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Student Orchestra Performs Music With iPhones

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the there's-a-symphonic-app-for-that dept.

Music 65

A course at the University of Michigan ends with a live concert featuring students using iPhones as instruments. “Building a Mobile Phone Ensemble“ teaches students to code musical instruments for the iPhone, using the Apple-provided software-development kit. Georg Essl, assistant professor of computer science and music, says, "What’s interesting is we blend the whole process. We start from nothing. We teach the programming of iPhones for multimedia stuff, and then we teach students to build their own instruments.”

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Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (3, Insightful)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326192)

... it does seem like a cool project for learning to program a multimedia app for the iPhone.

That said, why is it that people say things like this?

You could get skilled with the piano after years of practice, but imagine how good you’d be at playing an instrument you invented.

Yippee, you "invented" an instrument (what?). That means nothing, actually, in terms of skill, since a lot of skill at playing ... traditional, instruments, at any rate, has to do more with finger dexterity and the like, not knowing how the instrument works. Many skilled instrumental repair shops cannot play the instrument amazingly, even if they know more about it than the players that come in.

I kinda get the feeling that "electronic" instruments are seen as replacing traditional/acoustic instruments, at least in the minds of geeks/young people. I disagree. :)

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (2)

LikwidCirkel (1542097) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326324)

Yes, traditional instruments do require more manual dexterity, but the appeal of electronic instruments is about something else entirely. With a traditional instrument, the musician is limited by what's even possible to play, but with computers and electronics, only the brain is the limit. The range of easily-produced sounds and sequences is vastly, vastly broader with electronic instruments, and that is where they truly shine. Musical creation becomes limited only by what the mind can conceive, and there really is something to be said for that.

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30326528)

Yes, traditional instruments do require more manual dexterity, but the appeal of electronic instruments is about something else entirely. With a traditional instrument, the musician is limited by what's even possible to play, but with computers and electronics, only the brain is the limit. The range of easily-produced sounds and sequences is vastly, vastly broader with electronic instruments, and that is where they truly shine. Musical creation becomes limited only by what the mind can conceive, and there really is something to be said for that.

Or, there's the best of both worlds (musical performance and electronic versatility) with an eigenharp [eigenlabs.com] .

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327144)

Musical creation becomes limited only by what the mind can conceive

Unless you want the sound of the acoustic instrument in a live performance... I haven't heard very many electronic instruments that actually sound very much like a live acoustic performance using traditional instruments.

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

foqn1bo (519064) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327984)

Stupid cat! You never bark! All you ever do is meow!

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

TheUser0x58 (733947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30330734)

Who wants an electronic instrument that sounds like an acoustic instrument? We already have plenty of acoustic instruments that do that.

I can imagine people like you back when wind instruments were first invented. "I haven't heard very many flutes that actually sound very much like a live rock-banging performance using traditional rocks."

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (2, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326694)

I kinda get the feeling that "electronic" instruments are seen as replacing traditional/acoustic instruments, at least in the minds of geeks/young people. I disagree. :)

Anything that can be recorded by electronic means can in principle be duplicated in performances. Physical instruments are limited by physics and their design. Electronic instruments don't have such a narrow limitation as the types of notes available are not dictated by the materials and shape of the electronic instrument. Having said that, the video its self was rather underwhelming. Just variations on a single tone. The "instruments" were programmed by the students themselves which is what is novel about them; Not so much the fact that the performance its self was disappointing.

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327254)

Physical instruments are limited by physics and their design. Electronic instruments don't have such a narrow limitation as the types of notes available are not dictated by the materials and shape of the electronic instrument.

Understood, but electronic instruments sound different, too. I'm not sure I like the electronic sound - for all applications, at any rate - as opposed to the acoustic sound.

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

TheUser0x58 (733947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30330826)

That's fine. Once your generation passes on, your commonly held values will be replaced by the next generation's values, who will be increasingly amenable to this type of music. As they age they will become close-minded like you, but they will be replaced by the next generation.

My grandparents loved Frank Sinatra and thought The Rolling Stones sounded like horrible noise. My parents love The Rolling Stones and think Jay-Z is total noise.

Do you notice a pattern?

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30331344)

I noticed that your parents have good taste in music.

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30371674)

Hmmmm.

I'm not sure that's entirely the case.

Some music - like, say, Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole - seems to have lasted a lot longer than, say, the Rolling Stones even... and the Stones were on the famous end of that era, there were plenty of a-few-year-famous bands. On the other hand, acoustic/traditional/"classical"/"serious" music is still going... even music from a long time ago.

