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UNO iPhone Orchestra Story
’s Mobile Phone Orchestra composes music using iPhones
JUNE 10, 2010
As part of a content syndication partnership, the following article also appears in this week's (June 2-8) issue of
, an alternative weekly newspaper in Omaha. Each Wednesday, look to Shout!'s Silicon Prairie News page for a feature story and "Quick Scoop."
Musicians (left to right) Austin Sailors, Adam Reidelbach, Timothy Vallier, Steven Shank, Danny Sabra, Phill Smith and Vince Krysl Jr. make up the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Mobile Phone Orchestra. Mike Santo and Isaac Frishman (not pictured) are also members. Photo by Andrea Ciurej.
While pursuing a master’s degree in music composition from the
University of Nebraska at Omaha
was a music theory teaching assistant who would be considered a traditional composer.
He composed several classical compositions, ranging from the “Clouded Mind” for brass quintets to “Piano Concerto No. 1” for chamber orchestras to “Partita for New Music” for saxophone quartets and percussion. However, when the time came to work on his master’s thesis before graduating this past May, Vallier knew he wanted to take his composition skills to the next level.
With a hobby in web design and a taste for technology, Vallier pitched the idea of forming a mobile phone orchestra – an idea he had thought of since
for its mobile devices – to his master’s adviser.
Vallier saw an opportunity to compose music using these mobile devices, particularly the iPhone and iPod touch.
"This bridges the gap between the two things I both know the best and like the best," he said. "It was a small idea I had and I saw other people, some other top universities that took it and ran with it in a really big way and I thought, 'I would really like to do this, as well.'"
His master's adviser agreed to the idea and, along with UNO students and recent graduates Steven Shank, Austin Sailors, Phill Smith, Adam Reidelbach, Danny Sabra, Vince Krysl Jr., Mike Santo and Isaac Frishman, Vallier formed the university’s first
Mobile Phone Orchestra
University of Michigan
also have mobile phone orchestras, which take on the use of iPhones and iPod touches and music applications to make music.
“We’re not just dealing with a phone that makes calls and text messages, it’s a whole working, functioning operating system,” Vallier said. “There are applications that take advantage of any element on the devices, which is sound, GPS, multi-touch, speaker output, microphone, input, accelerometer, etc.”
Among the music applications used by the orchestra are
, an app that allows users to create elaborate melodies,
, a drum simulator that allows users to drum by waving your mobile device, and
, which has the ability to record, playback, loop and sync tunes. These and other applications range anywhere from $.99 to $20.
The group also uses specially designed speaker gloves (left) to project their compositions. These are made from two workout gloves that have modified battery-powered speakers. These speakers are connected to the gloves using an audio splitter.
“That’s how we are mobile,” Vallier said.
Although they have written their own works, Vallier said the orchestra also draws inspiration from American composers
Using Reich’s clapping music, the orchestra would integrate clapping using an accelerometer feature on a mobile device to create patterns for their compositions. They also use Cage’s chance music, which leaves some element in a composition to chance and left to be determined by the performers.
The group also takes on the use of through-composed music, which is continuous, non-sectional or non-repetitive music that is different in each stanza of a song's lyrics.
Sailors said this type of music is most evident in their piece called “Sloide,” which they performed along with other works at
’s Summer Saturdays on June 5.
UNO's Mobile Phone Orchestra performed an original composition titled "Bebot Suite II" at KANEKO. Visit
//more of the orchestra's performances//
“We took the idea of a jazz combo and applied it to iPhones,” he said. “You have a tune, everyone plays the tune and then individuals take solos and pass around the solos.”
Using what they’ve learned, the orchestra hopes to create music applications that are specific to their skill sets, Vallier said. For example, creating a similar application like
to make an exact tempo.
“We’ve definitely found some limits to what’s out there,” he said. “We already have some serious ideas of what could be there.”
Using this technology has been an enjoyable transition with a lot of breakthrough moments for Sabra, who studied violin performance and music composition at UNO.
“You don’t get that much with a traditional instrument because it’s already a thousand years old and everybody knows how to do everything,” he said. “You have this new instrument that you’ve never seen before and you just paid $.99 for and start playing with it, pushing buttons and something happens. It’s a lot of fun.”
Although Vallier will be leaving the group to pursue a doctorate degree at the
State University of New York at Stony Brook
, he hopes the group will stay in tact and encourage the creation of more mobile phone orchestras.
It shouldn’t be exclusive, he said.
“Since this is so new, there seems to be an immediate demand and interest in what’s happening here,” Vallier said. “People are generally interested and excited about performances.”
Here are some of the iPhone and iPod touch music applications used by the University of Nebraska's Mobile Phone Orchestra:
Bebot – Robot Synth
by Russell Black ($1.99)
A feature-packed, polyphonic music synthesizer with a unique multi-touch control method, personified on-screen as an animated robot character who moves and sings the notes while you play.
