Better Know a FlashFWD Honoree: The Scott Snibbe Interview

by Kyle Mammarella

Scott Snibbe is a man of many talents. He is a researcher, an entrepreneur, and an interactive media artist. What may be his crowning achievement, though, is how he has revolutionized the digital music experience. Last year, his company, Sinbbe Interactive, collaborated with Björk on “Biophilia” – the first ever app-album – Snibbe has taken digital music to the next level, inspiring a new way of making and selling albums to consumers, who seem to want to do more now than just listen.

As an artist, Snibbe’s work was largely influenced by cinema, particularly animation and surrealist film. His works have mixed live film and performance and often involve some degree of real-time interaction. In addition to his works in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Modern Art, his interactive projects have been incorporated into concert tours, Olympics, science museums, airports, and other major public spaces and events. But it was his work on music-based apps, namely, Oscilloscoop and Bubble Harp, that caught the attention of Björk.

She had already been experimenting with touchscreen instruments to compose and record music when Apple introduced the iPad. Intrigued by the technology, she strove to move beyond the superficiality of the apps that then existed and create a truly interactive music experience. That’s when she turned her attention to Snibbe.

What emerged from their collaboration was “Biophilia.” Replete with visualizations, games and musical scores, “Biophilia” has elevated music apps from simple, superficial tools used mainly for tour updates or bonus material to a tool that allows each song to become its own visual-and-audio experience, allowing fans to interact with music in a whole new way.

In an interview with NPR, Björk said of the app, “The interactiveness goes really to the core of the music, the structure of the song. It’s not just something like an accessory… It is the song.”

In the wake of the recorded music industry’s decline since the advent of the digital era, Snibbe Interactive has, in effect, created a new way of making and selling albums to consumers, who seem to want to do more now than just listen. His ideas are allowing musicians to create a complete experience around their music, while giving consumers an opportunity to engage more fully with their favorite artists, songs, and albums in fun and interesting ways.

SoundCtrl’s Dave Mainella had an oppotunity to chat with Snibbe…

SoundCtrl - What drew you to music?

Scott Snibbe - I’ve been working with interactive music since I was a little kid, when I first got an Apple II computer. That’s when I started writing programs that were interactive audio/visual programs. And I used to play an instrument; I used to play the flute. I worked at an interactive music research group in the 1990s. We did a lot of work on how to create new types of visual/musical instruments, that ordinary people can use to create music that sounds professional. I had the chance to work with a couple of great artists like Lori Anderson and Brian Eno, as well as doing a bunch of original work. We got very close to video game deals, which was the way we were thinking of distributing at the time, but none of it really made it out of the lab. It’s more like a passion me and my friends have had for a long time, but we never had a way to distribute interactive music creations. There was a kind of movement with musical games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, but I was really interested in going beyond games, to have experiences where people are simply creating or having a social experience around music. It’s very different than a game. I don’t think everything has to be turned into a game in order for it to be popular.

SC – Spontaneity/improvisation/interaction?

SS – We tried to make it kind of gateway, where its possible to lean back and enjoy these apps because not everybody understands the interactivity or they need a gentle path into it. We made all the apps so that you can get some kind of experience even if you were laying back. But they would reward your engagement, either as an interactive song or a kind of interactive instrument experience.

SC – How successful do you view “Biophilia” as a return to an immersive experience in music?

SS – Based on the feedback, it’s very successful. Some of the first reviews that we saw were something like “wow I haven’t had this experience in 20 years”… “completely immersed”… “completely engaged.”

SC – Do you think you can go further?

SS – Absolutely. On the app side our primary focus is reinventing the app, the album as an app, and also reinventing the single as an app. This is for numerous reasons, but the main reason is to get people more engaged with music again. We’ve lost the falling in love phase with music that we used to have with albums and singles, where you’d give them all your attention and play them at home and read the liner notes. Now we have a kind of casual relationship with music.

SC – How well do you view the iPad as a platform for music?

SS – Music is a big category on the iPad. There are a ton of apps. That said, I think there’s a lot to do. To be honest, maybe sadly, I think it will probably change peoples’ views of traditional instruments. It’s much more likely that the ease, sophistication, and range of the iPad as an instrument is going to be extremely seductive. Or perhaps it will be a gateway into other instruments. We’ll see. But my bet is that music is probably moving more to these mobile devices. You can take them around with you; you can play them anywhere, in the park, on the subway. Some things you can’t do with your clarinet or piano.

SC – What’s your favorite music?

SS – All-time favorite artists, ones I’ve listened to for 25 years: Sonic Youth, Stereolab, New Order, Kids. I was really into new wave and also punk music. There’s a lot of cool contemporary electronic music that I like a lot, like Foster the People, The Hundred in the Hands.

And obviously Björk, which goes without saying. I was a Sugarcubes fan. It was really pleasing getting involved with the “Biophilia” project. When she called me I was listening to “Debut” still, all the time.

I just love electronic music. New Order was one of the pioneers. That was a time when you were really considered a super nerd if you used a computer. And then New Order puts out these albums that look like floppy disks. They were deliberately saying, “computers are cool. It’s a great thing to make music with.” That’s part of what I like about New Order. They’re very original, the way they mix together electronic and disco elements.

SC – Are there any new projects you’re working on?

SS – Oh yeah, and I wish I could tell you about them. I wish I could mention them. We’re working with some really terrific bands. There’s quite a bit of interactive music projects that you’ll see.

I’m also excited to show the simple end of what is possible. “Biophilia” is like the pinnacle, the feature length, full of complexity. I’m really interested to also show what can be done with little apps, like an interactive single.

Snibbe Interactive will be honored at the 2012 FlashFWD Awards for Best in Mobile & Tablet on May 15. For more information on FlashFWD and to RSVP, click here.

Dave Mainella is a musician, producer, composer, and writer living in
New York. He graduated from New York University in 2011 with a Jazz
Studies degree. See what he’s up to @DaveMainella.

Kyle Mammarella is a New York based artist manager and music enthusiast.