Stanford’s iPhone Orchestra

Stanford’s iPhone Orchestra

University students experiment with new ways to create music -- or at least 'sculpt sound' -- by hacking their smartphones. (NYT)

Ge Wang, director of the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra, has a plan for the iPhone, and it has nothing to do with making a call. By blowing into the phone’s microphone, or modifying the responses from the tilt sensor or the touch screen, Professor Wang and his students transform an ordinary mobile phone into a musical instrument. This New York Times video tracks the progress of the instrument from the workbench — where speakers are attached to fingerless gloves for musician mobility — to the lab for computer modifications, and finally to an original concert, conducted by the wildly waving Wang.

The students are intrigued by the possibilities for “sculpting” sound by designing their own instrument, writing its music, and determining its place in the group, but some may question whether the result is music at all. The orchestra produces a spacey audio soup alternately sounding somewhat like a temple bell, a theramin or a didgeridoo. Wang co-founded a software company, Smule, which makes simpler applications like Ocarina, which turns the iPhone into a flutelike instrument. Rather than attempting a comparison to an actual instrument, however, Wang suggests just listening, “with open ears and open mind.”

CHANNEL: New York Times

Length: 5:18

Produced by Emily Taguchi and Claire Cain Miller