Music x Tech: Unconventional Innovations

Chances are, you’ve heard of the piano, the trumpet, the violin, the guitar, or even the bagpipes. In fact, you may play one of these instruments yourself.

With the help of advancing technology, bizarre, new instruments are now available too.

#1: The Laptop Accordion

image from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312283937_The_Laptop_Accordion

The laptop accordion is a modern version of the acoustic accordion. The laptop’s hinge mimics the movement of the bellow while the keyboard works as the right-hand manual (the side of the accordion with buttons).

Figure 1 — bellow diagram, image from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312283937_The_Laptop_Accordion

As the laptop opens and closes, these movements are tracked by computer vision analysis. An image (see Figure 1) of the bellows is also displayed on the laptop’s screen which stretches and compresses as the laptop’s screen moves.

In a laptop accordion, the skeuomorphic bellows themselves are not necessary to produce sound. They exist primarily as a reference to the original accordion design. However, when the bellows are shown on the screen, they also communicate how the laptop accordion should be held, since the laptop accordion is not designed to be held like a regular laptop.

Figure 2 — particle design diagram, image from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312283937_The_Laptop_Accordion

If the user is looking for a different playing experience, they can also switch from the bellows diagram to a particle-based design (see Figure 2). Similarly to the bellow design, the particles will stretch and compress based on how the screen moves.

Both visuals show the computer’s interpretations of the user’s movements and make playing music more engaging overall.

In terms of the keyboard, the layout is consistent with a standard accordion manual. Unlike a standard accordion though, the laptop accordion can remap its keys depending on the key or style of the music.

Figure 3 — hard mode interface for accordion, image from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312283937_The_Laptop_Accordion

Three modes of playing are available to the user that exemplify this functionality: free play mode, play through mode, and hard mode. Free play mode best mirrors a traditional accordion, with the keyboard mapped to the scale and key that the user wants. Next, play through mode works through the MIDI notes of a specified song, and ignores the conventional key mapping. Finally, hard mode works the same as play through mode but requires the user to press keys indicated on an interface similar to that of Guitar Hero (see Figure 3).

#2: Ocarina App

image from https://methodshop.com/ocarina-iphone-flute-video/

The Ocarina app is based off the real ocarina instrument which is an ancient, flute-like contraption. Its name, ocarina, means “little goose” and derives from the unique shape of the instrument.

To play the ocarina, you blow into the mouthpiece and hold the instrument in the same way that you might hold a sandwich. To play different notes, there are different fingerings to cover certain holes on the instrument.

The Ocarina app follows a similar design. The user blows into their iPhone’s microphone and plays different fingerings with the phone’s touchscreen to change the pitch. You can also create a vibrato effect by tilting the angle of the phone while you play.

Another notable feature of the Ocarina app is its social aspect. Users can listen to Ocarina-users across the globe and listen to what music others are playing. They can even leave a like if they enjoyed listening.

Some of the most played songs are from the Legends of Zelda video games which initially made the ocarina instrument and app popular. In the game, the ocarina is an important object that makes multiple appearances throughout the storyline.

The influence of the game was so predominant that the Ocarina app implemented a “Zeldarian mode” which makes your music imitate the style of the Legends of Zelda theme song.

#3: The Effektorium

image from https://www.whitevoid.com/effektorium/

Unlike the laptop accordion or the Ocarina app, the Effektorium isn’t a single instrument, but rather an entire virtual orchestra. The Effektorium is located in Leipzig’s Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Museum where visitors can act as the orchestra’s conductor.

As the conductor, you control the tempo of the various singers and musicians (represented by the LED panels). This is done through LEAP motion-tracking software which adjusts the tempo based on the pendulum intervals of the conductor’s movement.

Additionally, the 32-inch touchscreen at the conductor stand not only lets the user move through the score, but also lets the conductor interact with a variety of important variables. This means that you can control the volume of individual instruments, the type of reverb, the type of tuning, and even when instruments should play at a given time. Conductors also have access to the color and intensity of the LED lights that fill the room.

With Effektorium, anyone can sound like a conducting expert whether you’re a musical prodigy or an amateur.

Dalrymple, Lori. “How to Choose the Best Ocarina for You.” Making Music Magazine, Making Music Magazine, makingmusicmag.com/choose-the-best-ocarina/.

“EFFEKTORIUM — Interactive Virtual Orchestra.” WHITEvoid, WHITEvoid, 2014, www.whitevoid.com/effektorium/.

Meacham, Aidan, et al. “(The Laptop Accordion.” ResearchGate, ResearchGate, July 2016, www.researchgate.net/publication/312283937_The_Laptop_Accordion.

Pittao, Alyssa. “Virtual Symphony Installations.” TrendHunter.com, TREND HUNTER Inc., 6 May 2014, www.trendhunter.com/trends/the-mendelssohn-effektorium.

“Turn Your IPhone Into A Flute With The Ocarina App.” Methodshop, Methodshop, 17 Nov. 2008, methodshop.com/ocarina-iphone-flute-video/.

Wang, Ge. “This App Blows! (Ocarina 2 Launches Today).” Smule, Smule, 19 June 2012, blog.smule.com/this-app-blows-ocarina-2-launches-today.

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