For the release of the new Golf GTI, VW looked to reinvent driving music…by reactifying it. What resulted was Play The Road – a completely reactive piece of music, specially tailored to be driven, not just listened to.

In 2013, Play The Road won both the Epica Award for Creative Technology, and the Music And Sound award for Best original Composition in the non-broadcast and viral advertising category.

The music itself was composed by UK electronica pioneers Underworld, with extra help from Nick Ryan. Reactify’s involvement was to perform all of the music programming i.e. taking Underworld’s music and making it react to the data coming from the car/iPhone.

In addition to the official ad spot seen above, a unedited, multi-angle video of an entire run of the piece can be seen here:

Below is a press summary we wrote about the project, and the project site can be found here.

Play The Road really is a project that perfectly encompasses and demonstrates the concept and potential of reactive music, the field that Reactify has been working in for the past few years. Putting people in a controlled environment with a high-quality sound system, no distractions and only the simple brief of ‘playing the road’ brilliantly showcases the music, the technology, and the magic that happens when the two disciplines meet.

The path to reinvent driving music was far from linear, with lots of experimentation, discussion and reworking along the way, but with a goal of this scale, a winding road was inevitable.

From the very beginning of the project we were all very keen to get in the car and start testing out reactive proofs of concepts in situ. As expected, relatively basic concepts such as controlling the mix of instruments with speed, detecting geo-fences, and mapping spikes in acceleration to sound effects all came fairly quickly and easily. More in-depth interactions such as how the music glitches when you turn sharply and the transitions from one musical section in to another took more development and trial-and-error. Many days were spent in airfields simply trying out various mappings of musical interaction to driver actions. All the time we were looking for a set of reactive ideas that struck a perfect balance between a few key qualities:
• intuitiveness, i.e. how natural the sensation of how the music reacts to your driving feels (ideally it should feel like second nature)
• driver satisfaction i.e. how fun it is to interact with the music in this way (ideally, it makes you smile)
• musical flexibility and interest i.e. how far could we push this interaction to offer a range of interesting musical results without them getting repetitive

In total, we must have experimented with at least thirty different ways in which the music could react to how the car was being driven. Many encompassed some of the above qualities, but only a handful fulfilled them all. Once we had done enough research and development with these interactions, and we had an understanding of the tools we had at our disposal, it became a case of ensuring that they served the narrative of the music and that the final piece was a beautifully crafted musical experience, as opposed to simply a dry showcase of the technology behind it.

What resulted is a piece that uses a carefully selected subset of the concepts we explored, and I feel it very effectively exhibits the best of our research, both from technical and artistic points of view, delivering a truly perspective-changing experience of what listening to a piece of music can really be.

The level of detail to which the musical elements react to the listener’s actions in this project is unprecedented. Creating a sonic experience that reacts to how someone drives a car has been a fascinating journey that has not only stretched what was possible technically, but also pushed the boundaries of the quality of reactive music.