Generally, cell phone noise is pretty much the last thing you'd want to hear at a concert. But it's all the audience will be getting at a Michigan recital next week. And that's the way it's supposed to be when the Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble hits the stage.
Orchestra members are University of Michigan students winding up a fall course on turning mobile phones into musical instruments. The course merges engineering practices, mobile phone programming, and sound synthesis with music performance, composition, and interactive media arts.
Rather than just playing a bunch of converging ringtones, the students use their devices to create new interactive sounds in live performance. Their instruments of choice are currently iPhones and iPod Touches, and they use custom-built speaker systems worn around the wrist to broadcast their original artistry.
"The mobile phone is a very nice platform for exploring new forms of musical performance," said Georg Essl, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and music at the school who is teaching the course. "We're not tethered to the physics of traditional instruments. We can do interesting, weird, unusual things."
At their end-of-semester concert in Ann Arbor Wednesday, students will be doing more than firing up apps that turn the iPhone into an organ or ocarina. They have spent the semester building apps themselves and using touch screens, microphones, GPS, compasses, wireless sensors, and accelerometers to create sounds when they run their finger across the display, blow air into the mic, or tilt or shake their phones. … Read more