What is your opinion on ambient music
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Oleg Stavitsky, CEO and co-founder of Endel, is not your typical tech entrepreneur. The former video game journalist is one of six co-founders and describes himself as a producer who brings creative minds together and creates an environment for them to work in. “I propose an idea and then take a step back,” he says.
Stavitsky cites ambient sound pioneer and musician Brian Eno and the tapping of his three-year-old daughter while playing Eno's Bloom app, which appeared on the first-generation iPad in 2010, as inspiration. As he watched his daughter, he was intrigued by the ambient noise made by her fingers as she used the app to create her own work of art. He immediately knew that he wanted to develop digital art apps for children and decided to leave the world of journalism and start an app development company.
And so he set out to build a team of like-minded art, music and sound enthusiasts. This founding group includes Chief Music Officer Dmitry Evgrafov, a neoclassical composer, Chief Design Officer Protey Temen, a contemporary visual artist, Chief Data Officer Dmitry Referenzly, Chief Technology Officer Kirill Bulatsev, and Chief Product Officer Philipp Petrenko. "It's a very diverse collective of people and we just fit together perfectly," explains Stavitsky.
The unexpected make-up of Endel's founding team - which, as Stavitsky points out, is more of an artist collective than a traditional app development team - has created certain synergies around the power of sound. The collective's first foray into app development was BUBL, a collection of digital art apps for kids that combine abstract design, sound and a carefully crafted user interface and was released on the App Store in 2013. “They looked almost like Wassily Kandinsky paintings that were brought to life,” he says.
“I've always been fascinated by the correlation between color, shape and sound,” says Stavitsky. “It has to do with Kandinsky, who is one of my favorite painters, and at the same time with the minimalist composers of the 1970s like Brian Eno, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. And so we have also developed a lot of technology for our BUBL apps that generates musical compositions in real time, depending on what someone is doing in the app. "
Endel is the natural advancement of such first digital art apps and brings personalized, contextualized ambient soundscapes to life in real time on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and soon also on Apple TV.
“We thought what if we could take these ideas, go back to the 1970s and fill them with modern technology?” Describes Stavitsky. “We are surrounded by these amazing devices that know so much and can do so much for us. Why don't we take advantage of that and take these ideas from Brian Eno and all the minimalist composers of the 70s to the next level? "
What really sets Endel apart from other music or sound-based apps is the balance between creativity and science. The co-founders of Endel realized that certain data is needed for a personalized experience. They designed a prototype for a native Apple Watch app experience that uses influences from the wearer's environment, including weather, heart rate, and natural light, to create an appropriate soundscape that is unique to that person. The app became the first Apple Watch app of the year in 2020 and currently has more than 300,000 active users per month.
Today, Endel consists of a 30-strong team with headquarters in Berlin, a second office in Moscow and other members distributed in Lisbon, London and Los Angeles.
In the United States, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In your opinion, what role does sound play in maintaining a positive cognitive state?
Oleg Stavitsky: I would like to say that because the world is so crazy right now, people almost medicate themselves with sound. With all of these playlists out there, people are literally looking for ways to get through the day and protect their cognitive state, hence all of these playlists and YouTube videos. And here is Endel. This is a project specially designed for this type of use: it has been scientifically developed to help people achieve a certain cognitive state.
Tell us a little bit about science. You recently commissioned a study in collaboration with the neuroscientific data company Arctop that uses their technology to measure and analyze brainwave data in real time. What were some of the discoveries and what do they reveal about the way people consume music today?
OS: The result of the study was this interactive diagram in which one could zoom in second by second and see where part of the sound world or playlist begins and how the user's brain reacts to it. We were able to track a person's brain wave activity. When she heard a static playlist, a certain song started and everything was fine, but then another song started and the focus was gone. At the transition between this and the previous song, and at the start of a new song, this natural decrease in concentration occurs. When thinking about music for better concentration, you have to slowly get people into this area. It works with a lot of music, but the trick is to keep it within that range. And that's the most important part. And for that you need consistency. You have to follow the person and view their biometric data in real time in order to keep them constantly in this area. With Endel, it's not about the fact that individual moments of concentration are high, but that the consistency of concentration is much higher than with a static playlist.
Endel has already worked with electronic musicians Grimes and Richie Hawtin (aka Plastikman), but for your next project you're taking a different course: the philosopher Alan Watts. Why?
OS: Although Alan Watts has passed away since the 1970s and is practically dead, we are in contact with his son, who now runs the Alan Watts Foundation. This is a passionate project of mine. We have licensed two of his most important lectures, “World as Play” and “Pursuit of Pleasure”. These lectures are so relevant to our time. Alan talks about the importance of dancing through life, being shaky, agile and flexible. He talks about relativity: how one cannot know the good if one has not experienced the bad, why it is important that one side always respects the other, that the world is not just black and white. I find these terms very relevant to our intense, over-stimulated and polarized world.
How did you develop your extreme passion for music?
OS: We are all obsessed with music - especially ambient sound - because, as Brian Eno aptly put it, it is as ignorable as it is interesting. You don't even notice it's there. It just creates that comfortable atmosphere that you are in, but it doesn't take away your attention, you don't lose mental energy to process it. I now have almost something of a professional disorder. Everything is a sound world. You sit somewhere and hear whatever: a train leaves, a door creaks, a child cries. For me, everything immediately merges into a background noise. Sometimes I want to shake that off, but it's impossible. Everything is music to me now.
What is the value of providing an experience that spans multiple devices in the life of a user?
OS: It can follow you all of these devices all day, and sometimes you can barely hear it. What I do a lot is put Endel in relax mode. I would turn on transparency mode on my AirPods Pro and just go about my day. I would talk to people, I would buy coffee, I would interact with people. But there would be what I call this microdosing from Endel. Music is the easiest way to control your surroundings. It's so powerful and it's so easy to change context. It was a breeze for us. So the idea is that people start Endel on your iPhone and go jogging, and then you have it on the Apple Watch. Then you go to the office and activate the noise cancellation and next you have an intensive work session on the Mac. At this moment, Endel is at the forefront and shields you from everything else around you. And then you come home and say, "Hey Siri, I want to relax," and it comes up on Apple TV. This is my ultimate vision for Endel: an always active sound world.
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