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IPhone Application Brings National Mall To Life


From member station WAMU, Rebecca Sheir takes us on a tour.

REBECCA SHEIR: So let's say you're strolling around the National Mall; your headphone is plugged into your iPhone. And as you near the Washington Monument, you hear this.


SHEIR: Later, you wander toward the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and you hear this.


SHEIR: And when you head over toward the Mall's carousel, the one with the old- fashioned wooden horses, you hear this.


SHEIR: In fact, with every step you take the music changes, like it's sensing your approach, like it's aware of your location. And actually, it is.

RYAN HOLLADAY: What this is, is almost a choose-your-own-adventure of an album.

SHEIR: This is Ryan Holladay of the D.C.-based music duo Bluebrain. He composed the National Mall app with his brother, Hayes.

HOLLADAY: Well, I don't know if you remember those books, where there's multiple, different paths that you can take within the story.

HAYES HOLLADAY: They all make sense.

HOLLADAY: Makes sense. Yeah, right. They're all building blocks that can result in a different outcome, but they all work.

SHEIR: Hayes says they're calling The National Mall their first location-aware album.

HOLLADAY: It's not just like an iTunes player that that goes on shuffle depending on where you are. Within different areas that we've designated, there are tons of different elements that are mixed together based on your location. It's very dynamic.

SHEIR: And some of those elements are pretty straightforward, like the horse sounds near the carousel. But others are more abstract, capturing instead the mood of a spot, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


HOLLADAY: There's not any historical context and there aren't any lyrics that speak to that war, but it was more of an emotional reaction to a lot of the places.

SHEIR: Ryan says they composed about five hours of music, knowing full well there are some parts some people might never hear.

HOLLADAY: We want it to be the sort of thing that people want to come back and develop relationship with certain areas that they feel like might be theirs that nobody else has found this little piece of music that was tucked away.

SHEIR: As for how the whole thing works, the brothers won't spill too many beans. Obviously, it involves some serious GPS action. But fussing over the inner workings, Ryan says, isn't the point.

HOLLADAY: Because we want it, first and foremost, to be a work of art. It's not a toy and it's not a game. But we knew that the headline grabber would be the gimmick of it. So to counter that, we felt a real responsibility to make the music as good as anything we've ever done.

SHEIR: Up next, Bluebrain is creating location-aware albums for Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Highway One in California. But Ryan says it's fitting the National Mall came first.

HOLLADAY: The stage we're standing on right now is where we saw our first concert, which was Fugazi. First fireworks were on the other side of this building here. You know, my first date was at the FDR Memorial. Like, I literally grew up with this park.

SHEIR: For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Sheir in Washington.


BLOCK: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rebecca Sheir