September 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Interview: How Booktrack Puts Music Alongside Writing

booktrack interview

The iPad version of BookTrack

I cannot write while I am listening to rap music. It overloads the word part of my brain, and my own words freeze up. When that happens, I queue up Boards of Canada or something like it, which has no words at all, and my words flow once again.

The same is true for reading with music. We can read at the same time that we listen, obviously, because these activities utilize different senses. However, some music goes with some words better than others. It wouldn’t make much thematic sense to read avant-garde, futuristic sci-fi while listening to traditional, formulaic German beer drinking music — and besides some kinds of music are simply too intrusive (usually intentionally) to permit the reading anything except, maybe, 140-characters or less.

So, what would the perfect music be for reading whatever you’re reading? Booktrack thinks it has cracked this particular code by composing music that specifically goes with particular books, from scratch. It alters the music as you read, so that the resulting soundtrack matches not only the book in general, but the particular words you are reading.

We had to know more about how this idea, which has received investment from PayPal zillionaire Peter Thiel, worked — even though it didn’t come out today, and some people think it’s silly. Granted, following an animated arrow is not how I want to read. But I would like some appropriate music to go with whatever I’m reading. We wondered, how does Booktrack make that happen? So we asked (edited for length and clarity).

Eliot Van Buskirk, How does Booktrack create its music? How many composers are there, how do they do it, how does it expand or contract based on the reader’s speed, and so on?

Paul Cameron, co-founder and CEO, Booktrack: Each Booktrack project is treated uniquely, and depending on the budget unique composition or music libraries are used to create the music and ambiance sounds that make up the soundtrack. Normally, the Academy Award-winning sound Studio Park Road Post Productions (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) completes all of Booktrack’s audio, and a single composer is used for each Book title. But for the [H.G. Wells] Time Machine release, the Indaba Music community submitted over 600 audio tracks from which the winning audio files were selected and combined to form the Booktrack soundtrack. The result was amazing and showed a great appetite from musicians to participate in Booktrack projects.

Booktrack and Indaba music make a great combination as both companies are innovating uniquely around music and audio. It has been a pleasure to work with Indaba and we look forward to many more competitions in the future.

Booktrack is creating a new type of digital entertainment content with its technology that combines ambiance audio and music into a soundtrack that automatically synchronized to the individual’s reading speed and to the story line. (Note: This is not an Audiobook. Booktrack consist of a cinematic soundtrack played while users read to themselves.) Each audio file is cued uniquely to match the readers reading speed and the reader can at anytime update where the reading by double tapping on any word and the soundtrack will synchronize back to the text. By altering when audio files start, stop and loop based on the users reading speed the reader is completely immersed in the author’s world Where did the idea to do this come from. Was there a “Eureka” moment, or how did it otherwise happen?

Cameron: The idea arose from my brother, Mark, who was commuting to Hong Kong by ferry every day. During the trip, Mark would read books and articles while listening to music on his iPod. On occasion, there would be serendipitous moments where the music and the text would align tonally and thematically, enhancing the experience of both. He called me up to explore how we might be able to make this happen on a regular basis for all readers. I was running a team of developers at the time, so we started prototyping and developing, and from that, Booktrack was born. Users of the Indaba collaborative recording service recently banded together to make a BookTrack for H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which is available as an in-app purchase within the BookTrack app. What has the response been to Time Machine so far, and has it been different to the other titles?

Cameron: The response to the Time Machine Booktrack edition has been great. The idea of crowdsourcing a Booktrack from the Indaba Music community has definitely attracted a lot of people to Booktrack to try The Time Machine for themselves, and the reaction has been very positive with one reader claiming “Very enjoyable. Adds a delightful new dimension to reading.” The most downloaded Booktrack title was “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” which was downloaded more than 100,000 times from the Apple iTunes App Store in 105 countries, making it one of the most globally downloaded eBooks of 2011.

All current enhanced e-books take you away from the reading experience by adding videos or games. Booktrack is the only “lean back and just read,” passive-participation model within the sector focused entirely on enhancing the age-old practice of reading words while you read. Proof of Booktrack’s effectiveness is research conducted by Professor of Communications Liel Leibovitz at New York University, who concluded that Booktrack’s innovative technology provides “a significant benefit in terms of increased, clarity, focus and retention of information over traditional e-reading.”

We believe that our solution — which relies on patented algorithms and other technology that we have developed in-house — is the cleanest, purest, and most sophisticated solution of a problem that artists have been facing since the creation of opera more than 400 years ago: How do we merge sound with text to create an immersive multimedia experience. The Indaba Music community have proven what is possible with Booktrack and future possibilities are endless.

You can download the Booktrack Bookshelf app for iPhone/iPad, Android, Mac, or Windows.

  • Karl Markham

    Any links to Leibovitz’s research?