MORE DARK THAN SHARK - FEATURE
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
October 5, 2008: Brian Eno, father of ambient music and one of the greatest musical minds of our time, has teamed up with his Spore collaborator, musician/programmer Peter Chilvers, to create an iPhone/iPod Touch application called Bloom. It's "part instrument, part composition and part artwork."
"Bloom is an endless music machine, a music box for the twenty-first century. You can play it and you can watch it play itself."
Unlike most music-creation apps, it doesn't take an existing musical instrument and cram it awkwardly into the iPhone's interface. Instead, it creates a completely new "instrument" designed specifically for the iPhone. Essentially, you're provided with a colored screen and a quiet drone. As you tap the screen in various places, different tones play depending on where you tapped. They then loop, creating a unique piece of music on the fly, one that changes gradually on its own once you stop tapping.
Bloom has two modes: "Listen" and "Create" (essentially, "Auto" and "Manual"). "Listen" mode produces spontaneously generated ambient music. "Create" turns your iPhone/iPod into an ambient musical instrument.
Here's how it works: First, there's a low volume background drone. Whenever you touch the screen, it plays a note - the top of the screen produces high notes, and the bottom of the screen produces low notes. The point you touch blooms into one of the circles you see in the photo. As the note fades out, the circle gets larger and fades out. Then, a few seconds later, it repeats the note (and redraws the circle). The note (and the circle) repeat at regular intervals, growing gradually softer over the course of a minute or two. Touch two or three fingers simultaneously, and you make a chord.
So if you play a sequence of notes and chords, the sequence repeats a cycle (and a pattern of circles on the screen). As you add new notes and chords to the sequence, the overall image and sound shifts over time as the earlier sequences fade out. The music is very akin to Eno's Ambient Music - seemingly meterless, but not without organization, shifting textures.
The settings include a volume control, a sliding scale to in crease or decrease the frequency with which notes repeat, a "Shake to clear" On/Off switch (just what it sounds like - if you get tired of a sequence, shake the iPhone/iPod to clear the screen and start over), a "Clear" button, a "Freeze" button (stops notes from fading out and freezes the existing pattern) and a "Listen" button to switch to the random note generation mode. There are settings for the color schemes of the visuals (default to "Shuffle"), plus an idle switch that that will repeat an earlier pattern if the screen is not activated after a significant period of time.
Bloom is available from the iTunes App Store for $3.99 - and while you're there you can also download a free iPhone/iPod app version of Eno's classic Oblique Strategies, a set of oracle cards that he and Peter Schmidt created in the 1970s. The cards are chiefly intended as suggestions on how to overcome creative hurdles. For example, when you get writer's block, pick a card at random from the deck and follow the instructions: "Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them" or "Turn it upside down" or "Cascades" or "Bridges (burn)". The phrases on the cards are intentionally open to interpretation and are not intended as a set of instructions so much as a source of ideas.
Compatible with the iPod Touch and iPhone / Requires iPhone 2.0 Software Update
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