“In the 1960s when the recording studio suddenly really took off as a tool, it was the kids from art school who knew how to use it, not the kids from music school. Music students were all stuck in the notion of music as performance, ephemeral. Whereas for art students, music as painting? They knew how to do that.”
Music as painting? It can happen, as Eno knows quite well. He once used reel-to-reel tape recorders to create sonic landscapes that encouraged people to lose themselves in the ethereal glows, hisses, hums and vibrations. He’s since shifted his focus to music apps on iOS, however, the latest of which is Scape ($6), an immersive, generative music application created with Peter Chilvers (see Evolver.fm’s interview).
Our expectations for were high because Chilvers and Eno created one of the first true immersive music apps, Bloom, all the way back in 2008. Their idea for sonic painting actually predated the iPhone, as it was previously a Flash demo running on a computer with a Wacom tablet, before Apple opened the iPhone to third-party developers.
Our verdict of their latest work: Scape is to Bloom as iPhone 5 is to iPhone.
This is a true evolution. Bloom for the iPhone was fairly simple, offering a novel way to make music by tapping the screen at various intervals to paint primitive sonic layers. It was (and is) a neat way to experience Chilvers’ and Eno’s musical choices, and it can be quite relaxing. However, the music app scene has progressed quite a bit since its release.. Luckily, so have the ideas from this pair of sonic auteurs.
Scape presents you with two options on the initial outset: either create your own “scapes,” as Chilvers and Eno call these sonic paintings. Or, you can sit back and listen to ten paintings designed by the pair as a sort of album. You’re free to access other apps while Scapes is running, allowing the paintings to provide beautiful, haunting background noise.
Creating a scape is quite simple. Eight tabs on either side of the screen insert objects that play bells, whistles, or other sounds, while background colors, tones, and shapes add new dimensions. Whatever you decide to include will be unique to that “scape,” and every detail counts. The placement of a triangle dictates its tone and how it interacts with every other object.
There’s an incentive to create more scapes, because you unlock new tones, backgrounds, and noises as you go. The depth of each of these sonic tools is truly unbelievable. I could see myself finding new ways to interact with the app for months on end. It is not only tonally beautiful, each sound having been designed by Chilvers and Eno, but also visually stunning, with an understated, old-school look that goes nicely with the sonic palette.
What is the nature of music? Is it momentary or permanent? Is it a reflection of the tools around us? Is it unique to us, even if the sounds we’re hearing were created by someone else? Should music attack us, or ebb and flow through our speakers?
Eno and Chilvers seem aware of these philosophical questions. In regards to the “democratization” of art (see also: photography and Instagram), Eno says, “If you’ve spent a long time developing a skill and techniques, and now some 14 year-old upstart can get exactly the same result, you might feel a bit miffed I suppose, but that has happened forever.”
You and I might be the14-year-old upstarts in this situation. So be it. Scape is truly immersive, as overused as that word is, with endless replay-ability, gorgeous tones, plenty of warmth, unique graphics, and depth you don’t see with every music app, to keep you coming back again and again — which is good, because it costs more, too.