Strings of numbers are everywhere in our world, tucked just outside our awareness alongside identifiers like bar codes. Dutch media artist and inventor Leo van der Veen simply plucks that information and brings it to the fore.

Barcodas is a barcode-scanning iPhone app that deciphers common EAN and UPC codes and translates them into musical patterns. Pick the scale you want, and out comes a melody. I’ve engaged in similar silliness myself, but in a sign of how handheld tech has changed, a project I did a few years back involved a USB scanner I purchased at an office supply store and a desktop computer running Processing; there simply weren’t readily-available, camera-equipped smartphones with useful multimedia capabilities. As a result, the work I did (sending MIDI to Ableton Live and doing a strange visual piece with a choreographer) wasn’t really all that practical.

By contrast, Leo’s project is elegantly-designed, with a beautiful, minimal, friendly user interface, and has some real use. You can transform an iPhone 3GS or 4 into a handheld melody-finding device, like a metal detector for tunes, and find order in the seemingly-chaotic. And most importantly, you can save and share your tunes, even spreading them on Facebook.

There are other ways of making melodies, to be sure, but I think anything that raises awareness of the world around us and challenges us to be more creative is a good thing.

Developers: iOS devs, the work here is based on the excellent Zbar open source barcode framework; Leo says QRCode support is forthcoming. If you’re on Android, the free ZXing is also fantastic (and is the basis of Google’s own barcode scanning app).

Since it’sMathematics Awareness Month (whoo!), it’s worth noting that Leo is a fan of playing with numbers. He tells CDM he plays adding number games with barcodes over breakfast. (“I tend to sum all the individual digits up to zero using only the most basic operands. E.g. 8713091021473 would make 8-7-1 = 0; 3sq – 9 = 0; 1-2+1 = 0; 4-7+3 = 0, that’s a thing you do, too, right?”)

And he has a quite lovely math game that challenges you to make the value 15 out of randomly-chosen digits. It’s a bit like Blackjack for math nerds. nr15, another iOS app, isn’t strictly musical, but then, neither are barcodes, so perhaps this will lead someone to some new form of composition.

In the more strictly-practical end of the pond, Leo has also created the clever c74 app, designed to make control of Max 5 patches easy from iPhones and iPod touch.

Find many, many other fanciful projects from Processing to Max to hardware to imaginary, impossible inventions: