The novelty of the iPhone or [your favorite device here] may fade. But part of what matters in mobile design is thinking about how to create interfaces and uses that can scale to the size of your palm. That can mean embracing radical simplicity, and reducing an interactive, digital musical object down to its essential noise-making functions. In acoustic instrument design, that means economizing sound production in a form. In the digital world, it means finding the interactive role you’d want to bring with you onstage, in the length roughly equivalent your fingertips to your wrist.
I’m a few weeks overdue actually writing about it, but one design I really admire is Star6, developed by Jason Forrest and Agile Partners. There are no awkward, gimmicky emulations of hardware interfaces here; it’s clear this was an interface that was illustrated in two-dimensions. It has funky nerdster chic color combos, with neon pink atop wood grain. It demonstrates that, in the space of a grid, you can fit triangles. It makes use of computer wifi capability to easily load samples without mucking around with over-designed clients – or record right on the iPhone. And it’s – surprisingly – one of the few apps to make heavy use of the accelerometer, which means rather than looking like you’re trying to text message someone, you can move it around. There’s a “grain” mode so that you can randomize sounds and not have everything synced all the time. I also enjoy the “reset” button. These are all design decisions that could make sense in more commercial software – and our own home-brewed Max/Pd patches and such, too.
Apparently Agile Partners were also influenced by the brightly-colored, handheld fun of the Buddha Machine, too; see their interview with the creator.
It’s not a perfect app (no mobile app really can be – that’s the fun of it), and it doesn’t do everything, but I find Star6’s personality rather irresistible. The real test of all of this is whether you can use it in real music-making. And, while my inbox is full of cheezy bands trying to ride the iPhone wave, I love the offbeat Star6 music launch party from Berlin, as documented in the video below. It ranges from Jason’s own work to Warp Records artist Jackson and ex-Chicks on Speed Kiki Moorse. And there’s a crazy iPhone + banjo + accordion cover of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” There are even some genuinely experimental sounds – not the sort of thing you’d expect at a launch event, sadly. (I wish we could have more of that.)
More on the artists, and some of Star6 creator Jason Forrest’s own unique work:
Jason’s own artistic aesthetic, as seen in this video for “War Photographer,” does have this quirky efficiency to it, the sense of cut-out animation (in both visuals and music, I’d argue), and saturated, rich, retro colors.
The eclectic Berlin launch.
Jackson (Warp, FR)
Kiki Moorse (ex-Chicks On Speed,DE)
Song Band (US)
Jason Forrest (CRD, US)
Guido Mobius (Karaoke Kalk, DE)
Ben Butler & Mousepad (SCT/DE)
DJ’s: Finkobot & Marius Reisser
Jacki Terrasse / Joseph (@ Maria)
An Der Schilling Brücke
For more on the artists:
Video shot by Martin Sulzer
Photos by Marco Macrobi