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Classic per App

Why digital music mediation is a good idea

May 31, 2022 by Rita Argauer

Classical music in science fiction mode – the Munich Philharmonic has just released an app that makes music tangible outside of the concert hall. Gustav Holst’s “Planets” sound like a digital scavenger hunt, playable in various parks and green spaces from Munich to Los Angeles.

Image source: Mathis Nitschke

Finally, after Corona, the concert halls are open again to a large audience. But what if the seats remain empty? A decline in the audience could already be observed before the corona pandemic, but it accelerated it again. Young concertgoers in particular stay away. And that worries many classical musicians.

Interactive classic computer game as bait

screenshot off "planets"app |  Image source: Mathis Nitschke
Screenshot of the “Planets” app | Image source: Mathis Nitschke

So how do you get young people into the concert, whose world has countless media stimuli in store? The concert hall appears to be unattractive to many of them. The solution could be a music education program that picks up its audience at a point where real life is happening. So rather in the city park than in the concert hall. The Munich composer Mathis Nitschke has developed such a program – together with Gunter Pretzel, former violist of the Munich Philharmonic. It’s a music app, an interactive classical computer game where orchestral music and new technology meet, right on your phone.

New mobile app for Gustav Holst’s “Planets”

The basis of the new app is Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite “The Planets”. Although Holst composed his “Planets” suite over 100 years ago, the music sounds a bit like “Star Wars”. It is very illustrative and accessible – both thematically and musically. A good starting point for an app that should also bring the music to those who do not normally have a Philharmonic subscription. “It’s very, very strong music,” says Gunter Pretzel, who played Holst’s “Planets” suite in his last concert with the Philharmoniker in 2021. Diving deeper into this music now that he is retired has given him great pleasure, he says. Based on this music, Pretzel designed audio cutscenes for the app.

Virtual scavenger hunt from Munich to Los Angeles

screenshot off "planets"app |  Image source: Mathis Nitschke
Through the English Garden with your mobile phone | Image source: Mathis Nitschke

The “Planets” app is a mixture of geo-cashing, i.e. a kind of virtual scavenger hunt, and an education program. There are starting points in various Munich parks, but also in Augsburg, Ingolstadt, Nuremberg and even Cologne, Amsterdam and Venice Beach, LA. Turn on location services and off you go. In this way, users can simply be guided through the park to the music.

App reacts to movements

Arriving at the starting point, the app unwinds a program in which the music reacts to the location where the user is currently located. It is an immersive music game that should also bring new sound experiences to pop-loving listeners. Because not only the individual parts of the “Planet” suite are linked to the respective locations. The sound of the orchestra also reacts to movements. If you turn to the horns, they get louder, if you look at where the strings are supposed to be coming from, they come to the fore.

Something like this will certainly play a major role in the future.

Gunter Pretzel, former violist with the Munich Philharmonic

The developers Nitschke and Pretzel have previously implemented this spatial 360-degree listening in the orchestra in an app. For them, this is more than just a technical gimmick: “Something like this will certainly play a major role in the future,” says Pretzel. In principle, the classical music industry is quite open to the digital world. For example, many musicians have been working with various apps and digital sheet music libraries for years.

What Beethoven had to do with the development of the CD

screenshot off "planets"Apps |  Image source: Mathis Nitschke
Places where the “Planets” app can be used. | Image source: Mathis Nitschke

In the past, the classics even influenced digital developments themselves: with audio CDs, for example. They fit exactly 74 minutes of playing time. The reason: Back then, people wanted Beethoven’s Ninth to be able to be played without interruptions. Herbert von Karajan was significantly involved. Today, audio CDs are almost outdated as a medium, but the desire to carry music out into the world on portable players is not. Linking yourself to your own environment through music – that sounds like the holodeck in Star Trek, but also really like the future.

About virtual gimmicks in the concert hall?

The question remains: can an app replace the concert experience? Probably not. Classical always sounds best live. That probably won’t change anytime soon. But from a mediation point of view: Such a kind of music-aesthetic experience is worth a lot. Because here classics are not explained in a dry or educational way. In the “Planets” app, music is easily accessible, sounds good and can be experienced in a technically fascinating and just as playful way. For everyone, including people who don’t usually encounter classical music.

Broadcast: “Leporello” on May 30, 2022 from 4:05 p.m on BR-CLASSIC