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That D.C.’s most talked about band released two iPhone apps this year but no albums says something about our modern appetite for digital trinkets—not to mention the visibility (if not the robustness) of the city’s indie-rock scene. Bluebrain, brothers Hays and Ryan Holladay, did release an album in 2010. But the band mostly earned notice for clever one-offs that ranged from a 50-part composition for boomboxes to the soundtrack for an ostensibly silent dance piece in which performers and the audience use headphones. In April, Bluebrain unveiled an app which provides a geo-sensitive soundtrack to the National Mall: When you approach the carousel, for example, lush atmospherics give way to the clopping of horses. A second app, for New York’s Central Park, followed this fall; so did coverage in Wired and the New York Times.
Bluebrain benefits from our fetishization of all things techy, social, and compact: It’s no surprise the Holladays appeared at more symposia than rock clubs in 2011. Sure, their work could be seen as gimmickry. But what makes Bluebrain worthy of emulation—not to mention D.C.’s most interesting band—is that it approaches music not like musicians but like contemporary visual artists. They’re in the business of identifying concepts and crafting aesthetic experiences around them. One of the band’s biggest boosters, Beauty Pill leader Chad Clark, had it right when discussing the Central Park app at the Future of Music Policy Summit earlier this year: You wouldn’t mistake what Bluebrain does for anything other than art.