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You never knew you loved... A different kind of band

Amy Plachta | Interrobang | Lifestyles | January 18th, 2010

Historically, technology has been a driving force in the evolution of music. Some developments were major and seemingly permanent, such as the electric guitar. Others, like the Theremin, turned some heads and then settled into niche markets.

These days a new novelty is creeping into the musical landscape. While its permanence is suspect, mobile music is still garnering attention and stretching some people's definitions of what constitutes music.

Two years ago over 80 per cent of Americans owned a cell phone. This proportion has since risen, with just under a quarter being smart phones. While many users take advantage of their devices ability to store music, some, with the aid of free or inexpensive apps, are attempting to create it.

The origins of this emerging style can be traced to the League of Automatic Composers, a group active in the late seventies and early eighties which dedicated itself to using microcomputers — a recent development that had only just become widely available -— to create music. Another avant garde band, The Hub, sought to create music via networked computers shortly thereafter.

Since then, computers have become common in the production of music (analogue tape having taken a backseat to programs like Pro Tools) and creating MIDI sounds. However, they are rarely employed as performance instruments. Over the course of the last five years, several groups have stepped forward to try to change this, or at least challenge it.

students on laptops

PLOrk: The Princeton Laptop Orchestra was founded in 2005 by a group of students interested in redefining musical performance. With several musicians each controlling a laptop connected to a hemispherical speaker, and augmenting the conventional conductor with video and wireless networking, the group emulates the feel of a conventional orchestra in a very unconventional way. While none of the music has been released for resale, some audio and video clips can be found through the group's website,

i, MoPho: taking the technology to one of the most recent technological developments, the smart phone, the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra is made up of a group of people using iPhones to create sound via the Ocarina app, which members helped develop. Tapping, blowing, and moving the phones creates various haunting tones that are broadcast through speakers strapped to the back of musicians hands. Clips and videos can be found via

Shimon: developed at Georgia Tech, Shimon is a robot built to play the marimba. It is controlled with an iPhone, but rather than simply being programmed to play a piece, Shimon employs algorithms that allow the iPhone user to play a melody in Zoozbeat that the robot then improvises on, with results reminiscent of the jazz stylings of Thelonius Monk. A video demonstration is available at the Zoozmobile youtube page.
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