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The iPhone as Musical Instrument

It was a sonorous synthesis of computer science, musical innovation and some of the best kind of product placement imaginable when Stanford University professor Ge Wang convened the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra on Thursday. Here we have a group of people who have figured out how to play compositions including Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (performed near the end of this YouTube clip) on their smartphones. But can their best productions come close to the experience of listening to a more traditional symphony, or is even asking that question beside the point when it comes to what’s happening on the frontiers of electronic music? –KA

The New York Times:

From the earliest days of the iPhone, applications that mimic musical instruments have topped the download charts. But the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra, with its avant-garde compositions and electronic renditions of popular songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” is trying to push the frontiers of the four-decade-old field of computer music.

While computer music composers once spent hours programming giant mainframes to synthesize a single sound, advances in hardware and software have brought powerful and easy-to-use music tools to personal computers and now, to smartphones.

Ge Wang, the assistant professor of music who leads the two-year-old Stanford group, says the iPhone may be the first instrument — electronic or acoustic — that millions of people will carry in their pockets. “I can’t bring my guitar or my piano or my cello wherever I go, but I do have my iPhone at all times,” he said.

Professor Wang said he would like to democratize the process of making music, so that anyone with a cellphone could become a musician. “Part of my philosophy is people are inherently creative,” he said. “It’s not just people who think of themselves as artists.”

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