The first cell phone piece that comes to mind is Golan Levin’s Dialtones (A Telesymphony) (2001). The sound source is the audience’s ringtones on cellphones. Participants download a ringtone and get an assigned seat. The performer is a team that has a switchboard that can call up to 60 or so numbers at the same time. So this is still very much the model of composer writes song, performer plays instrument, but here the instrument is spatially spread out over the audience. The audience role is a little blurred in that they get to be seated in the orchestra, so to speak.
The second model for cell phone performance coming to mind is similar in approach: David N. Baker’s Concertino for Cellular Phones and Symphony Orchestra. One composer, orchestra with four amplified cell phones, and then moments in the piece where the audience is encouraged to make their cell phones beep and ring. Here, the model is not all that different from other audience participatory pieces from various genres and performance scenarios: composer writes piece, select group of performers do the heavy lifting for the piece, but the audience is invited to carry out a simple but fun task to make the piece interactive. I’ll need to come up with some key examples, but I’m thinking of stuff like radio shows or melodramas where the audience is asked to boo when the villain appears.
The next model I have in mind is slightly more traditional, I think, than the previous two, despite the novelty of new instruments: Ge Wang heads Standford’s MoPhO (Mobile Phone Orchestra), which generally does a traditional ensemble setup of a conductor, with a group of performers. The performers hold iPhones and have special speakers mounted on their wrists, and perform pieces written by members of the ensemble. I’ve yet to attend one of their concerts, which now seem to be occurring at ends of fall and spring semesters, but it seems like they do all sorts of pieces that leverage the iPhone’s capabilities. It may be that there are some instances where the performance model is quite different than composer -> performers on iPhones with audience watching.
Another approach to the mobile phone ensemble is kind of like the game telephone. A sound is passed from one person to the next via some kind of network. This type of performance improvisation has been happening for decades, and was one of the first ways to make computer music have some live performance aspect to it (the original network band, The Hub, comes to mind). I think MoPhO’s December 2009 concert included a piece with this aspect. At any rate, this game of telephone is closely related to the way computer music was first developed: in the 1950s and 60s Max Mathews created a modular program featuring a tool box of ‘unit generators’ that simulated oscillators, mixers, amplifiers, and similar audio modules. The signal (imagine it as a sound) would go through a series of linked unit generators to modify the sound as it passed from one unit to the next. It’s the basis for one of my favorite audio tools, Max/MSP. In terms of performance, an ensemble of performers can play this game live to act as agents that modify sounds, but instead of having automated mechanisms to change the sound, people can react to what they hear and alter it, often bringing personality, spontaneity, humor and irony into the flow of signal processing.
Perhaps a corollary to the ‘telephone’ game concept would be the mash-up. A real blurring of composer and audience occurs with this idea, where the person listening to the prepared content is invited to alter it and use it in their own music. Splice music, RjDj, and ccMixter are the first things that come to my mind with this, though there’s an entire culture around this way of making music that I cannot pretend to know enough about. Please, if you’re reading, show me the way.
I’ve yet to really give this group a look, but I get the impression based on this video that the model for mobile music making here is a little more inclusionary and immediate, where the audience participants are the performers. This is something of interest to me compositionally.
A whole different category for smart phones in general is the use of handsets for personal performance (like Smule’s Ocarina) and amusement. A lot of the apps out there have a collaborative aspect to it (I’m thinking about RjDj again), but for the most part, these music apps are used mostly for diversion in an isolated setting and not in group performance.
Then there are apps designed for music education, intended in most cases to help you learn to play a different instrument (keyboard or guitar) or learn some basic music theory.
I haven’t touched on ring tones much, but there’s someone who does named Sumanth Gopinath. Great article by him called Ringtones, or the auditory logic of globalization.
And of course, I’m neglecting perhaps the most obvious use of mobile phones in musical contexts, which is to use it as an mp3 player. I find these two links (here and here) to be relevant to this discussion, but it’s another discussion entirely, so I won’t get into it now.
I know I’m forgetting a lot of other things that have been done (for instance, I know that UMichigan has an iPhone ensemble too), so to all you few readers out there: please point out errors or bring me up to speed with other developments of performance. Specifically, I’m interested in knowing how mobile phones are used musically, who is doing what: composer/audience/performer/mash-up artist/