A group of students at the University of Michigan design, build, and play instruments on their iPhones and iPod Touches, in the vein of iPhone applications such as Ocarina. The Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble, which can be seen in action in a video on the group's website, makes its concert debut on December 9.
The students are enrolled in a course called "Building a Mobile Phone Ensemble," taught by computer scientist and musician Georg Essl. Essl and his colleagues began with experiments using the microphone as a wind sensor - the technology that enables popular iPhone apps such as Ocarina, which turns the phone into an ancient flute-like instrument.
To build instruments on their iPhones and iPod Touches, students program the devices to receive sensory input from the touch-screen, microphone, GPS, compass, wireless sensor, or accelerometer, and to play that information back as sound. Depending on the programming, different sounds are produced by running a finger across the display, for example, or blowing air into the microphone, or tilting or shaking the phone.
The Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble has sister groups at Stanford University (the original "MoPho"), in Berlin, and in Helsinki. "This kind of technology is in its infancy," said Essl, "but it's a hot and growing area to use iPhones for artistic expression."
The Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble concert is December 9 at the University of Michigan. A video of the group is available at the Michigan Mobile Phone Orchestra website. You can also follow the ensemble on its Facebook and Twitter pages.
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