The short version here is that Bentley (second only to Rolls Royce in its Britishness) has cooked up a system that allows its cars to “compose a soundtrack based upon drivers’ inputs and driving style.” Basically, the vehicle takes various inputs from the driver and the road and then makes an instrumental composition on the fly to enhance the “emotional experience” of every drive. But before we delve into why this will most likely be bland, boring, and monotonous “soundscapes” of a quasi-new age music variety (remember that junk?), let’s go for a more basic overview first.
What Is Adaptive Music?
The funny thing is, I happen to know a lot about this subject from my career over the years. Bentley calls it “Adaptive Music,” but what it’s really called is generative music. This is an old electronic music compositional style that pre-dates Brian Eno by about 50 years. What you do is set up a bunch of parameters for sound generators and modifiers, push the go button and listen to it run. This is where Mr. Eno’s training in cybernetics worked so well for him. And this is also where my own training in electronic music and modern composition suddenly becomes relevant in a gearhead discussion.
Bentley has partnered with LifeScore, a company that calls itself the industry experts in adaptive music. That might be, but I’ve never heard of them, and I recoil at their terminology. The end goal for the two companies is to generate music that adapts to the current driving conditions and “driver’s style.” The end product is a series of algorithms that allow vehicle inputs (such as engine RPM and acceleration) to influence the music (they say “composition” but again, wrong terminology) in real-time, constantly varying and changing depending on the driving situation.
“This true driver-vehicle-music synchronization is an industry first,” Bentley Motors said in its press release. Oh yeah, it’s a first all right, but I’m not very impressed.
Outnumbers The Stars
Bentley further explains that rather than listening to music to distract from travel, the vehicle can compose an instrumental soundtrack for the journey ahead. And it just gets more pretentious, self-involved, and self-aggrandizing from there. To wit:
“LifeScore utilizes world-class musicians, contemporary and classical instruments, and cutting edge technology for recording at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios,” reads a statement from Bentley Motors. “All of the audio elements are recorded in fully ambisonic (full-sphere surround sound) audio using more than 50 microphones to provide for all possible future formats. In the cabin of the future, sound can be designed to come from any direction at the highest possible resolution.”
And Bentley goes on: “From a soundbank library containing a comprehensive suite of audio data and recordings, more than 100 billion unique music tracks can be composed for a 60-minute drive – more than the number of stars in the galaxy.” All of this marketing jargon would be fine and more or less easy to ignore, but, like all of these schemes that allow computers to do our creating for us, the end product suuuucks.
An Acquired Taste (That We Cannot Acquire)
Seriously, go to LifeScore and hit the Listenbutton. That’s it? That? That pabulum sounds like warmed-over theme music from the local TV news morning show. Shudder. LifeScore mixes a bunch of world-class musicians, the world-famous Abbey Road Studios, fully ambisonic audio, a soundbank library containing a comprehensive suite of audio data and recordings, more than 100 billion unique music tracks, and this is what they come up with? Josh Groban on ludes. Kenny G without the danger. Mantovani in a medically induced coma. Ugh!
See, this is the problem. You give a bunch of “smart” guys a big budget and studio to play in, and they come up with LifeScore. You give four Jewish guys from Forest Hills a tube of Testors, and you get Blitzkrieg Bop. Big difference.
All I can say is that Bentley better have an off switch for this thing. If I’m forced to listen to it, I’ll drive into a bridge abutment just to make it stop. I swear to Miles Davis, I am not even kidding.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.