The iPhone's potential as a musical instrument is on display at the University of Michigan this week with a concert by the Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble. Yes, that is the real name of a performance group who received college credit for their efforts.
This is not a first. Musical groups using cell phones have also performed here in the heart of Silicon Valley at Stanford University.
The latest concert is set for Wednesday and it is said to be far from a lark by a few technophiles. Rather, it's the culmination of a semester's work by students in what could be the world's first academic course in the use of cell phones as musical instruments.
"The mobile phone is a very nice platform for exploring new forms of musical performance," said computer scientist and musician Georg Essl, who has dual appointments in Michigan's engineering and music schools. "We can do interesting, weird, unusual things."
Several years ago, Essl and others began using a microphone as a wind sensor, which is what allows popular iPhone applications such as the Ocarina.
"Ocarina essentially turns the phone into an ancient type of flute," university spokeswoman Nicole Casal Moore said in a story on the school's Web site.
Turning an iPhone into a musical instrument starts with programming it to play back as sound information it gets from one of its many sensors.
"The touch-screen, microphone, GPS, compass, wireless sensor and accelerometer can all be transformed so that when you run your finger across the display, blow air into the mike, tilt or shake the phone, for example, different sounds emanate," Moore said.
Essl said the class, which is offered in the coming term as well, requires creativity as well as technological ability.
"To make technology interesting, you also have to engage with the musicality," he said.