Generative Music Apps: Endel, Mubert, Hear


In the 1950 s, experimental composer John Cage started to explore what would take place if some parts of a musical structure were left to chance. Music-writing, as he saw it, was doused in ego– like an artist’s self-portrait– and he thought of a new form that might basically compose itself. Cage began by giving up the structure of the piece’s noise or pace to the I Ching, letting the Chinese prophecy system impart in the structure a randomness similar to flipping a coin.

His efforts paved the way for a brand-new genre called generative music, which largely removes the author from the procedure and instead depends on rules-based systems to write music in real time. Generative music has thrived in the digital age; today’s composers use algorithms to develop streams of initial sound, unleashing their laptops to riff continually like improvisational jazz artists.

Now a variety of mobile apps develop a comparable experience right on your phone. Endel, for iOS and Android, builds on the principle of generative music to produce sound environments based on your environments. The app pulls data from your phone like the weather, the time of day, and your GPS area, then changes the sonic output to match your activity and frame of mind, whether you’re at home, out strolling, or driving in rush-hour traffic. It can siphon heart-rate and step information from your smartwatch and build a beat to match your pulse or tramps. The algorithm makes up a genuinely limitless tune, utilizing familiar chord progressions to keep things from drifting into sonic chaos.

There is satisfaction in hearing a beat that matches your heart, or a recurring rhythm created for simply zoning out.

Each of Endel’s soundscapes starts as a seedling, which grows and flowers into an unique composition. You can corral the parameters by picking one of the predetermined modes like Relax, Focus, On-the-Go, and Sleep; but many of the music-making is delegated chance and information. Listen to Endel every day and you’ll never hear the same structure twice. The artists, technologists, and scientists who produced the app believe it will one day fill hospitality and retail spaces. The record label conglomerate Warner Music has actually already backed the app with a circulation deal.

Other generative apps position themselves as the ultimate study music, or suppliers of the kind of soundscapes that motivate greater focus. Mubert, the world’s first generative streaming service, invites listeners to pick an objective like Study, Relax, or Dream to produce a one-time-only series of electronic noises. (It’s complimentary, though “premium” channels like Meditate cost $0.99 each month; an upgraded app is slated to land on June 6.) The result is something like listening to a DJ you’re rather sure you’ve heard before.

Naturally, these machine-generated compositions have their artistic limits. The sounds are strictly electronic– Céline Dion this is not. At their bleakest, the structures can resemble goosed-up elevator music. A few of the apps produce a ruthless stream of dub-techno or rigid house music, likely targeted at the college stoner crowd. (Mubert includes High as one of its 6 activities; another app, Hear, was described by a reviewer as “mushrooms without the mushrooms.”)

Still, those merely aiming to unwind can discover solace in these musical MadLibs. There is satisfaction in hearing a beat that matches your heart, or a repetitive rhythm designed for just zoning out. These tunes aren’t indicated to be hits, or even tracks you listen to ever once again. Using one of these apps is more like putting yourself in a videogame, with an adaptive rating that follows your avatar through the world and changes in reaction to the on-screen drama. The music exists not a lot to be listened to and enjoyed but to assist you advance to the next level.

Marc Weidenbaum, an author and cultural critic who studies ambient music, sees this adaptive quality reshaping the future of music itself. “The concept of a recording as a fixed thing should’ve disappeared,” he states. With a generative music app, there is potential not just to listen to something organic and ever-changing, but something that makes every effort to imitate your wanted mind state precisely.

Weidenbaum states we may be seeing a rise in generative music since our phones can more computational power. But another factor may be that the category provides a way for business, marketers, and game-makers to skirt licensing concerns when including music to their products.

” That’s a little negative,” he says, however “I think it has a lot to do with cost savings, control, optimization, and a veneer of customization.” For the rest people, these apps offer a pleasing surrender to the algorithms– ones that shape the world to our desires and ask absolutely nothing in return.


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Angie Ronson

Angie Ronson is Editor-in-Chief at THRS. She covers the transformative impact of new technology on all sectors.