Songwriter James Blake’s most recent album, Wind Down, plays in my ears on my way to meet Oleg Stavitsky, the co-founder of Berlin-based audio-technology company Endel. As sunshine turns to rain, the melancholic, piano-led ambient tracks echo my mood. That may not be a coincidence, says Stavitsky, pointing to the album’s credits where Endel is cited alongside Blake as co-creator of the music.
While Wind Down carries Blake’s name and face, and was mixed from his ingredients — he provided individual “stem” tracks featuring drumbeats and melodies — Endel’s technology generated the final product. Its sound engine, trained on thousands of in-house stems, creates personalized “soundscapes” for listeners by adjusting to externalities such as listeners’ heart rates, the temperature or the time of day. Stavitsky cites Brian Eno’s “generative music” as an inspiration, with humans building a framework that machines can then arrange and rearrange.