Finding a way for members of the blind and low-vision community to experience music videos was a very personal project for X Ambassadors.
Casey Harris, the band's keyboard player, has been blind from birth. He provided the inspiration and impetus as the group collaborated with Listen, a provider of sensory campaigns and activations. Using Microsoft Windows Sonic 3D audio technology, they created a mobile app for the band's thumping, insistent track "Boom" that evokes intense imagery for listeners, though it contains no video content.
"We came to this idea of kind of an AR-like thing, but for audio instead of visuals, and that hadn't really been done before," Harris says.
After installing the app, users can play "Boom" along with two different soundscapes layered on top of the music itself. "Bushwick" captures the grit and energy of the Brooklyn neighborhood where X Ambassadors used to rehearse. "Ithaca" presents a rural journey inspired by the central New York hometown of Casey and his brother, Sam, the band's singer and guitarist. Rotating the device makes some sounds surface, while others recede.
"We wanted to capture what each environment felt like, because they were both so formative for us and mean a lot," Harris says. "We wanted there to be a sort of narrative—almost a story arc—going along with 'Boom,' because the song tells a story, and you sort of travel along with the perspective of the character in the story."
Steve Milton, founding partner at Listen, elaborates: "Since the song so clearly creates a visual around the protagonist 'walking away,' we tried to find sonic elements that matched the narrative. For instance, when Sam sings about getting a new tattoo in Bushwick, you hear him go into the shop, interact with the artist, and get a tattoo. On [the lyric] 'zoom zoom zoom' you can hear traffic—in both Bushwick and Ithaca—and at the end of the song, when Sam sings about a 'big storm' coming, you hear thunder and rain, and the protagonist begins to run, which you also hear."
Each user, of course, takes a somewhat different journey, filling in details based on their own lives and imagination.
Here's the conventional video for the song on YouTube (note the lights flashing the title in braille):
While promoting inclusivity and acceptance, the initiative also provides another level of artistry for fans to enjoy. "The app is for everybody," Harris says. "I hope visually impaired people enjoy and get a lot out of it, but I'm also really excited for sighted people and everyone else to experience the world—and a music video—in a totally new way."
What's more, on X Ambassadors current tour, the band provides a VIP pre-show event with sounds, fragrances and props that evoke a crackling woodland bonfire from Ithaca and a bustling Bushwick bodega.
"We're going to keep on pushing boundaries," Harris says, "trying new things as much as possible to make our music available to as many different types of people as we can."