the listener becomes the art” with this app. What do you think he meant by that?
[Art] is the foundation of everything we’re doing with interactive music. If you’re an artist, you know the feeling of getting lost in creation, of losing your sense of self for hours. Ordinary people don’t experience that as much. Maybe they get that feeling watching T.V., but then again, maybe it’s the opposite. I read somewhere that T.V.’s really bad for you; that you lose 19 minutes of your life for every hour you watch. Which is wrong. It’s more like you lose an hour and 19 minutes. [Laughs.]
It’s all about interactivity, putting you at one with [the art] you’re experiencing. I wanted people to get really lost in the experience of the music. It’s why you can’t fast forward through songs on the app—you have to experience them. People keep adding more and more controls to media, where you can fast forward, rewind, or skip through songs. But there’s something to be said for having a continuous experience, and on our app, you can either lean back and not worry about interactivity or lean forward and interact with it. It’s like dancing, but a different type of dancing—you do it with lines and shapes.
Then, there’s the creative aspect.
Yes. The Glass Machine [part of the app] makes music like Philip Glass makes. It takes two arpeggios, and you can change the timing and other parts of the song.
What were some of the challenges you had developing an app that interactively, and visually, maps out music?
The biggest challenge? Coaching the people working on the app to understand how to translate music to visual structure, like developing visual themes that have the same sense of surprise, familiarity, and repetition of music. But the main obstacles are time and budget.
On Rework_, Phillip Glass’s songs were remixed by a multitude of artists. Which tracks do you think were the most impressive in the app?
I love all the songs on Rework_, and it’s truly my album of last year. But the Beck one is the epic; it’s 25 minutes long, and the best moments are 17 minutes into the track. It’s like a little opera, and there’s a huge variety to it, which we tried to bring on the visual end, too.
Despite the big names attached to the app, Rework_ can still be considered niche. So, how do you get noticed in the app store?
Part of it is Apple. They like to [feature] apps that push the boundaries and high quality experiences, and thankfully, they’ve considered most of our apps quality. Otherwise, social media is huge, and getting support from all the artists involved.
Download Rework_ via the iTunes store.
This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of AUX Magazine. Download and subscribe for free in the App Store.