There’s a certain irony in the hit song ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ by The Buggles – because we know it didn’t – but, if anything, it does speak to the Cinderella role that sound occupies in the communications toolbox. That, however, may be changing judging by the cut-through that Emmy Award-winning Swedish composers, Plan8, are achieving with their work.
The science can’t be denied. Music and certain sounds cut right to the heart of emotion; triggering a release of the reward chemical dopamine, evoking vivid memories and sparking us into movement.
Storytelling is often praised for its ability to connect emotionally, but thousands of years ago the original stories were in fact chanted or sung; and yet sometimes it seems that music is little more than an afterthought – a garnish on the main course.
“Audio is still very undiscovered in some sense,” says Tor Castensson, who founded Plan8 – the design agency for music and sound – along with founding business partner Calle Stenqvist. “Audio has unique features that are proprietary to audio. I think of it as a highway into the human emotional core.”
Music meets tech
The duo describes their work – which includes a Lyft commercial featuring a ‘flash mob’ of vehicles that spontaneously play a symphony in the street using sounds that cars make – as a synthesis of music, technology, and art. Virtual reality, augmented reality, interactive, experiential and traditional media are all in the mix.
“We wanted to explore what we could do with all the sounds a car makes, like horns, real engines, doors closing, and see whether we could bring those together to mimic a couple of hit songs. The balance between fun, authenticity and being ‘new’ is always the challenge,” says Stenqvist.
Plan8’s unique approach has won them an Emmy for their work on the interactive documentary CloudsOverCuba.com, as well as work with companies like Google, Spotify, Daimler AG, Starbuck and Under Armour – not bad for a couple of composers who used to drag their heels to music lessons.
“I had a complex relationship with music,” says Stenqvist. “I hated my piano lessons. I was forced to join choirs and I went to music school – it killed my passion, so I decided to go off and become a stockbroker.”
Sounds like pickled onions and big data
Working together the duo rediscovered their relationship with music and above all the desire to have fun with sound and to push the limits on all the things sound could be, such as, for example, a hamburger.
“We were curious to know if it's possible to enhance the taste of something, or to stimulate the taste buds, using sound and music,” says Castensson, referring to the time Plan8 was commissioned by a Swedish hamburger fast-food chain to create a culinary journey using sound. The result was a playlist on Spotify.
“We created certain rhythms and pitch to match each of the layers of the burger. What does the sauce sound like? And the pickled onions? When customers were served their burger, they were given the playlist on their tray so they could enjoy this culinary music journey while they ate their food.
“The effect is a bit hard to prove scientifically, but it did shine the light on sound and what it could bring to the table, so to speak,” says Castensson.
Other areas that Plan8 is exploring are how to convert big data into music, converting text messages into jazz for Google and how artificial intelligence can take a sound and attempt to communicate something or, at the very least, make it interesting.
“We’ve been asked to turn big data into sound and music five or six times,” says Stenqvist. “I think there are a longing and a need to simplify data and make it understandable; to add some humanity and emotion into the mix – making technology more human, perhaps.”
Sometimes this involves taking something like datasets and coupling them with, for instance, a chord progression. A stock market progression maybe assigned a chord progression that goes up and down, for tempo perhaps; in effect coupling parameters with each other and with music and sound.
Hear the music, feel the music and see if you can see it
“When communicators can tap into all the senses there is this unifying effect that makes the experience more immersive and impactful,” says Castensson. “For example, we’re building an augmented lyrics app which listens to the music around you, identifies the music and then syncs up with the lyrics so you can see the song in augmented reality.
“We want to take music and sound into new areas nobody’s ever thought of, and I think we’ll be sharing some of that with the audience at Semi-Permanent in August. There are some projects that have never seen the light of day we want to talk about, make some music, talk and interact with the audience – we’re going to have some fun.”