Composing for Mobile Media

Peter Bussigel


Composers have a long history of using new technologies to create music. Mobile phones, equipped with powerful processors and capable network portals, are one of the new technologies making waves in the music community. Composers and developers, recognizing the mediums increasing potential for both creative and economic gain, have begun to create full albums of easily downloadable sonic snippets, interactive music generation and creation tools, and highly expressive software instrument applications. Reports suggest that by 2014 smartphones will have captured nearly 40% of the cell phone market, bringing a dynamic and interactive listening, distribution and performance device into the hands of millions worldwide. How are music creators responding to advancements in cell phone technology and what opportunities do these convergent devices provide? How are these new devices changing traditional notions of the composer? This essay will explore some of the opportunities, limitations, potentials of mobile communication technology as a platform for new music creation.

The past 4 years has seen an explosion of mobile audio experiments. Bloom, an iPhone application created by Brian Eno, generates ambient soundscapes based on user input and, left idle, assumes the task of composition itself. Ringtone, an album of free sound bytes by electronic composer Alva Noto is sculpted specifically for tiny speakers. Companies like Smule, creators of the popular Ocarina application for the iPhone, have created networked sonic experiences which use sound and cell phones as the building blocks for collaborative musical communities. Mobile phone orchestras have even appeared on the scene! And all the while, new applications appear daily allowing smartphone users to become creators themselves, through their phones and for phones. Along with an overview of current work for mobile media, I speak with composers who are working with cell phones and mobile technology in an attempt to delve further into the future of mobile music.

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