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Augmented music

The latest Finnish examples of using multimedia to add to the way people experience music via use of new media are augmented reality application Arilyn, and SibHack, an event for programmers.

Augmented reality appears in the printed FMQ issue via Arilyn.

BY Heidi Horila

As the competition for listeners gets more fierce, the pressure to offer audiences more exclusive content and new experiences, as well as perspectives, grows. The latest Finnish examples of using multimedia to add to the way people experience music via use of new media are augmented reality application Arilyn, and SibHack, an event for programmers.

I look at the cover of Taitekohdassa, singer-songwriter Samuli Putro’s latest album, through a smartphone. Putro comes alive, standing within the cover, telling me a story. It feels mystical and exciting. Finally, Putro gives us a hint: “Find the smallest possible bill in your wallet and look at it tomorrow.” The three artistically realised stories involved make up an adventure, and by solving the puzzles provided, you get to see Putro’s new video for “Kuka tahansa kelpaa” before it’s officially released.

The music video launch described above was designed and implemented, together with Putro himself, by Finnish media company Robust North, using Arilyn, an application they’d developed. Arilyn is an augmented reality service that makes it possible to bring to life a variety of objects ranging from record covers to posters or stickers. The app allows the addition of practically any digital content to any graphic surface, so that the additional content can be viewed when a smart device is pointed at said surface.

“Arilyn is like a new media window that works in many directions, as an interaction between artist and fan,” explains Otso Kähönen, one of the developers of Arilyn and founders of Robust North.


A record cover comes alive

The basic idea for the Arilyn app was born in the spring of 2013. It came from an interactive map and the potential of using location data to build a new kind of game-like service as a part of the promotion campaign for Michael Monroe’s album Horns and Halos. Fans would be tasked with finding hints and solving puzzles on the map, with the reward being access to unreleased materials, such as photos taken at the locations the hints pointed to.

This campaign couldn’t be implemented due to timetable restrictions, but the idea stayed with Kähönen.

Further elaborated upon, the possibilities augmented reality opens up became a part of the plans of Kähönen and his partners Otto Laurila and Emmi Jouslehto. The focus switched from a global map to a smaller scale and the trio started looking at what combining augmented reality and location data could offer as a part of posters, record covers or stickers.

“As far as we knew, no such augmented reality services had been available in Finland at that time,” Kähönen recalls.

In the rest of the world, augmented reality has been used for years in areas ranging from marketing and industrial design to healthcare and surgery, as well as games and location-based information. Daqri and Layar are among the pioneers of the field.

In practice, an object with Arilyn content comes alive, manifests virtually and, as in the case of Samuli Putro, provides the user with hints about other objects containing augmented reality. The object itself does not require any additional codes or modifications to its surface.

“In Putro’s case we made sure to choose objects every fan would have, hence the cover for Taitekohdassa, a five euro bill and a passport,” Kähönen explains. The point is to offer interesting content that is easy to use.

“Arilyn is an instrument and a tool that enables a new kind of experience, but the quality and substance of the content viewable through it is still of paramount importance. The content can be given parameters related to time and location, which expands its potential use almost infinitely,” says Kähönen.

In addition to Samuli Putro’s record, Arilyn has been used in Finnish restaurant and lifestyle magazines, the launch of the Love Milla teen TV series and Antroposeeni, a mixed reality game and virtual gallery.


New media, traditional experiences

Robust North has just started a co-operation with Finland’s most important and hallowed rock club Tavastia and ticket service Tiketti. They want to see if Arilyn can be used to market concerts and other events.

Tavastia’s CEO Juhani Merimaa thinks the time is ripe for using augmented reality as a part of music marketing, thanks to the transformation media is undergoing and people’s behaviour in relation to various media.

“We’re testing to see how marketing of this sort might work and how the audience takes to it. The meeting of the artist and fan should be the focal point here. A concert poster that comes to life or a ticket that relays a greeting from the artist can help make the encounter of fan and artist more personal or localised. Augmented reality services offer a lot of options,” says Merimaa.

