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”.
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Apple has sent specifications of the device to Australian media companies in an effort to sound out whether they would be interested in delivering their content to the tablet. None would speak about the device on the record.
But New York Times executive editor Bill Keller seemed to let the cat out of the bag in comments during an off-the-record meeting with New York Times digital staff this month. Footage of his talk has been published online.
The device itself is expected to be another “game changer” for Apple, summed up nicely by John Abell in Wired last week:
The device will have to make readers forget — really forget — the printed page. E-readers, for all that they do, don’t do this yet. There are plenty of them, and plenty more on the way. Much hope is invested in Amazon’s Kindle DX, which hits the market for the holidays. But in the end e-readers are third devices, or at least two-and-a-half (carried sometimes).
Finally — and this is the “my gift to you” part — the unveiling of an Apple Tablet will have to be accompanied by a fundamental policy change. Apple will have to let publishers roll the dice on pricing and cede control of the customer relationship it has jealously guarded. There are precedents which could point to this trajectory; tiered pricing and album-only sales are allowed on iTunes now, and app developers can more or less charge whatever they want.
Having just cancelled my home-delivery subscription to the local daily newspaper, I started thinking what it’s like to rely solely on the online version. My conclusion? I don’t care. All I ever read in that paper was Dilbert. I never liked the way the paper was organized, but I did like flipping through the ads — especially the free-standing inserts. Their Web site is busy, with a dated portal approach. And they don’t have an iPhone app.
The New York Times on the other hand, has an excellent editorial product, with a neat approach in print, an excellent Web site, and I actually enjoy reading it via their free iPhone app. From an advertising perspective, I’ll take the NYT over The Star-Ledger any day. They invested substantial resources in building their own system for targeting ads to segments of their audience, and I hope media planners appreciate it.
Maybe the iTablet will do it for print media after all. Ken Segall saw it perfectly last month:
Just as iPod changed music and iPhone changed communications, iTablet will change the way we consume media. We’ll all say “of course” when we see a simple and elegant way to enjoy newspapers, magazines, books, music, movies and all of the Internet in one painfully cool device. We’ll marvel at the new vision of “the daily paper,” combining print with video and gorgeous graphics that bring stories to life (never mind that it’s all out there on the web already). And we’ll wonder how civilized people could ever have allowed all those trees to be slaughtered, only to be mashed into mega-tons of newsprint that get tossed at the end of the day.
The scope of this revolution requires Apple to recruit partners. Big ones. They’re lining up the major media companies, who will announce new forms of content designed to meet the new iTablet standard, just as they seduced the record companies and movie studios before. Newspapers and magazines, now a dying breed, will re-emerge with new vitality as an integral part of our mobile lives.
It’s not that others couldn’t see this coming. It’s that they didn’t have the will, the ingenuity and the leadership to make it happen. This is a revolution that needed a good hijacking.