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Turn an iPhone Into a Pocket Theremin

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the extremely-happy-to-see-you dept.

Music 31

Earyauteur writes "The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) is running a story on an interesting motion-controlled iPhone application which uses the iPhone's 3-axis accelerometer to control a digital synthesizer. The musical instrument is played much like a theremin with the added ability to perform music using different musical scales. TUAW also links to a YouTube video which shows a performer demonstrating the iPhone instrument."

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And use your iPhone as a pocket dictionary (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25086633)

So you can figure out what a Theremin is

Re:And use your iPhone as a pocket dictionary (4, Informative)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 6 years ago | (#25087125)

I would mod you up if I had mod points.
The video is pretty cool, and so is the application (apparently now available at the Apple Store), but the comparison to a Theremin is a bit off.
All the tilts were from front to back. Maybe if they add side to side (if the iPhone has those accelerometers as well), then it would be more Theremin-like with both pitch and volume instead of just pitch.
How to play a Theremin:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd4jvtAr8JM [youtube.com]

Re:And use your iPhone as a pocket dictionary (1)

tsa (15680) | more than 6 years ago | (#25090783)

Wow that theremin video was much more interesting than the iPhone mewing video. Thanks!

really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25086635)

Looks fake to me, some of the movements were not matching up with the sound as much as others. I think this may be an other "iHologram" app that is fake. But I suppose we will see if it actually releases at some point.

Re:really? (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 6 years ago | (#25086679)

It's been on the app store since september 8th.

Re:really? (2, Insightful)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 6 years ago | (#25087041)

I noticed the same thing, but came to a different conclusion: it's real, and it's shit. Even past the registration inaccuracies, the transitions between pitches are just plain awful. They could have at least tried for some sort of smooth (possibly adaptive) interpolation. As it is, "musical instrument" is too generous a label, let alone "theremin".

I guess for $2 you don't expect much, but please don't even compare this trash to a theremin.

Re:really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25088691)

If you look at the second screen (Scale), the first option, you can select a 'continuous (theremin)' mode.

Fun, but not a theremin (5, Informative)

theefer (467185) | more than 6 years ago | (#25086637)

The musical instrument is played much like a theremin [...]

Clearly whoever wrote this has never seen, let alone played a theremin.

You don't play a theremin by rotating a mobile phone (or anything) in your hand. There is no notion of angle, since you play with your bare hands, only distance. The distance to the vertical antenna determines the pitch, whereas the distance to the horizontal circular antenna controls the volume. The whole point is the expressiveness of playing music with your whole body.

If you want a small silly toy theremin, you should order Vol. 17 of Japanese magazine Otona no kagaku [hlj.com] (the whole thing is in Japanese, but easy enough to build). You can only control the pitch, the sound is pretty awful, and you cannot place calls with it, but at least it's a theremin.

Re:Fun, but not a theremin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25086743)

Clearly whoever wrote this has never seen, let alone played a theremin.

It doesn't matter whether it is a Theremin or not to me. It looks really fun to play.

Re:Fun, but not a theremin (5, Informative)

Earyauteur (1142601) | more than 6 years ago | (#25086793)

The musical instrument is played much like a theremin [...]

Clearly whoever wrote this has never seen, let alone played a theremin.

Actually I have built a Theremin from a kit. It worked when I was done soldering -- so I have both seen and played a Theremin if it matters to any one here besides the pedant trolls. I included a link to the theremin [wikipedia.org] in my submission so without knowing anything about me you might have noticed that I at least knew what Leon Theremin and his instrument looked like.

Re:Fun, but not a theremin (1)

martinw89 (1229324) | more than 6 years ago | (#25087767)

Can someone explain to me why the poster explaining his submission is modded redundant?

I mean, I still don't think this is anything like a Theremin, but what the hell? It's not like he said this 10 other times in the thread.

Re:Fun, but not a theremin (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25086837)

What do you expect. Apple fans are faggots that love anything with the logo, regardless of whether it's any good or actually represents what is claimed. They probably have butt plugs in the shape of the fruit.

Re:Fun, but not a theremin (1)

xPsi (851544) | more than 6 years ago | (#25086865)

Well put. The theremin, in many ways, is more mysterious than this (by some mysterious definition of "mystery") because it essentially uses the user's body itself as a capacitive element in an RF circuit whereas the iPhone accelerometer is a straightforward (albeit cleverly made [st.com] ) direct mechanical effect. If you don't want a toy, you can get real Moog theremin kits [moogmusic.com] for under $400 or the real thing for under $2k. Nevertheless, I do think this is a clever use of the accelerometer in the iPhone. The real test will be if a composer creates an iPhone Concerto in Em with this new instrument.

Re:Fun, but not a theremin (3, Interesting)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 6 years ago | (#25087109)

The distance to the vertical antenna determines the pitch, whereas the distance to the horizontal circular antenna controls the volume.

That may be true of the "real" Theremin. Jean-Michel Jarre plays one in "Water For Life" among other video performances, and was shown on the late 50's Mickey Mouse Show. However, some have two vertical antennae, and some have plates flush with the top. There's (typically) pitch and volume antennae, and the configuration is irrelevant.

That said, another difference between a theremin and the iPhone widget is the fact that the former maintains a continuosly varying pitch, whereas the latter is programmed to chunk off the notes into a preselected scale.

Another similarity is that neither have a mechanical feedback mechanism, requiring that it be played by ear as much as by hand. Playing by ear requires some tonal ability. A lot of people don't have that innately and if they can learn it, it takes a long time. Probably longer than the desire to learn to play their phone.

At least theremin manipulation is roughly linear as opposed to rotational, so visual feedback can more easily be associated with the aural.

