Proving that iPhone users haven’t run out of original things to do with their devices, a group of students at the University of Michigan will be performing live on December 9 with an orchestra made up entirely of iPhones.
The experiment — billed as a “world’s first” by 9to5Mac — is part of a college course called “Building a Mobile Phone Ensemble,” taught by computer scientist and musician Georg Essl. The class merges engineering practices, mobile phone programming and sound synthesis with new music performance, composition and interactive media arts.
Essl has a background in developing mobile phones and musical instruments, and a number of years ago he and his colleagues were the first to use microphones as a wind sensor — technology used today that made the popular iPhone app Ocarina possible, which turns the iPhone into an ancient type of flute.
“The mobile phone is a very nice platform for exploring new forms of musical performance,” Essl explains. “We’re not tethered to the physics of traditional instruments. We can do interesting, weird, unusual things.”
Indeed, the iPhone makes a perfect companion for such uses. With a touchscreen, microphone, GPS, compass, wireless sensors and accelerometers, the iPhone can be transformed in different ways based on how the performer uses it. Running your finger across the display, blowing air into the mic or even shaking the phone all can create unique sounds.
“This kind of technology is in its infancy,” Essl concludes, “but it’s a hot and growing area to use iPhones for artistic expression.”