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A Mozart in Every Car

Karajan Music Tech Conference

Today’s Karajan Music Tech Conference examined the future of media in the context of automated driving, a topic on which experts, designers and futurologists have developed exciting perspectives

Imagine getting into your car and driving onto the freeway, for example on the stretch from Munich to Salzburg. You are a commuter, a Mozart fan and feeling somewhat stressed out this evening. No sooner have you gotten into the car, than you are suddenly greeted with a refreshing potpourri of Mozart remixes, precisely coordinated to the passing landscape. While driving the numerous bends in Irschenberg, you hear a string crescendo, at Chiemsee the aria “How powerful is your magic music”, at the foot of the Kampenwand mountain the Posthorn Serenade. You feel inspired. On the windshield, highlights of the route appear as icons – you click on the village church and church bells ring. You whistle a few melodies into the speech recognition app, mix them on the monitor with additional noises from the countryside and a few select genre sounds. On arrival in Salzburg, you are wide awake, in great spirits and have even written a few of your own songs.

What might sound like a scene from the distant future, is for the most part already possible today – that is one of the most exciting insights gleaned from the expert workshop in the DRIVE Volkswagen Group Forum in Berlin. For a whole day, a team of 15 designated sound experts, UX designers, sound artists and futurologists investigated the potential offered by digital innovations for musical experiences in driverless vehicles. The most scintillating impressions and results from the workshop were presented by protagonists from the Karajan Institute and the Volkswagen Group this Friday at the Karajan Music Tech Conference in Salzburg.

What will we do in our cars?

In Berlin, a select group of experts gave inspiring insights into the current status of innovation in the areas of artificial intelligence, robotics and big data – as well as the real opportunities software developers now already offer for listening to and creating music. The unanimous verdict was that it is astonishing how much is already happening. Apps from Soundhound or Midomi make it possible to recognize tunes simply by singing, whistling or humming them, and other software programs can compose songs in the style of the Beatles, or create suitable accompaniments to a spontaneously sung melody in a matter of seconds.

“Generative music offers unheard-of opportunities for music-lovers to compose a Bach fugue or a Nirvana tune themselves – without advanced guitar skills or ten years at a conservatory”, says Matthias Röder, Managing Director of the Karajan Institute. “We will increasingly have the opportunity to experience music in all its facets in the car, as listeners, band members or composers”, adds Wolfgang Müller-Pietralla, Head of Future Research at the Volkswagen Group. “Previously, the focus was on driving itself. In the autonomous era, what we do in the car while it is driving will become more important.”

Symbiosis of humans, landscape and music

During the workshop, three working groups discussed specifically how such musical experiences can be set up during a car ride. One possible scenario: The surroundings during the ride, the terrain, the vegetation and the weather conditions are recorded by the vehicle and processed into a musical offering. “Each road trip thus becomes a symbiosis of humans, landscape and music”, explains Vladimir Viro, founder of the music software company Peachnote.

Another option is to digitally condense and edit the sounds of the environment, music and passengers in order to generate, by the end of a longer journey, a song which can serve as a souvenir, a small gift, or simply an enjoyable pastime. “In this way, music is generated by our moods and impressions, and the result is a kind of customized journey”, says Asisa Asseily, a systems analyst in the Digital:Lab Berlin.

Last but not least, the autonomous vehicle of the future will be able to continually measure the passengers’ mood and help to lift it. Based on user preferences, the interface will offer more passive or active music options and make suggestions depending on whether more relaxing or more stimulating music is required. “By evaluating body language and speech or eye movements, the car always knows how the users are currently feeling, what they need, and can deliver suitable experiences”, explains Timo Schreiber from the technology consultancy Erlkönig.

At the end of the day, everyone agreed that music has enormous potential for creating experiences in the autonomous era. It is astonishing how much is already possible, and even more is conceivable and there is a lot more to do. The participants all want to continue working on the project and to look at initial scenarios and applications in more detail in further workshops.