MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So picture this, you're strolling through the National Mall. You're approaching the Washington Monument from east and in your own headphones, because, yes, in this little scenario, you're wearing headphones, you hear this.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
You get closer and closer to the monument, taking in the view and as you do the music, well, it starts to change, it shifts, it builds. It's almost like it's sensing your approach, like it's aware of your position. And actually, the thing is, that's precisely what it is doing.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
What you're hearing is a portion of "The National Mall." The first location aware album from Bluebrain. The D.C. based duo of brothers Ryan and Hayes Holladay. They're releasing "The National Mall" as a free Iphone app later this month.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
This isn't their first experiential music release, if you will. Last year, they organized a walking boom box orchestra at the mall and before that, they created an audio companion to The Natural History Museum's Ocean Hall. But "The National Mall" is their most ambitious effort to date.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I recently met with Ryan and Hayes at The National Mall and we wondered a bit before winding up at The National Sylvan Theatre right around 15th Street and Independence Avenue. And that's where Ryan told me a bit more about the project.
MR. RYAN HOLLADAY
What this is, is almost a choose your own adventure of an album. I don't know if you remember those books where you could read a passage and it gives you sort of a question and answer and then you can go to a different part of the book and there's multiple different paths that you can take within the story that can result in a different outcome, but they all work.
MR. RYAN HOLLADAY
And that was the challenge, and it was such an exciting challenge for us, is how to make music in that same way. So unlike a normal studio experience where you're listening to a song in a linear fashion, we had to constantly look at from every possible angle and see, does it work? Does it still stand up?
MR. HAYES HOLLADAY
And I think, yes, to talk further about how it works, it's not just a playlist that's arranged based on the location of the Mall. Within different areas that we've designated, there are tons of different elements that are mixed together based on your location. So it's very dynamic and if you go one way and go 20 feet the other way, that experience will be inherently different.
Just now you let me listen to it as we were approaching The Washington Monument and I felt it building. Not only were there sort of more elements coming in, but even sort of just the energy of it. It was just layering and layering and texturizing, if you will, and building. And by the time we got up there, it was like drums and just everything. It was this explosion of just Washington Monument-ness.
I think there was a lot of coming here and thinking, like, you know, that view, when you're walking up there, is so incredible you think just, like, how can you build up to that?
And we, you know, we've grown up here so we know these areas, but really trying to tap into how these places feel and what we wanted people to feel when walking into these different terrains. But as far as the music, I mean, it was -- it was absolutely a different recording experience because we'd start here and talk about what we were hearing.
Then we'd go to the studio where we had a giant printout of the map of the mall and, you know, we'd have markers. And we'd look at it, okay, how about if somebody was to come from this way, what would that sound like, does this work, et cetera, just trying to visualize it and remember what it was like to be there. Then we'd plug that in and bring it down here, try it out. I mean, it was certainly the most exercise I've ever gotten in an album recording.
So then, how does it work? How does the phone know where I am and know what to play based on that and the direction I'm walking?
We tried to strike a balance between being able to really tell what you're affecting and also not understanding it. Because we want it, first and foremost, to be a work of art and we don't want people to be trying to figure out what's going on all the time.
But then there are things that we wanted people to feel, like they knew what they were controlling. Like, for instance, there's a carousel up by where we got off at the Metro. It's been there since we were little. Old, kind of ornate, wooden painted horses.
One of the things that we did was as you approach that, there's actually horse sounds that come alive. So it's like those horses are becoming alive and then as you walk away, the sounds decrease. So there's some of that, but then there's a lot of it that's a little bit more complex.
But a limitation of the technology, and we actually didn't really think about this until recently, was the phone battery. I don't know if it's possible to listen to this entire album in one go without recharging the battery.
Yes, yesterday I was here, I think, for four hours and it goes all the way to the Jefferson so that's definitely worth checking out. But, yes, I was here for four hours and my phone died. So word to the wise, maybe bring a charger or something.
So what is it about the mall that you guys find so inspiring?
After having lived in New York, there's a sense there that Central Park is this very vital part of New York. And while it's flooded with tourists, New Yorkers still think of it as their park and as a very intrinsic part to the New York experience.
Now, granted that park is a very different than the National Mall, but it's always been sad to me that that same kind of feeling of ownership doesn't exist in D.C. because I think I feel that, I think Hayes feels that. You know, the stage we're standing on right now is where we saw our first concert, which was Fugazi.
First fireworks were on the other side of this building here. You know, my first date was at the FDR Memorial. Like, I literally grew up with this park and...
And he's been sleeping here, too, you know, for the past year so.
It's true. We really invest in the projects we do. We have a little fort back here. But, no, I think this Mall has certainly meant a lot to us over the years and this album, this app, is the first in a series of location aware apps that we're going to do, location aware albums.
The next one's going to be actually in New York, in Prospect Park, and then one that stretches the entire length of Highway 1 in California. But to do one here just seemed, like, fitting because we know this landscape so well and this is where we're from.
"The National Mall" will be available for free on Memorial Day weekend. To find out more and to hear an extended interview with Bluebrain, visit our website, metroconnection.org. And just so you know, the guys are working on a droid version of the album so if you don't have an Iphone, well, you don't have to worry.
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Bryan Russo, David Schultz, Kavitha Cardoza, Tara Boyle and Sabri Ben-Achour. Marc Adams produces "D.C. Gigs." Jonna McKone produces "Door To Door."
Our news director is Jim Asendio. Our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Thanks to Tobey Schreiner, Jonathon Charry, Andrew Chadwick, Margo Kelly, Timmy Olmstead, Kelin Quigley for their production help. And to Dana Farrington and the WAMU digital media team for keeping our website up-to-date.
Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts'' and our ''Door To Door'' theme "No Girl" are from the album “Title Tracks” by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. Visit our website, metroconnection.org, for a list of all the music we use.
And while you're there, you can find links to our Facebook page and Twitter feed. You can subscribe to our free weekly podcasts and you can send an email by clicking the contact link. We hope you can join us next Friday afternoon at 1:00 and Saturday morning at 7:00 when we partake in a little rivalry and competition.
From Alexandria's role in the Civil War to the sizzling saga of D.C. versus the Intercity bus companies. Plus, a new play that treats audiences to an evening of sibling rivalry.
Conflict, jealously, bitterness, a lot of bottled up emotion. I hope they leave and maybe call their mom.
I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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