What could a pocket-sized computer be? It could be a new kind of album extra (yawn), a new kind of generative musical format that samples and responds to the world around it (whoo). It could be a more effective controller (fun), or an Indian drone (really). The Apple iPod touch / iPhone, as always, brings both wonder (potential as an art platform or recording device) and trouble (respectively, restrictions on who can see your art and problems actually getting mic input or transferring files). So here’s this week’s snapshot of what’s happening on Apple’s micro-sized pocket Mac phone mediaplayer thing.
First, some quick updates that I’m genuinely pleased about:
A lot of you have been having a great time with OpenSoundControl and the OSCemote tool released last week. It’s worth noting that even if you don’t have an OSC-compatible app, you can use a tool like OSCulator (Mac) or GlovePIE (Windows) to use this as a controller.
But here’s some more good news: the iTouchMIDI apps are making their way onto the iTunes app store, now under the name “iTM.” You no longer need Leopard to run the Mac client that receives MIDI over wifi, and creator Nonnus says a Windows client is coming soon, too. iTM MCU, the all-in-one software controller, is available now (pictured above), as are a number of apps including the free iTM MidiLab. Well worth giving these a try; I expect to post hands-on information soon.
Version 1.3 has made improvements in reliability (see Palm Sounds for more). By working with Mackie Control, you can integrate more tightly with software like Ableton Live, Apple Logic, and the like.
i, Art Platform?
I’m hearing a lot of speculation that Apple’s mobile devices could be a platform for artwork. I certainly like the idea of having a mobile palette to create intimate digital performances; I wondered this aloud on Create Digital Motion after seeing a mock-up of a sensor-driven, faux 3D animation. With tiny devices, tiny screens, and tiny projectors, the idea of creating something personal has some appeal. But as I hear more word of people making this kind of work, I wonder: if exclusively targeting Apple’s gadgets, isn’t there a danger not only of limiting the audience to gadget owners, but becoming overly tied to Apple’s proprietary platform?
With that caution in mind, here’s a very interesting app called RjDj that makes use of the accelerometer to respond to surroundings and even samples sounds via the mic:
And here are some folks playing with it:
The idea is not just a single work, but a collection of works by different artists which you can manipulate — work that’s never the same twice.
Most interesting, the RjDj team is using Pd (Pure Data); not only is it open source and multi-platform, but Pd’s scenes structure is perfectly suited to this kind of generative, interactive music. (No accident that Pd was also used in the creation of the generative Brian Eno soundtrack for the upcoming game Spore.) I’m quite eager to hear how he’s able to make Pd work and get this approved on the App Store, but we’ll see. Expect more detailed coverage soon, as I’m really looking forward to having a conversation with the developers about the possibilities of non-linear, generative, and interactive musical works, on mobile devices and beyond.
While on the subject…
He tends more toward the visual side, but Chris O’Shea reflects on the possibilities of software art. So far, Andreas Muller and Golan Levin each have works coming, though interestingly just ports of previous works, not actually new stuff for iPhone.
Snow Patrol and More
MusicRadar reports that SnowPatrol are planning an iPhone app release with their album. Wired’s Listening Post reports that this is just the tip of the iceberg; expect iTunes releases to have accompanying apps with interactive album extras.
Okay, I’ll say it: this sounds actually pretty dreadful. The iPhone and iPod touch already have online connections, yet I imagine many of these “apps” will simply duplicate existing content. If these really extended the album artistically in the way that brilliant album cover art did, that’d be one thing, but it’s hard not to be skeptical. And everyone seems to forget that this idea has been tried before, with various takes on “enhanced CDs.” I owned quite a few of these back when we are all buying CDs. I don’t think I ever saw the feature used in an interesting way, and the storage capacity wasn’t actually all that different.
That said, I’d love to prove me wrong. Speaking of Brian Eno, maybe a fully generative EnoApp? Or perhaps Laurie Anderson releasing some cool interactive experience? (Anyone remember the Puppet Motel CD-ROM from Voyager, or was I one of the only owners?)
Still, here’s my bet: the really smart artists will unshackle themselves from Apple distribution altogether, and release “content” on formats that allow a more expansive experience. Think DVDs or Blu-ray discs in hand-crafted cases, or limited prints, things that are the tangible counterpart to the digital realm.
I wondered if someone would figure out a way to do this: iQualizer is a visualizer for your phone. I imagine this won’t do wonders for your battery life, but having spent more than my share of time blissing out at my computer monitor when the first mass-market visualizers appeared in the 90s, I can see the appeal.
Next step: an easy tool for developing your own, so you can use the video out jack of an iPod or iPhone to add live visuals behind your band.
It’s kind of silly that Apple leaves out recording to begin with, and even skimps on including a mic at all on the iPod touch. But filling the void is Plum Amazing’s Plum Record:
Now, that leaves only two problems. First, there’s the mic. I spoke to Plum’s Julian Miller, and he confirmed that you should be able to use the app on an iPod touch by buying a third-party mic (which could theoretically improve upon the iPhone mic’s quality, as well). But Plum hasn’t personally tested these, and neither have I — anyone out there gotten one of those mics?
Second, there’s the issue of how to get the files to and from your computer. In their infinite wisdom, Apple has decided you shouldn’t have any way to get files on or off their device outside of iTunes. Plum has a “server” app that you run on your computer to make this happen — Mac only for now, but with Windows and Linux coming soon.
All in all, it’s anything but an ideal recording situation, but if you just want to make a quick recording of a musical idea or practice session, it could do in a pinch. And I love the interface. This could be a fantastic way of keeping an audio “diary” of sorts, if we could just solve the mic problem.
Let us know if you try any third-party mics.
Go Indian: Sruti Box
Finally, here’s an app that’s actually unique: Sruti Box emulates the drone used in Indian music and spiritual practices. Creator Henry Lowengard writes, “It’s pretty simple: 12 virtual reeds, four interval scales, chorus, random interval perturbation, timbre adjustment. In this case, simplicity is good.”
US$2.99, available now:
Update: There’s a new release that came out as I was writing this (there’s a bit of lag as updates head over to Apple, before they get posted). Henry writes:
version 1.0.1 is available in the AppStore.
SrutiBox 1.0.1 is a minor update from 1.0:
- less off-centered icon (can’t tell from the store, but trust me)
- slower chorus speeds available
- lower base frequency now: 10 HZ (you can get some interesting beating with a low frequency mixed with high harmonics)
- changes to the Instructions.
Known annoying thing: I left in an extra ‘<' in the Instructions page's tuning description table. That is gone in the next version, which may be called 1.1.0, since it's got a lot of changes.
That’s it for this week’s round-up. Releases are settling down a bit, which means time to actually use this stuff and make some music. iPod/iPhone owners, let us know how your experience with these and other apps we’ve mentioned on CDM are going. Non-iOwners, we’re curious to hear what mobile apps and tools you’re into, so let us know that, too.
More iPhone/Touch Music Stuff
Last week’s round-up: iPhone/Touch Roundup: BtBx Acid Bass, iDrum Workflow and Babies, OpenSoundControl App