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The Ultimately Portable Orchestra

Skimming through the The New York Times online video library, I happened upon a piece about a new type of orchestra born at Stanford University, and consequently, at many other places throughout the country: the iPhone Orchestra.  Not only can one make this multi-dimensional communications device a flashlight, or replicate the visual action of drinking a pint of beer, but it can now be your own portable “anything” musical instrument. What the Stanford orchestra has done is not just create a simple app (although these have subsequently been developed and are currently available), but applied their efforts to explore and stretch the capabilities of this device so that it becomes a flute, a drum circle, wind chimes, and produce many other sounds not yet imagined. Although computer-based replication of instrumental sounds is nothing new, the iPhone as an instrument may be the device that levels the musical playing field (just as the portable and then digital camera did for fine art photography) by allowing anyone to compose and play original music at the touch of their fingertips. Ge Wang, one of the founders of the Stanford iPhone Orchestra considers the ability of anyone to take up the iPhone and create new sounds to be one of the basic principles of the iPhone Orchestra, ”It’s my philosophy that people are inherently creative.  It’s not just people who think of themselves as artists.”  Our research into cultural engagement underscores Wang’s philosophy – everyone has creativity embedded in their DNA.  Compose while waiting in long lines at the DMV, or hold an impromptu jam session with friends after dinner.  The possibilities are endless.


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