Last week I noted the release of Bloom, Brian Eno’s first generative music iPhone app, which — to say the least — is beautifully done. Less accessible, perhaps, than the anthropomorphic charm of the lively Electroplankton, but as duly hypnotic and engaging as you would expect. It’s safe to say, though, that less than a week out of the gate, Bloom’s stint as the iPhone’s musical vanguard has been lapped, beat, and trounced by an app that, under the right conditions, could herald a minor audio revolution.
That app is RJDJ, from what appears to be a team of mad European sonic scientists with a good amount of credibility behind them: team co-founder Michael Breidenbruecker was one of the original staff behind last.fm before its $280 million sale to CBS, who explains that the idea for the app had actually come previous to that company’s founding, but needed the near decade of technological progression to catch up to his foresight.
Then what is RJDJ? Pick apart the acronym — Reality Jockey, as much as Disc Jockey– and it shifts a bit more into focus: it’s a compilation-album-like framework divided into song-like “scenes” (each with its own cover art and individual composer), but as opposed to passively listening to each, RJDJ acts as a reality-altering real-time audio processor that modifies and enhances your surroundings.
Frank Barknecht’s Gridwalker, for instance, generates harmonious bleeps not entirely far off from Eno’s Bloom, but modifies their intensity based on the volume of the input. Sit quietly and Gridwalker slowly drips out its subtle tones, but move into a noisy crowd and it responds in kind with a more hyper pitched composition.
What’s genuinely surprising is just how potent its comparatively mild hallucinogenic powers are, particularly the ‘scene’ from New Zealander (and former Sidhe staffer!) Damian Stewart. I’m (mostly) sure it’s not just the latent techno-hippie in me that’s suddenly shot into full bloom, but taking it for a test drive with a late night cigarette break was a revelation: his ‘Eargasm’ transformed every exhale into a glittering swirl of reverberating air and distant suburban dog barks into sudden colorful bursts. Essentially, if you’ve ever wanted to live directly inside that warm nostalgic analog echo that molasses-drips from every Boards of Canada album, your magic key is a $2.99 App Store download away, as witnessed by this demo video.
Beyond that mood altering gimmickry, though, the company’s intentions are as noble as they are lofty. Apart from the six scenes that come with the first RJDJ ‘album,’ the group has at least 10 more waiting in the wings for both free and paid future release. Interestingly, not all are simple sonic modifiers — many will introduce motion-controlled elements like turntable scratches, what appears to be a bit Generations-esque audio-ping-pong game, and phase shifting ala Reich.
The company fully intends to get new artists in on the aural action as well, hoping to evolve RJDJ from proof of concept into a true platform for new audio experiences, somewhat similar to how Harmonix is challenging the idea of passively listening to a band’s music as opposed to participating in it through Rock Band or Phase. As intoxicated as I currently am with the app, it’s admittedly too early to tell whether the company’s “sprints” will continue to churn out scenes as magical as their initial release, but even half as good would be 100% better than what we’ve never heard before.