It had to happen. Using the iPhone as a musical instrument is not new. A graduate course and orchestra, that’s new.
Given that the iPhone offers more processing power than the original iMac, this next story had to happen: December 9 will see a live performance by an orchestra, each and every one of whom will be using an iPhone to make the music happen.
Students at the University of Michigan are learning to design, build and play instruments on their Apple smartphones as part of a course called “Building a Mobile Phone Ensemble”. This course is taught by Georg Essl, a computer scientist and musician who has worked on developing mobile phones and musical instruments.
This class, believed to be the first formal course of its type in the world, merges engineering practices, mobile phone programming, and sound synthesis with new music performance, composition, and interactive media arts.
Students in the class program their iPhones to accept input from the devices’ multitude of input sensors, and to create sound based on that input.
The touch-screen, microphone, GPS, compass, wireless sensor, and accelerometer can all be transformed so that when a performer runs their finger across the display, blows air into the mic, tilts or shakes the phone, for example, different sounds emanate.
Students then compose for these new instruments and ultimately perform their works. Because the course brings together so many aspects of engineering, composition, and performance, the class demands a high degree of both creativity and technological savvy.
Several years ago, Essl and his colleagues were the first known to use the microphone as a wind sensor – a tactic that enables popular iPhone apps such as the Ocarina. Ocarina essentially turns the phone into an ancient type of flute.
“The mobile phone is a very nice platform for exploring new forms of musical performance,” Essl said. “We’re not tethered to the physics of traditional instruments. We can do interesting, weird, unusual things.
“This kind of technology is in its infancy, but it’s a hot and growing area to use iPhones for artistic expression.”
If you can’t make it to the performance, fret not – there’s even a Facebook page for the ensemble if you want to head across to say “hello”.
Ever hear of ZEE in Germany? They may have been first…