The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them, into the impossible. Hence the phrase, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Endel is this kind of technology — an app that generates personalized soundscapes for stress-relief, mental regeneration and higher productivity.
In this piece, Endel visual director and contemporary artist Protey Temen explains how the app helps users get into the flow state.
Digital Buddha-box for urban dwellers
We live in a very complex world. Big cities overstimulate the senses, so urban dwellers tend to have scattered attention and too much on their minds. Research shows clear links between life in the urban jungle and mental health issues like depression, insomnia, anxiety and an inability to focus.
There are many relaxation practices for stress relief like meditation and yoga, but all of them demand awareness, action and concentration. Our idea was to create a stress-relief tool that could work in the background, without demanding any special effort from the user. Proceeding from this idea, we began designing Endel as an endless sound environment: a digital Buddha-box for weary city dwellers. We also perceived this work as an art project from the beginning: decisions were made mostly intuitively, based on our collective vision and fantasies about how tech can be more helpful and meaningful.
Above and beyond the hood
Today, Endel generates soundscapes for four different contexts of usage: for relaxation, stable and longer focus sessions, better sleep quality, and movement. The scientific basis of Endel’s work lies at the intersection of several areas of knowledge: we link the science of sound and tonality, with the science of circadian rhythms. These are the physiological periods that most organisms, including humans, follow each day. They evolved as an adaptation to the daily periods of the Earth’s rotation, in order to synchronize metabolic processes with the environment. Circadian rhythms shift throughout our lifespan and vary from person to person, although for the vast majority of people, these phases are similar.
The inputs for our generative soundscapes include the heart rate, the amount of natural light, and, of course, the weather. Endel connects to smartphones, considers data about the user’s time zone and matches it with data from the Health Kit API; which measures resting heart rate data, number of steps, and quality of sleep. Proceeding from this, the app generates soundscapes that adjust in real time to the state of the user.
Sounds that slip from your attention
Our internal research has shown that Endel really helps users stay focused for a long time without any special effort. How does it work in practice? If you turn on one of Endel’s soundscapes and proceed to your tasks, in about five minutes you become accustomed and forget about the sound. It just slips from your active focus. And that’s the point: the soundscape plays, you synchronize to it and live your life more productively. This sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you are totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction, is called flow state.
The paradox is that Endel is non-music: you don’t need to listen to it. You’re just immersed in the soundscape and forget about it.
If during a short session, say five minutes, a user does not remain in Endel for whatever reason, this might indicate the app somehow does not suit them.
Visual language that connects to another universe
When you pick up a smartphone and open Endel, thin white lines and sparkling dots appear on a black screen. From the beginning, all the graphics in the app aim to create a sense of a window that allows you to connect with an invisible part of the world.
The visual side of Endel ties several aesthetic pillars together, like the minimalist art movement, works on experimental music notations from the Avant-Garde music pioneers, and sci-fi worlds. For every soundscape, we create a semi-generative animated visualization, symbolically representing the theme of the soundscape and helping people dive into the mood.
I am personally convinced that to create experiences and new emotional states for a person, the designed world should be as detailed as possible. Any universe can exist only through the perception of another person, through the resonance and response it creates in a person. I would call this property ‘trustability’.
Many notions, ideas, and mechanics of the Endel ecosystem — like soundscapes, circadian rhythms, sound generation, and sound personalization — are quite abstract and technical. The idea of functional sound is aso something that needs to be presented and explained. In order to do so, we are bringing contemporary methods to mindfulness practice, giving people a tool to self-care in a new way, beyond common daily experiences. Graphics and sound are the ways we speak to the world.
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