Sign In

Communications of the ACM

ACM News

iPhones Are Musical Instruments in New Course and Ensemble


Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble

The Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble plays electronic music with mobile phones.

Credit: Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble

iPhones are being used as musical instruments in a new course at the University of Michigan. Course students — who design, build and play instruments on their smartphones — will perform at a public concert on Dec. 9. The concert is free and open to the public.

Building a Mobile Phone Ensemble, believed to be the first such course in the world, is taught by Georg Essl, a computer scientist and musician who has been driving the development of mobile phones as musical instruments. 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. Essl is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

"The mobile phone is a very nice platform for exploring new forms of musical performance," Essl says. "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."

To build an instrument on an iPhone, the device must be programmed to play back as sound information it receives from one if its multitude of sensors. The touch-screen, microphone, GPS, compass, wireless sensor and accelerometer can all be transformed so that when the user runs a finger across the display, blows air into the mic, tilts or shakes the phone, for example, different sounds emanate.

The class demands creativity and technological savvy.

"In order to come up with a creative piece you have to engage with the technology, but in order to make technology interesting, you also have to engage with the musicality. These are really hard to separate. We're trying to teach both," Essl says.

The Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble concert will take place Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. in Britton Recital Hall in the Moore Building in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

The ensemble will continue to play and experiment with sound next semester.

View a video about the iPhone as an emerging musical instrument.

View a video of Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble's practice performance for the Seamus Regional Concert.

 


 

No entries found

Comment on this article

Signed comments submitted to this site are moderated and will appear if they are relevant to the topic and not abusive. Your comment will appear with your username if published. View our policy on comments

(Please sign in or create an ACM Web Account to access this feature.)

Create an Account

Log in to Submit a Signed Comment

Sign In »

Sign In

Signed comments submitted to this site are moderated and will appear if they are relevant to the topic and not abusive. Your comment will appear with your username if published. View our policy on comments
Forgot Password?

Create a Web Account

An email verification has been sent to youremail@email.com
ACM veriŞes that you are the owner of the email address you've provided by sending you a veriŞcation message. The email message will contain a link that you must click to validate this account.
NEXT STEP: CHECK YOUR EMAIL
You must click the link within the message in order to complete the process of creating your account. You may click on the link embedded in the message, or copy the link and paste it into your browser.
Sign In for Full Access
» Forgot Password? » Create an ACM Web Account