Fixated on touch (2, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 6 years ago | (#25087475)

If you get the same results for very similar input, in what way is it not like a theremin?

Some posters here seem way too fixated on the fact that you are holding the phone while waving it around, while ignoring it's a similar control scheme to a real theremin.

I mean, what if in theory you could just wave your hands around and make sounds like a theremin. Would that not essentially be having a "portable" theremin? Now hold a phone in your hand and do the same thing, suddenly it's totally different... I don't see it.

Re:Fixated on touch (1)

nog_lorp (896553) | more than 6 years ago | (#25094283)

Except the input mechanism isn't like a theremin (both in how it is operated and in that it isn't as cool).

Input: tilting the phone up and down; basically like pulling a lever or rotating a dial.

Re:Fixated on touch (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 6 years ago | (#25095405)

If you get the same results for very similar input, in what way is it not like a theremin?

The way by which it's different, obviously ;)

Suppose you had a guitar-shaped piece of plastic with 6 times 24 buttons on it (nstrings times nfrets plus overhead), hooked up to a computer that generated appropriate sounds. In which ways is that not a guitar? Would you ask Ritchie Blackmore to play it? It's the same result for similar inputs, right?

Okay, let's be more realistic. Electric pianos; they exist, some people like them, some people abhor them. I think it's fair to say the two are similar, but it does make a lot of sense to distinguish them.

Isn't it by the same token fair to distinguish this from the theremin?

Why your analogy falls apart (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 6 years ago | (#25095807)

Suppose you had a guitar-shaped piece of plastic with 6 times 24 buttons on it (nstrings times nfrets plus overhead), hooked up to a computer that generated appropriate sounds. In which ways is that not a guitar?

Because a guitar is vibrating analog strings in an infinite range from start to end, not pressing button. The inputs are not similar in any way, only the shape of the input device is. It's like saying a cardboard box with a horn attached is the same as a car.

The iPhone is measuring in an analog way where you ware waving your arm - exactly as a theremin is. Both are using the motion of your arms as input to produce the sound.

Okay, let's be more realistic. Electric pianos; they exist, some people like them, some people abhor them. I think it's fair to say the two are similar, but it does make a lot of sense to distinguish them.

I don't think it does. At this point the high end MIDI keyboards are just as good for 99.9999% of the populace as any real piano. The only reason you don't see them in more traditional settings is, well, tradition - when is the last time your favorite band actually put a piano on stage?

I would say the iPhone theremin app is less like a theremin than an electronic piano is to a real piano. But that does not mean it is not like a theremin.

Re:Fun, but not a theremin (1)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 6 years ago | (#25091297)

The distance to the vertical antenna determines the pitch, whereas the distance to the horizontal circular antenna controls the volume.

I once built one in the late 60's from an electronics mag.
It had 2 aluminium plates about 10 cm2 for antennas.
Sometime years later I dusted it off and managed to set the sensitivity so that if anyone came into the room it would start to 'click' and then howl as they approached.
Also, some episodes of the original Lost in Space used Theremins for controls. A neat idea.
I wonder if motion detectors work on the same principle?

Jimmy Page in South Park (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 6 years ago | (#25086641)

I've got something in my front pocket for you.
Why don't you reach down in my pocket and see what it is?
Then grab onto it, it's just for you.
Give a little squeeze and say: "How do you do?"

don't knock it just yet (1)

caffeinemessiah (918089) | more than 6 years ago | (#25086645)

The theremin has its detractors, but you should at least give it a try [youtube.com] , especially if its played by someone halfway competent. Can't say anything about geekiness factor though.

Wow (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25086687)

What garbage. I mean, it's neat in a very novelty sort of way, but what's the point?

Oh Dear God No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25086769)

Will Apple release a Billy Squire "Stroke" commercial for this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLHc-yIAPbg [youtube.com]
*1981 Music Warning*

Not a theremin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25087057)

This is not anything like a theremin. You don't really touch a theremin to play it, let alone rotate it. Do a google search.

Oh wait, these days media doesn't do research.

Re:Not a theremin (2, Informative)

paulthomas (685756) | more than 6 years ago | (#25087075)

Cosmovox owes some of its inspiration to the Theremin, an early 20th century electronic music instrument which is played by moving your hands near an antenna. Cosmovox can convincingly imitate the sound of the Theremin, and other similar electronic instruments which haunt pulp sci-fi movies, yet Cosmovox uses the computing power of your iPhone to do far more.

From the app developer's web site: About Cosmovox [leisuresonic.com] .

Re:Not a theremin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25091345)

I was watching Tim Blake perform on the theremin with Hawkwind last year, and the way he plays it you would shake the iPhone to bits or throw it across the room.

If you have to touch the iphone... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25087071)

then it's not a theremin. I wish people would stop using false wording to try and get more attention. The fact that the sound output is close to a theremin does not make it a "pocket theremin".

Theremin comparisons aside.... (2, Interesting)

Starmengau (1367783) | more than 6 years ago | (#25087103)

The way this app is designed, it seems, you have the ability to "perform music using different musical scales." Therefore, this "instrument" has a much lower barrier of entry than a theremin, because it requires much less exactness to play in a way that -sounds good-.

Of course, it's also possible that the person in the video is just the best Cosmovox player that will ever live and has been practicing for months, but I suppose the world may never know.

Thank God... (0, Troll)

johndmartiniii (1213700) | more than 6 years ago | (#25091547)

Someone finally came up with a use for the iPhone!

so what (1)

drums.r.better (1373595) | about 6 years ago | (#25181197)

It sounds cool even if it isn't really a theremin.
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