Can You Express Emotion And Meaning With Mobile Music Apps? ‘We Will Find Out.’

This video is a profile of the DigiEnsemble Berlin – a group of musicians that are dedicated to exploring the potential of mobile devices for music.

The group meets regularly and arranges music, both classical and popular, for various mobile devices running music applications.

At the core of what they do is a provocative question:

Can we use mass-produced mobile devices to ‘convey the actual emotion and meaning that we feel in our bodies and which we wish to express? Or is this app music….for the players themselves?”

This question – whether mass-produced mobile devices can really be instruments – has been the source of much debate, here and elsewhere. What makes the work of the DigEnsemble Berlin interesting, though, is that they are trying to answer this question, not by debating – but by playing.

About The Video

The DigiEnsemble Berlin is currently working on a rather big project: the realization of the aria “Großer Herr, o starker König” from the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The DigiEnsemble Berlin is not an ordinary orchestra – they do not play conventional instruments, they play tablet PCs and smartphones. The TV program Metropolis (ARTE) visited a rehearsal of the DigiEnsemble Berlin at an early stage of their new project. In the process of rehearsing it becomes clear to the viewer and the musicians themselves how they grew into the project and into an actual ensemble.

But why playing Bach on mobile devices? The DigiEnsemble Berlin conducts an experiment – a research project if you want. The project should not be understood as simply replacing conventional instruments with smartphones and tablets. Rather the DigiEnsemble Berlin aims at finding out how these devices can be understood as instruments themselves – not as substitutes. What advantages do they provide? What are new possibilities of interaction? And in a distant step: Is there a new music that can arise from these instruments?

To answer these questions, the DigiEnsemble Berlin first needs to learn to control their new instruments. This is achieved by playing existing music from diverse styles such as classical music, jazz, rock and pop. The realization of the Christmas Oratorio demands high skills and perfection, which the trained musicians finally meet after two years of playing music with smartphones and tablets. Hence, the realization of the Christmas Oratorio is an important step in the research progress of the DigiEnsemble Berlin.

In the course of two months rehearsing for the Christmas Oratorio on digital devices, the musicians of the DigiEnsemble Berlin realised how they little by little turned into an actual ensemble. Since they are all trained musicians they have high musical expectations while learning how to play these new instruments. Precise playing was achieved by practising hard. Consequently, they started to involve their whole bodies in playing music while interacting with the other players. Additionally, a professional conductor leads the ensemble through the piece.

The DigiEnsemble Berlin will perform the Christmas Oratorio alongside with the aria “Ombra Mai Fu” and a new special composition for smartphones at the Berlin Cathedral on the 16. Dec 2012. They will contribute the pieces to the Sunday church service.

via Matthias Krebs

11 thoughts on “Can You Express Emotion And Meaning With Mobile Music Apps? ‘We Will Find Out.’

  1. A few thoughts:

    Bach IS the ideal starting point; his work translates to ANY instrument. Its also a bit of an acid test to grasp him and do right by his work.

    “We all play acoustic instruments.” BRAVO. Because of that, they can bring a vital element to things that is often missing from too-mechanical approaches and the temptations of easy fads.

    Pads seem too restrictive so far and too GUI-small for me personally, so far. Still, its time for me to set aside that bias more and give a nod to these guys for being focused on getting worthy RESULTS. It made me just plain feel good to see their group at work. I encourage people to consider the great hybrid action going on between cute tech and more hard-core instruments. I’ll seek to take on more of that view myself. Great video.

    1. If they can play Bach well, they can probably play anything.

      They’ve still fit a ways to go, but there are moments of magic in their playing. That’s amazing when you consider they have been playing with these instruments two years, vs century old classical instruments.

  2. “Pads seem too restrictive so far and too GUI-small for me personally, so far.”

    Sadly not that many people have nailed the method to use touchscreen for musical expression.

    But I think these guys did :

    – For the playing grid : Rob Fielding (Mugician, GeoSynth, Cantor), Everyone should have a similar controller in their app.
    – For finger sensitivity : Orphion (limited in sound, but has a totally unique method to recognize a finger tip or a flat finger).
    – For fullscreen X-Y controllers : Bebot, SynthX, Thumbjam

        1. although……i do respect anything that is silly. these guys dont give a f*** and are just having fun with what piques their bizarre interest so props to them.

    1. Well, it IS silly in one sense. Poking at a pad simply doesn’t feel as musical in its execution as playing a guitar. The trick is to close your eyes give the feel of what you HEAR a fair shot. That levels the playing field right away.
      I agree that the basic sound is poor in the video, but that’s irrelevant for demo purposes. I’m sure they’re using things of a quality similar to IK Multimedia’s iPhone app. I mean, damn, a whole ROMpler-like workstation in an iPhone? So there’s no lack of rich sound sources, even this early in the pad game for music apps. Let’s give an honest effort every point we can.

  3. Sounds absolutely terrible, I mean just the sound is horrible, but the playing is actually very good. Anything can be used as an instrument, amd can be used expressively, I just think the samples or whatever they are using sound cheap and nasty, but with a better sound theres potential there to perhaps liberate people who can’t play conventional instruments to make it possible to make music, so all good

    1. Not sure if it makes sense to judge the sound quality based on audio from an on camera mic!

      The focus of the profile is obviously on the ensemble, not the software.

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