It's time for another behind-the-scenes look at some of our work for the National Blues Museum, which opened this April in downtown St Louis. We spent a fair amount of 2015 working on several exhibits - today we're going to look at the Blues Legend series of interactive experiences!
The idea - as it was originally explained to us - for Blues Legend was to give visitors a feeling of how each of three instruments was played, how it fit in to the Blues, and to give users a cursory idea of several different blues styles.
The idea was that users would actually record their own performance on a touch-screen version of each instrument, and mix-and-match their harmonica, guitar, and piano tracks in the end!
An outside consultant had already defined 6 well-known musicians each for harmonica, guitar, and piano, with some rough ideas of the styles they represented. These were for reference but of course we couldn't just do covers of all those songs - we needed to write new music "in the style" of all these unique players.
That was a great start, and an amazing idea for an exhibit, but it left us with 18 songs, 18 artists, 3 instruments, 4 kiosks, about 9 (slightly overlapping) styles, and not much else! We spent several months researching and collaborating with a variety of musicians here in St Louis, and eventually came up with a matrix of 7 styles, where each style overlapped with either 1 or 2 others, maximizing users' educational, playing, and creative experiences,
The next step, after we defined these styles, was writing and recording them. Once again we spent several days at Shock City studios recording backing tracks as well as individual instruments for users to "play." It was an honor to work with some of the best Blues musicians in St Louis, who were generous enough to spend some time working within our parameters, helping us craft phrases that represented those historical musicians, and trying take after take till it all worked together.
When it came to editing, we were essentially re-building Guitar Hero, creating tiny phrases that would be played back instead of letting users actually play whatever note they could manage to hit, We created melodies, phrases, MIDI files, timing spreadsheet, and lots of other data to make it all come together. We decided early on that giving users too much freedom would end up in not-very-musical chaos!
Below are a few examples of the original music we wrote, recorded, and edited. There are three of our "styles" that overlap and cross-pollinate, plus a few of the phrases from the guitar interactive to show just how detailed this process was!
As with the Jug Band Jammin' exhibit, you really have to get your hands on this one to understand it. We hope you do soon - let us know what you think!