As the holidays approach, the ubiquitous carols are trotted out and played constantly in malls and schools and community groups give special Christmas concerts. It is definitely the time of year when music takes over, and of course, iPhone wants in. The University of Michigan hosted a unique concert that featured none other than Apple’s pride and joy, which while novel, also showed the incredible range of this incredible device.
Several years ago, Apple developed an application for iPhone which turned the device into an ancient flute. Blowing over the microphone played music; you could change your pitch by holding down certain combinations of holes; you could change vibrato rate and dept by tilting the iPhone. You could record your own pieces, email them to friends, and create your own My Ocarina webpage.
Georg Essel, of the University’s Music and Engineering departments, said, “The mobile phone is a very nice platform for exploring new forms of musical performance. We can do interesting, weird, unusual things.” Like the Ocarina application, the sounds from different musical instruments can be replicated by using the touch-screen, microphone, compass, wireless sensor, GPS, and accelerometer.
The concert was the end result of a semester’s work by students at the University, which is likely the world’s first class in using the iPhone as a musical instrument. It is not the first time, however, that the versatile device has been used this way. The New York Times reported on a concert held by the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra recently. The range of sounds, played by musicians with iPhones and mics attached to fingerless gloves, was astounding. The phones created sounds from nature, the sounds of different instruments, futuristic Star Warsy tunes.
Ge Wang, assistant professor of music and head of the MoPho (perhaps the best name of any orchestra ever), says, “I can’t bring my guitar or my piano or my cello wherever I go, but I do have my iPhone at all times…Part of my philosophy is people are inherently creative; it’s not just people who think of themselves as artists.” The applications, as Wang explains, sound limitless and exciting. “A concert anywhere, anytime.” With anyone in the world. You could play with someone across the world, creating a symphony, or an electronic version of “Stairway to Heaven,” which MoPho does.
The idea, as Wang sees it, is that this is a way for music to reach more people, and also to connect them. While some say that there is no substitute for the emotional resonance created by traditional music, there is no doubting the incredible novelty and interest of this new type of music. Some question whether it is really music at all. More than two million people who have downloaded Ocarina, Tickle the Ivories, and other music apps say yes. And, at 99 cents, it is music that is accessible to a broad range of people. The iPhone may not be a Stradivarius, but it does make music accessible whenever and wherever you want.
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