Sure, I think electronic music likely will end up having its place... and with most "pop" music in any time period, most of it will be forgotten. But I think "new" and "unique" and "cool" is sometimes mistaken for quality. I think a lot of electronic music has very little quality, very little thought, very little ... eh, for lack of a better word, humanity.

Actually, I have a completely honest question, because I don't listen to a whole lot of electronic music (mainly because I haven't heard a whole lot that I like. I liked "Angel" on the album Mezzanine by ... by a band I forgot the name of, ha...): is musical comedy in any electronic music of today? As in comedy expressed entirely in the music, not lyrics/acting....

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 4 years ago | (#30329588)

You find me an "electronic instrument" (fancy name for a multi-tone tone generator) that sounds like a real instrument and I'll eat my hat. You have the same problem with these "electronic drum sets". The ones that have these pads instead of drums and the synth plays tones to an amp. They cost about 5 times as much as moderate level drum kit, but sound like someone making "bump, pish" noises with their mouth.

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

ground.zero.612 (1563557) | more than 4 years ago | (#30378172)

Instruments make musical sounds, electronics make noises which can be forced into sounding musical.

Something I really despise about the "young/hip" techno making kids is that they seem to be raised as artists. Rather, they seem to believe because they say their noise is art, and art is subjective, that it is automatically true.

I disagree. Music is a formal language; much like the English I am using right now. I can use this language to create forms of art, however, speaking/writing English in and of itself is not art. The same holds true for music, you can use that language to create forms of art. Just remember that making noises doesn't necessarily mean making music, and that using that language does not implicitly mean you are creating art (even if you say you are).

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

eloquent_loser (542470) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326836)

I saw the band 'Dream Theater" last night and I can attest to the fact that the keyboardist (Jordan Rudess) used an iPhone as an electronic instrument for a couple of songs. I don't know if it added anything to the performance (except to show how you can get fairly sophisticated electronic sounds out of such a small device using deft fingering) but it was cutting edge, man :-P

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30328220)

I saw the band 'Dream Theater" last night

Perfect example. What was more awesome: Rudess's iPhone, or Portnoy's drums? Do NOT get this one wrong.

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

foqn1bo (519064) | more than 4 years ago | (#30328604)

Typical engineer's thinking. If manual dexterity is the ultimate benchmark of musicianship, then you must think that Joe Satriani is the pinnacle of guitar playing (who knows, maybe you do). There are countless musicians out there who may not be the most technically gifted performers in the world, but make incomparable music as a result of their musical sensitivity. And that sensitivity, beyond a sensitivity to the music itself, also manifests itself as a sensitivity to the capabilities, limitations, and the expressive range of the instrument (emotionally as well as physically).

Your fear of electronic musical instruments replacing traditional ones is unjustified. Not only will an electronic rendition of a traditional instrument (which is usually an insipid simulation) never fully capture the original, but the real interest in electronic instruments is in exploring the different possibilities afforded by them, both in terms of performativity and in terms of expressive depth.

Re:Not cool musically (IMO)... but... (1)

Phoghat (1288088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30343078)

1. What are thosse speakers they are wearing on their wrists? Look cool.

As far as electronic instruments go, I bought a Q-Chord (Suzuki) an electronic guitar/harp/ type instrument and I'm having a ball with it. Although I can play keyboards I haven't done so in a long time. I still can read music but with the Q-Chord all I need is the chordss to a song and I'm playing in minutes.

Ah yes... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326212)

"We start from nothing"...

By using the Apple-provided SDK...

Laxative... (1)

mrops (927562) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327964)

I had my subwoofer on, and didn't have to take my prescription laxative today...

Re:Ah yes... (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 4 years ago | (#30329618)

If you wish to code an apple from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Re:Ah yes... (1)

Jaktar (975138) | more than 4 years ago | (#30330548)

Sadly I have no points to give you.

Re:Ah yes... (1)

Lavene (1025400) | more than 4 years ago | (#30333174)

If you wish to code an apple from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

I's a real shame there's no "+1 Sagan" mod...

Wham (2, Funny)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326246)

I'm hoping it was heavy on the percussion.

LOL (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326252)

Were they texting at the same time? Sexting?

Re:LOL (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326272)

"One time, at band camp..."

Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (5, Insightful)

FlynnMP3 (33498) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326284)

Hearing 5 minutes of tonal variations of sine waves (assumed since I could only take 3 minutes of it) is just plain annoying.

Now if it had been the temporal overlapping of many different frequencies of tuning forks, that would be at least more interesting as it would take some skill during the performance.

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (2, Funny)

Magic5Ball (188725) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327066)

But that's the best part of this neo-conceptual post-institutional critique remodernist interpretation of the sine wave. The annoyance /is/ the music.

