Design

Turn Your Favorite Songs Into Colorful, Moving Landscapes With New App

by Laura Feinstein

July 23, 2015
NEW INC Demo Day presentation, courtesy of NEW INC.

The first thing guests at last week’s event at Red Bull Studios in Chelsea noticed were the glowing pom-poms. They hung from the ceiling like dried dandelion stalks and, when voice-activated, lit up like white, prickly fireflies. “LUMA,” by Lisa Park and Kevin Siwoff, was just one of the many dream-like projects on display at the NEW INC Showcase, part of design & technology incubator NEW INC’s Demo Day extravaganza. From the plain brick exterior of Red Bull Studios it’s hard to imagine that inside it looks something like a futuristic space capsulea fitting aesthetic for a location quickly becoming a pivotal player in NYC’s emerging arts and tech scene, and the home of last February’s digi-dystopia by Ryder Ripps. That evening, however, a walk down the signature grated stairs yielded a “Cotton Candy Theremin” (by Emilie Baltz x Phil Sierzega), a live-action GIF generator (Pablo Gnecco x Dan Moore), and an installation called “Snowblind” by The Principals x Studio Studio, which turned the space into a subterranean alien playground filled with opaque clouds of colors. Despite the fantastical nature of these works, one of the most exciting projects of the day was a small app with the potential to create an almost matrix-like world of sound and color.

This is what a cotton candy theremin looks like.

Arts-meets-tech platform REIFY, or “to make real,” is a project by Allison Wood and sound wunderkind Kei Gowda that transforms music into sculpture with 3D tech and augmented reality. The group works with musicians to create visual interpretations of their music, then 3-D prints and fabricates sculptures called "totems" that visually embody, and are encoded with, those songs. Then a mobile app called Stylus is used to create real-time, custom augmented reality animations directly from those totems. The result is a manufactured, technological version of the natural phenomenon of synesthesia; if all goes according to REIFY’s plans, in the not-too-distant-future you might be able to see whole digital landscapes made from your favorite songs via iPhone.

Through REIFY’s app, your favorite songs come to life.
A few of the sound totems created by REIFY.

“I wanted to develop a new visual language for sound,” Wood tells GOOD. “One that took the human experience of sound into consideration.” Despite her relative youth (Wood is 26) she has a very thoughtful view of the past and future of music appreciation. “I'm excited for REIFY to bring people together. We used to gather around record players, collect album art, liner notes, listen to the radio together, make mix tapes, CDsspend hours decorating them for someone we liked. There was a physical artifact, TOTEM, for us to gather around.” Seeing a paucity of that spirit in today’s MP3-saturated music landscape, Wood has identified a real void REIFY can fill. “We want to create a platform that empowers anyone to create beautiful and lasting physical design objects from sound,” Wood asserts.

Wood’s journey to REIFY was somewhat winding. Graduating with a degree in sociology from Mount Holyoke College, she moved to NYC to pursue fashion and interactive accessories. However, her enthusiasm for experiential design led her to dive into interaction digital art at Pratt as a way of studying how technology interacts and shapes physical space. Under artist Jamie Zigelbaum, she went on to develop and produce large-scale interact works, and to collaborate on a commission for Design Miami/Basel. After joining NEW INC, Wood met her “main tech guy” Kei Gowda. Before joining REIFY he spent 20 years building stuff like verbal-to-visual chat clients, connected fitness wearables, motion-based desktop interfaces, haptic VR controllers, predictive healthcare systems, and UFC.com.  Their story of success and collaboration is actually one of many. In its first year, NEW INC has helped over 100 makers, creators, and innovators develop advanced projects, and offer small-business mentorship. It’s also one of the most exciting developments to come out of an NYC arts institution in at least the last decade, and has offered a unique chance for young creatives to bridge the art world/real world gap.

A few of REIFY's fans, the band YACHT.

Since linking up, the pair has spent the last 9 months perfecting REIFYand the app already has its own admirers. A newly launched kickstarter features glowing praise from bands like YACHT, Mae, and HEALTH, who will be pre-releasing their new single “Dark Enough” from their forthcoming album “Death Magic” as a totem, available exclusively through the REIFY Kickstarter. (Word on the street is that the band may also be playing the exhibit’s closing party July 30th.)  The project has so much potentialand buzzthat they’ve acquired an illustrious list of advisors including Jamie Zigelbaum (MIT Media Lab), Ara Katz (MIT Media Lab, Beachmint), Ivy Ross (VP Google, Head of Google Glass), Michael Moskowitz (eBay), Alex Olwal (GoogleX), and Jake Friedman (WeAreFree). Wood and her team are hoping this invention will be a game-changer, and we have every reason to believe it will. “We see ourselves as the new vinyl for the mobile device era,” says Wood. “We want to be the physical partner to digital streaming. We're here to restore the physicality of music.”

To be part of REIFY’s mission, you can contribute to their Kickstarter campaign here.

All images coutesy of REIFY or the New Museum/New Inc.

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Turn Your Favorite Songs Into Colorful, Moving Landscapes With New App