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Saturday
Apr182009

Electronic 'instruments' on the iPhone

Ocarina, from Smule SoftwareHas anyone seen the iPhone application Ocarina?  Or the new Leaf Trombone?  If you haven't, then check them out at the App Store.  These instruments are completely re-imagined musical instruments implemented in software.

The iPhone sports a ton of 'software instruments,' many of which look more to me like emulators.  You have a bevy of musical keyboards, drum machines, samplers, sequencers, guitar fretboards, etc.  Many are difficult to play, either because they aren't fast enough to keep up, or the iPhone itself is a bit hard to hold and play, or the user interface is a bit small to do anything expansive with.

But a few developers are starting to think of the iPhone as a wholly unique instrument.  For example, two Theremins (here and here) have been created, each with interesting input methods).  And software developer Smule.com is innovating their way into e-music fame with their two imaginings.

That Ocarina!  I saw someone playing it and knew I had to buy it right then and there.  Basically you hold the iPhone, mic near your mouth, parallel to the ground (screen up).  You put your hands under it, and place two fingers on each hand on either side, next to the large 'holes' that light up on the screen.  Then, you blow on the mic (they even have a little triangle pointing to where it is, near the right hand side of the dock connector).  You basically play songs like the iPhone is a recorder.  And you can share or listen to Ocarina pieces on the phone from people all over the world.  What a cool app!

The Leaf TromboneThe newest instrument from Smule.com is called the Leaf Trombone.  It uses a little input icon attached to a leaf, and when you move your finger from the bottom to the top of the iPhone, it slides the notes in a glissando fashion.  It's ultra-cool and a lot of fun.  They have a little music box that can spout out places to move your finger so you can learn how to play songs, too.  Of course, the same social media applies, so you can share your music and location with others around the globe. 

These apps got me thinking about putting together an iPhone e-music ensemble.  Even writing a few custom-built instruments, once iPhone SDK 3.0 comes out.  I'm thinking the dock connector API, which would allow you to read information from external devices such as touch sensors, microphones, etc., might open this up further.  It would be awesome to add these input concepts Smule.com imagined to a real software synth, so you could make a wide variety of tones and possibly transform the iPhone into a portable e-music studio.

Of course, it'd be even more awesome if you could somehow package an instrument around Princeton Sound Kitchen's ChucK, so you could truly take e-compositions with you!  

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