Ambient, and — actually, literally ambient.
Mikronesia’s “Edge of Nostalgia” is a chilled-out 7-track record of gentle grooves and crystalline melodies, delivered as an app. That’s nice enough. But with the aid of your iPhone’s microphone, you and the environment around you become part of the soundscape. Ambient sounds are fed through great washes of reverb and chattering chains of delays. Recently updated for iOS 7, the result is an album that is different each time you listen.
As the creator notes, plenty of records include stock sounds of field recordings. Here, those sounds come from you. Instead of shutting out the world, your headphones become more connected with it.
It’s not a new idea. The free and open source library on which Edge of Nostalgia was based, libpd, was indeed created in collaboration with RjDj. RjDj’s team and a community of Pd users championed the idea of using Pure Data as a way of taking responsive sound off lone hackers’ computers and onto the growing explosion of smartphones worldwide.
But this notion may grow in popularity gradually in time, both for artistic and practical purposes. I routinely see pedestrians and cyclists wearing headphones, which of course numbs them to important sound information. Thinking of how to intrude on the music soundscape could become a safety measure.
For its part, “Edge of Nostalgia” is a wonderful way to spend 99 cents. Mikronesia’s music will appeal to any fans of the ambient and chillout genres, but adding the microphone is more than just a short-lived novelty. Walk around the world, and you may find yourself hearing passing cars or barking dogs in a new way. Even in a quiet room, it can be transformative. Turn the microphone level from “big city” to “library,” and even faint sounds you might otherwise have ignored sound new. Lightly stroking my finger or rubbing together my hands on the surface of my desk sounds like a rush of astral wind. The typing on my laptop turns into a cacophony of rattling percussion. A light inhale, the hum of the radiator — and then you may find yourself singing along, the delays turning a whistled tune into harmony. It’s kind of remarkable how much some simple effects can do.
In fact, one feature request: it’d be really nice to turn the music down and listen just to the mic. Unfortunately, both the pause button and playback volume fader turn down the entire mix, mic ambience included.
You can share your results with others, via AirDrop, social networks or email, and AudioCopy.
The app is the work of Philadelphia-based composer/programmer Michael McDermott, with assistance from Jonathan Moniz at DOHK.
Visit libpd.cc for links to the free libpd library.