GUEST BLOGGER Yvonne Caruthers–Will Apple Save Classical Music?

A few years ago conductor Leonard Slatkin stated that John Williams had saved the orchestra. Why? Because at a time when Broadway shows were moving more and more toward the use of synthesizers and recorded music, Williams was writing film scores for large orchestras. Slatkin maintained that producers (and audiences) having Williams’ sounds in their memories, and other composers following in his footsteps, had done more to save orchestras than just about anything else.

Today I’m wondering if the future of classical music lies in the development of “apps” for the iPhone. If you own an iPhone, you can play around with all sorts of instruments, even the orchestra itself.

Violin, turning the iPhone’s screen into a set of violin strings (similar to Guitar Toolkit, below), is still very limited as I write–surely that will soon change.

Shamisen looks similar to Violin but of course it sounds like a shamisen. Another app is called Harp, but it works like an autoharp, not an orchestral harp. Some of these apps are simply amazing in what they can do.

The descriptions which follow are taken directly from the apps’ websites, and hence they are placed in quotes.

Guitar ToolKit: This is a set of essential tools for any guitarist. It’s got a tuner (it uses the iPhone’s built-in mic to listen and tell you whether you’re in tune), a chord finder (scroll through more than 260 chord diagrams), a metronome, and “tuning tones,” a set of harmonic tones to tune your guitar if you play by ear.”

Ocarina: The hottest music app in the App Store, Ocarina thought beyond the iPhone’s touchscreen and found a unique way to use the handset’s microphone. Blowing into the mic simulates the experience of tooting into a flute; you play around with four virtual “holes” on the screen to change the note. Ocarina users around the world can even hear what you’re playing in a globe mode. It takes a while to get a hang of it, but Ocarina gives away just how creative iPhone apps can get so long as developers have enough imagination.”

Band: This is a collection of virtual instruments: a couple of drum kits, a keyboard, bass, electric guitar. There’s even an audience to give your music some applause. Apps like this one…..are possible because of the iPhone’s incredibly elegant, touch-sensitive screen. Tap the keys on the screen to play piano, or the drum pads to lay down a beat….people are recording entire songs using only the iPhone.”

Beatmaker: Beatmaker turns the iPhone into a Digital Audio Workstation. In other words, it lets you load audio clips into the iPhone and mix them together to make your own music. It’s got a drum machine and lots of samples pre-loaded. You can loop effects. Watch this video to see it in action.”

Trumpet is a trumpet in your iPhone. Like other brass instruments, trumpeters tighten or loosen their lips to select a partial — Bb, F, the Bb above that, and so on, according to the overtone series. Then they can press the valves to change the note; the more valves depressed, the lower the resulting pitch. The valves lets a trumpeter get at those notes between the partials. Trumpet, however, doesn’t have a brass mouthpiece, and we don’t recommend putting your lips on your iPhone, however much you might love it. Rather, you can pick how you want to simulate the mouthpiece — by tilt, breath, or by touch. Depress the valves to change the pitch. The manual includes a fingering chart. For those already familiar with the trumpet, we have a realistic partial option that enables faster, more natural playing. Indeed, Trumpet is a great way to learn the principles of the trumpet and even hone your skills.

Bravo Gustavo: If rock and pop music just doesn’t do it for you but hanker after a little Guitar Hero inspired action and you happen to be a fan of either Gustavo Dudamel or the LA Philharmonic (or both) and (yes, another “and”) you happen to own an iPhone or iPod Touch then you may be interested in the just released free app going by the name of Bravo Gustavo.  The idea behind the iPhone/iPod Touch Bravo Gustavo app is strikingly simple; just tap your device to set the tempo and wave it around like a baton to conduct the LA Philharmonic who’ll react to your timing to produce either sweet music based on impeccable timing or the musical equivalent of an orchestra dosed up on either sedatives or amphetamines (or succumbing to a disastrous combination of the two).

The iPhone/iPod Touch Bravo Gustavo app, which comes with two pieces for you to murder – specifically March of the Scaffold and Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath – can be downloaded now but, please, do us all a favour, plug in your headphones first. Read more here.

iPhone developer Mister Aardvark has revealed iAno, a multi-touch piano simulator for iPhone and iPod Touch. This is a complete simulator with four octave keyboard with decent sound and comes with Multi-touch functionality .

Full feature list:

  • A complete four octave keyboard.
  • Up to 5 keys can be pressed at once allowing complex chords.
  • Sounds like a real piano with realistic piano multi-samples.
  • Animated piano keys react to your touch.
  • Play along to all your MP3s.
  • On-screen keyboard navigation allows you to easily move up and down by octaves or “part octaves” (ie. left-most key is a C or an F).”

iBone turns the phone into a trombone.

  • Practice and learn scales and songs
  • Play-a-long with music from your iPod library …anywhere.
  • Touch or blow to make a sound
  • Slide your finger to change pitch
  • Raise and lower the bell to change volume.
  • Pick a tune from the iBone Songbook and see where to press as you play-a-long with the band accompaniment. Can’t figure it out? Have roboBone play it for you.

Now in the iBone Songbook

  • Air (on a G String) with Guitar
  • Aura Lee with Piano
  • Greensleeves with Accordian
  • Guantanamera with Bongos, Bass, and Drums
  • Ride of the Valkyries with Orchestra

I’ll leave the last word on this subject to Jason Turbow writing in the NYTimes on Oct 1, “Tapping Your Inner Clapton: “The beautiful thing about these iPhone apps, however, is that even when it comes to the pros, it doesn’t matter. What guitar player doesn’t spend hours noodling until the moment inspiration strikes? Hardly an inspiration deterrent, the iPhone is actually just the opposite; it might not make for optimal musicality, but it opens up the possibility for one’s muse to come calling in pretty much any setting.”

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Yvonne Caruthers

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