Apps by both artists allow listeners to take control of their experience.
[Updated] At a time when Spotify, Tidal, Pandora and Apple Music are competing to see who can algorithmically individualize our streaming media the most, the natural next step is for us to control not just which songs we hear but music itself. Two apps released in the last year allow exactly that.
Christian Scott offered listeners control of the listening experience with the app release of his Stretch Music album. The player for the album—developed by the local company Spectrum Interactive—pulls up a page for each song that shows listeners each instrument on a track, allows them to see the sheet music for each part, to mute or isolate parts, and to use faders to rebalance the mix for each song.
Obviously, this is a great way for musicians to hear the album. Those who play instruments in the songs can call up the music, mute the instrument they play, and join the band. For those who have no musical aspirations, the player allows listeners to control what they hear and how they hear it. They can isolate Scott’s trumpet, or listen to his relationship to the drums or focus on the interplay between the horns. “West of the West” is defined by Matthew Stevens’ guitar riff, but it’s startling to hear the track with the guitar muted and realize how little is lost.
The phrase “stretch music” is Scott’s attempt to claim a musical space not limited in people’s imaginations the way the word “jazz” is. Jon Batiste, Nicholas Payton, Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding have all similarly tried to negotiate a relationship with the inheritance of jazz that doesn’t constrain them, and the app allows listeners to hone in on the component parts, some of which genuinely stretch—Scott’s trumpet, the double drums of Corey Fonville and Joe Dyson Jr.—while others are more conventional.
I think I’d love to hear Scott’s sprawling Christian aTunde Adjuah album, but maybe that’s simply because of the scope of its ambition. It is radical in its length and its obvious desire to make his music a reflection of his lives in New Orleans and New York. Stretch Music has more to unpack, and although its jazz roots are obvious, hearing the two albums side by side makes the adventure of Stretch Music more obvious.
In January, British trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack released new music solely on an app titled Fantom. It presents four songs including one—“Take it There”—that reunites the group with founding member Tricky, not that it’s obvious on the app. His vocals can be chopped and processed almost beyond recognition, depending on how you listen.
The group calls Fantom “a sensory music player,” and it remixes the music depending on changes in the listener’s pulse, motion, or light input. Work out to it and that will affect the music. Wave your phone around or run with it and that will affect things. Play with the light coming in through the camera and that will shape the remix as well. Because of that, every remix will be different, and each can be recorded and saved.
On the app, each track is endless and will continue to remix itself until you leave the song, and if there’s a knock on Fantom, it’s that each piece is a different slice of the same dour, post-industrial dub. Jog to it, and it will be the most harrowing, claustrophobic jog you’ve ever embarked on. That bleak, haunted, mechanical space is one in which Massive Attack has become very comfortable, but it’s hard to map it on to the urban landscape in New Orleans, where we’re short on the burned out remains of an industrial past.
Each song comes with the choice of “Personal” and “Original.” The former leads to the place where you help remix the music; the latter takes you to an iTunes page where you can buy the Ritual Spirit EP, which contains the band’s versions of the songs. They aren’t meaningfully happier, but they’re less likely to end up the score to a David Lynch film.
Updated 1:40 p.m.
Since Stretch Music was released, the company that developed the Tutti Player has changed its name to Spectrum Interactive. The text has been changed to update the name.