Many of us wish we could drive to the perfectly composed electro symphony of a car commercial, with swelling synths and strobing rhythms that sync up perfectly with our distant test track maneuvers. For as much time as we put into them our road trip or commute playlists never seem to harmonize with our driving: they throw up downbeat ballads when we want velocity and suggest dubstep thumpers for lonely country roads.
Numerous apps have promised to provide a symphonic driving experience, but until Volkswagen teamed up with electro duo Underworld, none of them delivered. Their “Play the Road” iOS app is a masterful choreography of sound and motion. Turn and a cascade of synth splashes follow you. Slow down and the music mellows into an atmospheric, smoothly jazzy wash of sound. Hit the accelerator and the industrial drums kick in.
The app employs the iPhone’s accelerometer and gyroscope to track the vehicle’s maneuvers and cross-references that data to onboard GPS and video to determine exactly what the car is doing. They tethered the phone to the car’s onboard computer to obtain further information about speed and engine revs and then processed all that data into a musical programming language that produces live sound. The app also pulls data from the the iPhone’s GPS system to figure out where the car has travelled and where it is now and incorporates location specific sounds into the music. Drive through the countryside and you may hear birds chattering over the eddies of electro noise.
It’s a complex system that requires a fully wired vehicle, so don’t go scrambling for the app store yet. And as of now, is only available as a promotion for the new Volkswagen Golf GTI and not commercially. Wiggle your way into a promotional test and you’ll get to ‘compose’ your own music on a test course, like a BBC presenter did, but that’s the closest you’ll come, unless you’re willing to plunk down the money for the forthcoming GTI.
It’s a stunning app but as the videos show, it does urge drivers faster and would-be composers could be swayed into dangerous maneuvers trying to conduct their driving soundtracks. The delay in release may be not so much Volkswagen jealously protecting its technology or aggressively pushing the GTI: this app could be seriously dangerous and the famed Germany automaker is perhaps just dodging lawsuits. Let’s hope they release it commercially someday, even if they have to slow down the accelerating drums.