Holonic Systems on redefining music experience with spatial computing
Photos provided by Ove Holmqvist
Holonic Systems offers augmented audio applications for artists, consumers, and B2B users. Developing spatial and physical computing to transform real-world data into musical information that accompanies a neural network, these applications enhance and augment mobility, commuting, retail experiences, and more. The startup has partnered with artists and brands like Native Instruments, Bose AR, and Suunto. "Our platform enables artists and users to create and experience music in a playful way that combines physical movement with sound," Ove Holmqvist, Holonic Systems founder, begins.

Launching in 2017, Holonic Systems spun out of Holmqvist's previous project, biomusic.cc, which he started with his two friends, Joonas Paalasmaa and David J. Murphy in 2011. Joonas sold his startup to Apple and David got hired by Google, so Ove had to set up a new team and shift focus from artistic biomusic projects to commercial functional music and artist's tools. "Originally, the idea was to create improvised music with physical computing in order to make live performances more interactive, expressive, and understandable for audiences," he says.
The technology was developed by using biosignals and biomechanics to encompass socio-spatial and environmental data as a way to infer user context and provide relevant musical stimuli. Wanting to introduce this concept of functional music to the market, The pilot gained attention in South East Asia, scoring #5 in Belgium, Vietnam, and Portugal App Stores, and briefly #1 music app in the US. The team showed its beta along with some hardware prototypes at Superbooth 2018 and several hundred signed up on the spot.

Although the startup garnered attention at the start, the launch wasn't easy. "Promoting long-form content is difficult with diminishing attention spans, as is introducing concepts of affective, physical and spatial computing; listener expectations are still those of linear fandom and overproduced irrational emotionalism," Ove elucidates. Initially relying on wearables, Holonic Systems encountered limitations as the available devices did not meet their expectations or were discontinued. The team eventually partnered with Suunto, a Finnish smartwatch manufacturer that offered the Movesense white-label product, and became one of the first to support the device.

Additionally, they collaborated with Bose AR, utilizing the head-tracking solution to enhance spatial audio and spatial computing. Although Bose sold off the patent to Amazon in 2020, the integration still works for personal projects. "Now, we focus on supporting leading consumer products, like AirPods Pro/Max, and we're the only company to support as a controller," the founder says, adding that it was also the first to use heart rate from Apple Watch for music and head tracking from AirPods.

Another notable collaboration for Holonic Systems was with Native Instruments to integrate their technology into the Reaktor 6 platform. The Holonic Source plugin was showcased at Superbooth 2019, but the subsequent promotion didn't continue due to NI's internal changes.

Being both a B2B and B2C service, Holonic Systems is focused on establishing itself as a leading provider of functional music solutions in the mobility vertical. Its white-label product, Holon, can be embedded into clients' consumer-facing products and services. The product leverages user input from onboard sensors like barometers and gyroscopes, wearables, and external data sources, such as weather services and geospatial information. "It relies on a so-called Zero UI paradigm, in which user input is restricted to large-scale or micro-movements," Holmqvist shares, adding that deliberate gestures are excluded from the interaction model. This allows Holon to generate personalized and contextually relevant music.
The artist's part, then, is figuring out possible mappings between real-world data and musical information. For instance, spatial heterogeneity is used to determine musical complexity. You could also use the size of retail and transportation areas to set the intensity of the music, cloud cover to change the musical scale, and the directions to places or orientation to impact the melody in other ways. Distance to objects or other users can adjust the volume, while vegetation and nearby water can change the acoustics.

The platform is built around the Holon.ist editor, which allows users to create pre-composed content and define the musical framework and available affordances for Holon users. On-board synthesis is then used to generate the music, and the Holonic platform can run several different audio engines, the latest being the unique miRack integration. Originally developed using CSound and being a simple FM synth patch, both products now are native Swift apps connected to a cloud backend for the spatial computing system. The new miRack integration gives users the ability to create and share synth patches with familiar tools, which is a feature no one else on the market has.

"We envision a cybernetic, ubiquitous, and musical Internet of Everything, where listeners are active participants in an Auditory Augmented Reality," Ove conveys. With the startup's technology, participants can interact sonically and physically with each other and objects in the metaverse while enjoying personally and contextually relevant musical content. For B2B clients, this ensures consumer interactions and increased brand equity through high-profile, musical, and audiovisual collaborations with artists, while for creators this opens up a radical new way of making visceral content that is meaningful to users.
"We developed our Holonic platform to provide a more immediate and intuitive way to make and enjoy music. By transforming real-world data into musical information, we achieve a type of adaptive music that creates ever-changing musical content that goes beyond accompaniment and entertainment."
Given that augmented reality will be more mature and available within the coming years, Holmqvist and his team have many ideas on how to utilize the tech for user-contributed content and advanced interactions with the environment. They are planning to release the Holon 2 consumer demo, which will be launched in parallel with an update to Holon.ist with the geospatial features. Now looking for a pilot project in the mobility vertical or related industries, Holonic Systems hopes to do many outdoor demo sessions this summer in the Pacific Northwest.

"When we set out, we were motivated by a desire to create an electronic music authoring environment that uses physical computing as an alternative input method to the dominant paradigms of control," the founder concludes. "This was partly due to accessibility; prolonged use of existing interfaces is straining and emphasizes planning over improvisation. We aim to contribute to a music culture that is more diverse, accessible, and open to experiment than the current top-down business model of production and consumption."
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