Even though different media play an increasingly significant role in people’s lives, the communicative relationship between artist and audience is not going anywhere.

“The fact that people will come to a physical space the show is in to have a collective experience is still the starting point,” Merimaa sums up.


Entertainment and information

Augmented reality services can be used to produce content and experiences, and on the other hand it can be utilised as information in festival guides and catalogues. This brings up a question: what’s wrong with plain old reality?

“Nothing really, but nowadays reality is a lot more than what we see around us. We are in almost constant contact with some electronic form of media and we save our memories on the net. A constant hunger for entertainment and information is natural to us. This service meets that need,” ruminates Kähönen.

He brings up the folding of time-based continuums and the examination of historical possibilities as examples. Augmented reality can offer the kind of strata and content that can’t be made visible via other means.

“Let’s take Tavastia club forty years ago – what happened then? Events from those times have been documented and an augmented reality service could make this rock history visible via a virtual window into the past of the very space you are in at the time. It’d be like travelling in time,” speculates Kähönen.

“We’re interested in working with grassroots and underground cultures where there’s a strong fan perspective and a real passion for the work. At first we are going to be looking at music, movies and the arts as the basis for our services. It’s also a call to action for people to try something new,” Kähönen says.


SibHack brought together coders and classical music

What would The Birch or The Spruce by Jean Sibelius look or sound like after groups of programmers got their hands with them? SibHack, a weekend-long event organised at the Finnish National Gallery Ateneum in October 2014, sought an answer to this question.

The idea behind this playful event was to bring together coders and classical music. Participation was open to individuals and small groups. The teams worked and spent two nights in the inspiring environs of the art museum. The demo videos were shown and a winner chosen as the weekend wound down.

“Sibelius was a hacker in his own time. He observed his surroundings and thought about how to model things like nature in his music. The name SibHack comes from Sibelius and hackathon, i.e. a coding event where programmers work together on a project related to information processing. At SibHack Sibelius’s composition process was, for example, reversed. One group created a tree simulator and took the composer’s music as a starting point for it,” says Katariina Nyberg, digital producer for the Sibeliuksen syntymäkaupunki (Town of Sibelius’ Birth) foundation and the initiator of the event.

Among the participants were professionals of all stripes, from people in the IT business to graphic professional, sound and game designers, as well as musicians and composers. The ten best teams were chosen for Sunday’s demo presentation. A team called Misaki with a virtual violin game modelled after Guitar Hero emerged as the winner. Players had to play Sibelius’s challenging violin concerto using the keyboard as the violin and the mouse as the bow.

“Even though the idea for the game was by no means revolutionary, it let people experience in a fun way how challenging classical music can be. It opens up the world of classical music in a very concrete way,” explains Nyberg.

Other demos produced as a part of the competition included interactive installations and various visualisations combining sound and image.

SibHack helps reach potential future consumers of classical music. By getting to know the iconic composer on the coders’ own turf, some of the prejudices and myths related to classical music are easier to dispel. And vice versa. “For many of the participants, the picture they had of Sibelius was totally changed when they examined the composer form a new perspective. Or for the first time,” exalts Nyberg.

Nyberg thinks teenagers and young adults are frequently forgotten in musical education, which isn’t wise. When the young generation hits middle age, it’s assumed they’ll somehow find classical music even if there’s a lengthy fallow period in their musical education.

“Events like SibHack reach people in their twenties, especially men, who aren’t usually exposed to classical music,” sums up Nyberg.

The aim is to develop the SibHack concept, which is based on the Hack The Quartet event organised originally in Bristol, and see what different directions it can go in.


Heidi Horila is a freelance journalist and critic who operates in the spheres of arts and culture, and is inspired by all kinds of cultural and social collisions.

Translation: Arttu Tolonen