Wide range of sounds and high-degree control. Uses four different synthesis modes: analog sound filters, versatile delay/looping effect and overdrive distortion. Up to four notes can be played and controlled simultaneously using multiple fingers.
by INTUA ($9.99)
Inspired by professional drum machines, samplers and sequencers, BeatMaker combines them into one inspirational instrument. Ideally suited for live performance and intuitive composition, with ease, produce complete songs using trigger pads, sequencing tools, audio effects and much more!
16 sample-based trigger pads with multi-touch support. Low latency playback and sample accurate audio engine. Live pattern recording and arranging. Multi-track song sequencer. Three-band equalizer. Automatic sample slicing over the pads. AIFF and WAVE audio file support.
by CandyCane ($.99)
A revolutionary music application that mixes lights and sounds in a unique way, allowing anyone to compose music intuitively creating visual effects with the tips of your fingers.
Choose from four distinct sound themes or create your own theme by customizing an instrument, scale or tempo. Save your tunes and share them with friends.
by planning NYARO ($1.99)
A drum simulator that lets you drum by waving your mobile device in the air in four different directions.
More than 80 sounds that can be played in two different modes. Can adjust volume and sensitivity of each sound in each direction. Ability to lock the screen during play.
by Rolf Wöhrmann ($4.99)
Professional-grade polyphonic synthesizer.
Has record, playback, looping and syncing capabilities. Can slide while playing on the application. Can exchange sounds with your friends by e-mail. Four different key sizes. Full range of 6.5 octaves. Pitch bend and MOD wheel capabilities. X/Y two dimensional controller. Four fully customizable performance knobs. Sound editing capabilities, including two oscillators with 20 waveforms.
ARGON – synth
by iceWorks Inc. ($1.99)
Monophonic virtual analog synthesizer.
Three oscillators, one filter, one amplifier, one saturator and one delay. High-quality 32 bit floating point synth-engine. Delay effect. 16-step sequencer.
by Opal Limited ($3.99)
Part instrument, part composition and part artwork application allowing anyone to create elaborate patterns and unique melodies by tapping the screen of your mobile device. A generative music player takes over when Bloom is left idle, creating an infinite selection of compositions and their accompanying visualizations.
12 different mood settings. Random mood shuttle. Adjustable delay. Shake to clear. Evolve when idle. Sleep timer.
iPhone Orchestra news
Mobile Phone Orchestra
"do mobile phones dream of electric orchestras?"
University of Michigan iPhone orchestra prepares for performance
An orchestra that uses iPhones instead of musical instruments is holding a concert at the University of Michigan on Wednesday
Published: 7:00AM GMT 08 Dec 2009
Link to this video
Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble
is one of several university orchestras that has foregone traditional instruments in favour of music applications, downloaded on to
's iPhone, to play songs.
The musicians took a course at the university, entitled "Building a mobile phone ensemble" and learned how to create instruments on their iPhone. The instruments are played using a combination of gestures, including tapping the touch-screen and blowing in to the microphone.
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The instruments also use the phone's built-in GPS, digital compass and accelerometer, which knows which way round the device is being held, to produce a certain note depending on whether it is being tipped or shaken.
The iPhones are attached to speakers, worn around the musicians' wrists, and the instruments produce a combination of familiar and unusual sounds.
Georg Essl, the computer scientist and accomplished musician who taught the course, said iPhone music was still "in its infancy".
"But it's a hot and growing area to use iPhones for artistic expression," he said. "The mobile phone is a very nice platform for exploring new forms of musical performance. We're not tethered to the physics of traditional instruments. We can do interesting, weird, unusual things.
"To make technology interesting, you also have to engage with the musicality."
One of the techniques used by the students is to turn the iPhone's microphone in to a wind sensor. Players can blow into the microphone, much as they would a flute, to produce 'sounds' using iPhone music apps such as Ocarina.
The Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble is one of several orchestras using iPhones to make music – there are similar groups at Stanford University in the United States, and at colleges in Germany and Finland.
The 20-strong ensemble is playing a one-off free, public concert at the University of Michigan on Wednesday evening.
Top five iPhone music apps
: If you're a fan of the Zelda computer games, you will recognise the ethereal flutelike notes of this music app immediately. Blow in to the microphone and tap the screen to produce a beautiful sound
: This collection of virtual instruments includes a blues guitar and grand piano. Record the instruments, mix a track and play your composition to friends
ClearTune Chromatic Tuner
: Use this chromatic tuner and pitch pipe to tune up a wide variety of musical instruments, and is accurate to within one hundredth of a semitone
: Follow in the footsteps of Little Boots with this Tenori-on style synthesizer. The two-track drum kit brings compositions to life, and you can layer up to 10 different voices on top of each other
: Rockstar Games might be better known for the Grand Theft Auto series, but this music-maker is a gem. They've teamed up with Timbaland to produce Beaterator, which enables users to build and loop sounds to create their own composition
Read our review of Beaterator
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