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Music Media Businesses Apple

Turn an iPhone Into a Pocket Theremin 31

Posted by timothy
from the extremely-happy-to-see-you dept.
Earyauteur writes "The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) is running a story on an interesting motion-controlled iPhone application which uses the iPhone's 3-axis accelerometer to control a digital synthesizer. The musical instrument is played much like a theremin with the added ability to perform music using different musical scales. TUAW also links to a YouTube video which shows a performer demonstrating the iPhone instrument."
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Turn an iPhone Into a Pocket Theremin

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2008 @02:52PM (#25086633)

    So you can figure out what a Theremin is

  • by theefer (467185) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @02:53PM (#25086637) Homepage

    The musical instrument is played much like a theremin [...]

    Clearly whoever wrote this has never seen, let alone played a theremin.

    You don't play a theremin by rotating a mobile phone (or anything) in your hand. There is no notion of angle, since you play with your bare hands, only distance. The distance to the vertical antenna determines the pitch, whereas the distance to the horizontal circular antenna controls the volume. The whole point is the expressiveness of playing music with your whole body.

    If you want a small silly toy theremin, you should order Vol. 17 of Japanese magazine Otona no kagaku [hlj.com] (the whole thing is in Japanese, but easy enough to build). You can only control the pitch, the sound is pretty awful, and you cannot place calls with it, but at least it's a theremin.

    • by Earyauteur (1142601) * on Saturday September 20, 2008 @03:15PM (#25086793)

      The musical instrument is played much like a theremin [...]

      Clearly whoever wrote this has never seen, let alone played a theremin.

      Actually I have built a Theremin from a kit. It worked when I was done soldering -- so I have both seen and played a Theremin if it matters to any one here besides the pedant trolls. I included a link to the theremin [wikipedia.org] in my submission so without knowing anything about me you might have noticed that I at least knew what Leon Theremin and his instrument looked like.

      • Can someone explain to me why the poster explaining his submission is modded redundant?

        I mean, I still don't think this is anything like a Theremin, but what the hell? It's not like he said this 10 other times in the thread.

    • by xPsi (851544)
      Well put. The theremin, in many ways, is more mysterious than this (by some mysterious definition of "mystery") because it essentially uses the user's body itself as a capacitive element in an RF circuit whereas the iPhone accelerometer is a straightforward (albeit cleverly made [st.com]) direct mechanical effect. If you don't want a toy, you can get real Moog theremin kits [moogmusic.com] for under $400 or the real thing for under $2k. Nevertheless, I do think this is a clever use of the accelerometer in the iPhone. The real t
    • by DynaSoar (714234) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @04:09PM (#25087109) Journal

      The distance to the vertical antenna determines the pitch, whereas the distance to the horizontal circular antenna controls the volume.

      That may be true of the "real" Theremin. Jean-Michel Jarre plays one in "Water For Life" among other video performances, and was shown on the late 50's Mickey Mouse Show. However, some have two vertical antennae, and some have plates flush with the top. There's (typically) pitch and volume antennae, and the configuration is irrelevant.

      That said, another difference between a theremin and the iPhone widget is the fact that the former maintains a continuosly varying pitch, whereas the latter is programmed to chunk off the notes into a preselected scale.

      Another similarity is that neither have a mechanical feedback mechanism, requiring that it be played by ear as much as by hand. Playing by ear requires some tonal ability. A lot of people don't have that innately and if they can learn it, it takes a long time. Probably longer than the desire to learn to play their phone.

      At least theremin manipulation is roughly linear as opposed to rotational, so visual feedback can more easily be associated with the aural.

    • Fixated on touch (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall (25149)

      If you get the same results for very similar input, in what way is it not like a theremin?

      Some posters here seem way too fixated on the fact that you are holding the phone while waving it around, while ignoring it's a similar control scheme to a real theremin.

      I mean, what if in theory you could just wave your hands around and make sounds like a theremin. Would that not essentially be having a "portable" theremin? Now hold a phone in your hand and do the same thing, suddenly it's totally different... I do

      • by nog_lorp (896553) *

        Except the input mechanism isn't like a theremin (both in how it is operated and in that it isn't as cool).

        Input: tilting the phone up and down; basically like pulling a lever or rotating a dial.

      • If you get the same results for very similar input, in what way is it not like a theremin?

        The way by which it's different, obviously ;)

        Suppose you had a guitar-shaped piece of plastic with 6 times 24 buttons on it (nstrings times nfrets plus overhead), hooked up to a computer that generated appropriate sounds. In which ways is that not a guitar? Would you ask Ritchie Blackmore to play it? It's the same result for similar inputs, right?

        Okay, let's be more realistic. Electric pianos; they exist, some people like them, some people abhor them. I think it's fair to say the two are similar, but i

        • Suppose you had a guitar-shaped piece of plastic with 6 times 24 buttons on it (nstrings times nfrets plus overhead), hooked up to a computer that generated appropriate sounds. In which ways is that not a guitar?

          Because a guitar is vibrating analog strings in an infinite range from start to end, not pressing button. The inputs are not similar in any way, only the shape of the input device is. It's like saying a cardboard box with a horn attached is the same as a car.

          The iPhone is measuring in an analog wa

    • by Whiteox (919863)

      The distance to the vertical antenna determines the pitch, whereas the distance to the horizontal circular antenna controls the volume.

      I once built one in the late 60's from an electronics mag.
      It had 2 aluminium plates about 10 cm2 for antennas.
      Sometime years later I dusted it off and managed to set the sensitivity so that if anyone came into the room it would start to 'click' and then howl as they approached.
      Also, some episodes of the original Lost in Space used Theremins for controls. A neat idea.
      I wonder

  • I've got something in my front pocket for you.
    Why don't you reach down in my pocket and see what it is?
    Then grab onto it, it's just for you.
    Give a little squeeze and say: "How do you do?"

  • The theremin has its detractors, but you should at least give it a try [youtube.com], especially if its played by someone halfway competent. Can't say anything about geekiness factor though.
  • by Earyauteur (1142601) * on Saturday September 20, 2008 @03:18PM (#25086807)
    Someone uploaded this recently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDvoW68x9no [youtube.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    then it's not a theremin. I wish people would stop using false wording to try and get more attention. The fact that the sound output is close to a theremin does not make it a "pocket theremin".

  • The way this app is designed, it seems, you have the ability to "perform music using different musical scales." Therefore, this "instrument" has a much lower barrier of entry than a theremin, because it requires much less exactness to play in a way that -sounds good-.

    Of course, it's also possible that the person in the video is just the best Cosmovox player that will ever live and has been practicing for months, but I suppose the world may never know.

  • It sounds cool even if it isn't really a theremin.

What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying. -- Nikita Khruschev

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