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30327484)

Remodernist sine wave? 4.4BSD called and want their analysis back.

This performance is clearly a second gasp or reflection on the meta-impoverishment exploration of the man-machine dialectic in which the near unlimited capabilities of technology have only programmed humans in basic ways. The processive appropriation of mind in the third movement clearly intends to demonstrate contra-flow happenings, but is somewhat obscured by the dominating prochein minimalism.

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (1)

symbolic (11752) | more than 4 years ago | (#30331184)

What he said!

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30327096)

I disagree. I was unimpressed by the implementation but found the piece beautiful.

Incidentally, I'm having a hard time imagining music that is not tonal variations of sine waves. Do you have any examples?

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (2, Insightful)

fbjon (692006) | more than 4 years ago | (#30329056)

I think you're stretching the word 'variation' way too far.

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30327172)

Agreed, getting to go to *real* orchestras is amazing, and the thousands of hours of practice, lifelong commitment to the instruments, and the craft of the musicians is both nuanced and beautiful. Idiots waving their hands around in a circle is bullshit; you know it, I know it, everyone knows it. Calling this an orchestra is disrespectful at best.

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (1)

SammyIAm (1348279) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327328)

Agreed. I think it was more sound than music. There's a certain musical quality to it, sure. Just like there's music in the breeze and the ocean. But in this case it's just a lot more annoying.

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (1)

foqn1bo (519064) | more than 4 years ago | (#30328132)

  • Any sound can be decomposed into a series of overlapping sine waves
  • The timbre produced by this ensemble is more harmonically complex than "we're all playing the same sine waves", since the drone varies spectrally (as well as in pitch) over time (coordinated, as well, it's not just a random collection of tones)
  • What makes you think that playing tuning forks would require more skill, other than the fact that the activity itself is more obvious to the audience?

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 4 years ago | (#30329720)

"Any sound can be decomposed into a series of overlapping sine waves"

Let's examine this for a second.
Yes, if you were to perform a Fourier transform on any sound, you would decompose it into a series of sine waves. A SERIES of sine waves... SERIES as in MULTIPLE.

You take the FT of the bullshit in the above video and you get ONE sine wave, not a SERIES. Something that generates a single sine wave is a tone generator. Sure, a tone generator can be used as an instrument, but if you believe that you can compose an entire orchestra with a bunch of tone generators, you're either an idiot, tone deaf, or don't understand what music is.

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (1)

TheUser0x58 (733947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30330996)

Sure, a tone generator can be used as an instrument, but if you believe that you can compose an entire orchestra with a bunch of tone generators, you're either an idiot, tone deaf, or don't understand what music is.

I suppose you're in a position to distinguish what is music and what isn't. Do you know how long what we now call Western classical music has been around? Less than 1000 years. Do you know how long people have been making music? At least 35000 years [wikipedia.org] . More than 99% of the music listened to and cherished in the Western world has existed for less than 3% of the history of music. Music is constantly evolving and changing, always has and always will be.

Re:Annoying factor bigger than geek factor (1)

bfields (66644) | more than 4 years ago | (#30328222)

What does "tonal variations on sine waves" even mean?

Well, it's nice to know (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30326308)

... That you if you put few weeks into it and a whole class of students, you can achieve the same result as a cat stepping on a keyboard at home.

10 minutes with iTMS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30326316)

and you're done.

i agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30326464)

i feel kind of stupid now because I expected them to actually play some music...

Uh... (1)

dudeeh (877041) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326498)

I pressed "play", wondering if this performance would be on par with the recent revelation of crappy music created using nothing but ubuntu and wii-components, but it said that the video is currently unavailable. Being persistent and borderline OCD, I repeatedly clicked the button until moving pictures soothed the primal instinct that drives me. It started up and I thought, wow that's pretty damn professional, the visuals look great! ...

Turns out that was an ad, followed by "this video is currently unavailable".

Re:Uh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30327492)

I pressed "play", wondering if this performance would be on par with the recent revelation of crappy music created using nothing but ubuntu and wii-components,

You mean these guys [youtube.com] ?

Dang, they could really use my help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30326626)

...it so happens that I play the douchebag quite well, and even had some spare time on my hands...darn.

sigh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30326666)

[user] performs [generic computing task] ON AN IPHONE!!!!!

Big let down... (2, Insightful)

Temujin_12 (832986) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326698)

At first I was excited and expected different iPhones set to play sounds of different instruments along with a piece that had some sort of melody or at least interesting harmonics. 5 minutes of variations on a sine wave was underwhelming.

Conceptually this is cool, but ultimately was a let down.

