The co-creator of the technology that became Google Maps this week unveiled Weav Music, a new music engine that lets artists create different versions of the same song that can adjust to the tempo of what listeners are doing.
The central question being asked by Weav Music and its creators, Lars Rasmussen and Elomida Visviki, is whether music can adapt itself to what you're doing, whether it's exercising, partying or practicing yoga.
"Imagine skiing, for example," Rasmussen explained, "It knows how fast you’re going, your elevation and so on. When you add music, it gives an extra perception of how fast you’re going."
Plenty of technology companies attempt to match music with mood or activity, including Gracenote, Songza, Moodagent and, perhaps most weirdly, Neurowear's Mico heaphones, which promises to serve up music that matches your brainwaves.
Weav, however, approaches the question from a different angle. Rather than rely on technology to mediate between the listener and their music libraries, Weav tries to place the musician into the equation -- giving them the tools to create songs that can bend and stretch to accommodate a wide range of tempos, adjusting in real time. Here's a demo of a song produced by Ryon Lawford, which bounces from 90 beats per minute to 200 and back again.
Here's how the London-based company describes its technology in its press release: "The format relies on two pieces of software -- a mixer called Weav for creating tracks and a player that can be embedded in any third party app. Artists can specify how the track should change and develop as the tempo is increased or decreased. The artist controls the composition, changing the experience depending on the playback speed chosen by the listener."
The key is that it puts the artist in control, Rasmussen and Visviki said in an interview.
"Technology can tell what we’re doing" using sensors that can approximate location, elevation, heartbeat and movement, for example, Rasmussen said. "But for it to sound good, we need to leave that up to musicians, not the computer."
There's another reason why Rasmussen and Visviki would like to leave the music to musicians.
"We possess virtually no musical skills," Rasmussen confessed. "This is part of the attraction. There have been a fair number of attempts to make interactive music in the past. They all assume that the fans themselves have musical skill. For this to work [for a broad population], we had to assume no musical skill at all."
Rasmussen has some experience with this approach. He, along with his brother Jens Rasmussen, created the technology that was acquired by Google in 2004 and became Google Maps.
"I have no sense of direction," he said. "I get lost in my own apartment. When we made Maps, we were motivated by our own needs. I needed really good maps to help me not get lost. That’s useful in building anything."
Rasmussen then spent six years as the lead engineer for Google Maps before he switched to Facebook as its engineering director in charge of Facebook for Business. He left Facebook this year to join Visviki in co-founding Cute Little Apps, the company that is developing Weav.
The company, which is currently self-funded, this week announced it is taking requests from musicians who want to participate in its beta. The beta itself is scheduled to start "in a few weeks" as the company begins extending invitations to artists. Rasmussen and Visviki said they have no timeline for releasing an app to the public or a software developer kit to third party companies that would want to build products from its technology.
"Now, we’re focusing on the tools and the software," Rasmussen said. "We want to get lots of feedback from musicians. What we care about now is whether the new technology can help fund the production of music."
Weav is similar to a feature Spotify announced Wednesday at its New York press conference. Called Spotify Running, the feature uses mobile sensors to detect a runner's pace and play a song at that particular tempo. Spotify Running is designed to showcase a new track format that allows artists to compose elastically, giving music the ability to adjust to the runner's pace.
Rasmussen didn't seem worried about the competition. When asked about Spotify's announcement, he replied, "Spotify’s running app is a great example of the kind of app we think could benefit from interactive music the most. We believe that as our lives become increasingly digital, and as our increasingly powerful mobile devices play greater and greater roles in our lives, having a song that can change and adapt -- in real time -- to what you are doing will become increasingly important. And delightful. This is why we built Weav."