Re:Big let down... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30327716)

I thought something was wrong with my speakers. So it really was just those tones? That was retarded.

Re:Big let down... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30329534)

100% agree - I kept waiting for something better. I guess they are CS students and not musicians, so perhaps my expectations were unrealistic.

I wonder if the whole performance was shown in the video, or was there more to this snooze fest?

Re:Big let down... (1)

dan325 (1221648) | more than 4 years ago | (#30330286)

yeah, they need to get together with some music majors. Have the CS majors design the instruments and have the music majors figure out how to use them and perform.

Re:Big let down... (1)

MojoStan (776183) | more than 4 years ago | (#30333534)

At first I was excited and expected different iPhones set to play sounds of different instruments along with a piece that had some sort of melody or at least interesting harmonics. 5 minutes of variations on a sine wave was underwhelming.

I don't find pop music very exciting, but The Mentalists (a 4-woman quartet) sound like four Wendy Carloses compared to those Michigan students:

The apps they used were DigiDrummer Lite (drums), Retro Synth (bass), MiniSynth (two keyboards on two iPhones), and Ocarina [smule.com] (electric flute-like instrument that required blowing into the iPhone's mic). They sang with their real voices, of course.

I'd rather see a guy play a song with just hands (2, Insightful)

phoenixdna (936728) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326814)

I REALLY do not see how this video is impressive at all. They play the same note and gyrate around. WOW!! Somebody call John Tesh. And why does it take like 20 people to demonstrate the 'One Note Instrument' on the iphone? Think maybe 5 people would have been enough? I expected these people to be playing different instruments (like in a real orchestra). So that they work together to play a song. Maybe a couple of group of woodwind iPhones, percussion iPhones, and some brass iPhones. When everyone is playing the same thing, then you might have an orchestra that would draw a 10 people crowd at the mall.

Re:I'd rather see a guy play a song with just hand (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 4 years ago | (#30326978)

I'd rather see a guy play a song with just hands

Been done.

The hands are a wind instrument [wikihow.com] ... I can do it, although I’m by no means as good as some.

Plenty of videos exist on YouTube but I can’t remember what exactly you must search for to find them.

Re:I'd rather see a guy play a song with just hand (1)

foqn1bo (519064) | more than 4 years ago | (#30328474)

I guess chant doesn't count as music to you, since that usually consists of people singing the same notes.

lkj (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30327008)

this was like the stupidest thing they could have possibilbly ever done. iphone bands are easy with drumkit, and the entire smule series of applications.

AT&T Piano Ad (1)

jspenguin1 (883588) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327018)

Reminds me of this [youtube.com] ad for AT&T.

better live iPhone musical performances (1)

H0NGK0NGPH00EY (210370) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327020)

Trace Bundy does the live iPhone musical performance [youtube.com] better, IMO. It also helps that he's obviously not taking himself too seriously, as the performers in the above video seem to be doing. iPhone music is an amusing gimmick, but not a serious musical art.

just stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30327026)

this is not music and it sounds like absolute shit. pick up a real instrument.

iphones (1)

amazingxkcd (1682296) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327050)

So idont could??

And in other news.... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327106)

Computers now do what they are programmed to do when the user uses the specified input device in a specified way!

Best demonstration ever (1)

jecowa (1152159) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327132)

of what music will sound like in hell. I just sat there waiting for them to get to the part of the song that was pleasing to the ear, but it never came.

Proof I feel (1)

the_hellspawn (908071) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327154)

that this is an illustration of the deterioration of education is western societies.

Re:Proof I feel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30338260)

Very good point. Biggest waste of money I have seen since the iphone. These teachers should be fired for thinking that using an iphone to create 'music' is innovative in any way. And that is the worst demonstration of an 'orchestra' or 'symphony' ive ever seen.

Wow... (1)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327608)

...that was really awful.

I watched the video... (1)

macwhizkid (864124) | more than 4 years ago | (#30327612)

Saw this on Wired this morning. I thought it sounded kind of neat. I noticed they're at Michigan, where I work. I noticed they have a concert next week, and thought that might be interesting to attend.

Then I watched the video. My goodness. I don't know that I've experienced music quite so awful since I accidentally made an errant mouse click and bought a Miley Cyrus album. I'm not sure what I was expecting... maybe emulation of real orchestral instruments... but what I can only describe as post-modern atonal ambient droning is definitely not something I'm going to be adding to my iTunes library anytime soon.

idea good - implementation horrible (2, Funny)

maxrate (886773) | more than 4 years ago | (#30328242)

I think I could generate better music by stepping on a cat or other small animal. Just awful.
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