Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble Stretches, Challenges Performers and Audience

Students in the ensemble design and develop their own new mobile phone instruments and compose new performance works that explore the creative potential of their imaginations.

The Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble Enlarge
The Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble.

An appreciative crowd was audience to a unique and thought-provoking series of performances on Saturday, April 18, 2015, as the Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble, under the direction of Prof. Georg Essl, performed 12 original works at its Winter Final Class Concert. The performances took place in Stamps Auditorium at the Walgreen Drama Center on the U-M North Campus.

The mobile phone ensemble was formed in the context of Prof. Essl’s multi-disciplinary course, “Building a Mobile Phone Ensemble,” which was first taught in Fall 2009 and which merges engineering practices, mobile phone programming, and sound synthesis with new music performance, composition, and interactive media arts. Students in the class design and develop their own new mobile phone instruments and compose new performance works that explore the creative potential of their imaginations.

In winter 2015, the ensemble included student performers Eliana Abraham, Emma Azelborn, Zachary Boulanger, Antonio D. de Carvalho J., Joseph Constantakis, Emily Eicher, Jacob Hash, HoneyLess, Sang Won Lee, Chris Lesch, Longhan Li, Avi Mattenson, Zhi Qu, Daphna Raz, Cheng Chung Wang, Jiawei Wang, Biqiao Zhang, and Yuxuan Zhou. Their performances included:

The power of a single human voice is immense. However, we can do better by taking one human voice and enhancing it with technology to create a complete performance. Though you will only see one person singing, you will experience a harmony of three singers beautifully crafted to please your auditory senses.

Our instrument takes the voice of one singer, the alto, and uses this input to generate two more voices in perfect harmony: a soprano and a bass.

This piece utilizes an audiovisual performance system developed on a web browser. Here, every keystroke made on a laptop to write a poem is captured and processed to establish natural links among the typing gestures, the text written, and audiovisual responses. The piece is built upon a poem written by HoneyLess about reflecting and holding on too long at the people and moments kept in our memories.

The performance capitalizes on temporal typography built on a web browser using Web Audio API and Web Graphics Library, offering unique text animation sculpted with live audio to audience.

When you come to the Mobile Phone Ensemble concert, don’t turn off the mobile phone. Why?! It can be used to play music! Crowd in C[loud] is an interactive music piece where audience members are the only performers.

We leverage the audience’s smartphones and a cloud server to improvise corroboratively and to mingle with others. Audience members were encouraged to enter a URL and participate.

Imagine a big musical box as a “classical” orchestral experience, but with a deaf composer and conductor writing the scores right on the stage. Watch as a conductor writes the scores on a pianolike instrument live. Each performer will play ‘a prima vista’ their part from composer’s score with its own instrument on the stage.

Everything goes according to plan until the performers make an important realization that the composer is not hearing anything.

This piece is an arrangement of an Armenian lullaby by the world renowned Armenian composer and ethnomusicologist, Komitas. It was written sometime in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Komitas only partially harmonized this work, which lends it a beautiful simplicity.

In this arrangement, the mobile instruments take on the role of the duduk, which is a traditional Armenian instrument similar to the oboe. The violin plays the original vocal part.

Spinning flags is an activity which has grown from military ceremonies and color guards into its own art form. The flag acts as an extension of the dancer’s body, adding new physical challenges and visual possibilities.

In this piece, an iPod is attached to the end of the flagpole collecting gyroscope and accelerometer data which is used to generate sounds. In this way, the dancer’s movement is directly connected to the music they hear, creating a landscape of exploration and discovery.

Imaging the concert room as a giant box of resonant metal bars and balls, bouncing around and creating wonderful, cacophonous melodies. Our instrument uses simulated physics, digital sound synthesis, and computer vision technology to create a virtual canvas on which our performers construct a living musical mechanism.

The rhythms and harmonies that arise are completely unique each time the piece is performed, and incorporate musical improvisation in a more collaborative and unpredictable way than any traditional musical ensemble.

This piece was inspired by an instrument called the Himalayan Singing Bowl. It can be played like a bell or by spinning around the edges to create a dronelike sound. When water is added, waves and bubbles appear when the bowl is played.

While a video of this plays in the background, performers will mimic the music of the bowl using their devices and motions.

This piece explores the relationship between balance and disarray by shifting between these two extremes. As individuals we often can get caught up in our own experiences and become blind to the growing disquiet of the world outside our personal spheres of influence.

As technology strengthens global connections it is important to be mindful of the chaos, which inevitably rises from disparate thought and experience.
Spring in Ann Arbor has finally come after a long winter. Have you noticed the remarkable changes outdoors? The blooming spring, cheerful summer, comfortable fall and frozen winter, we experience season changes year after year. The four lovely seasons bring us closer to nature and make our lives more colorful. How often do you spare time to enjoy the beautiful season outside?

Today, we are going to simulate the four seasons to you using mobile devices. Hope you will find your favorite season in our performance. And last, enjoy the lovely spring outside!
5:00 pm Friday? Time to get home! With everybody heading to their destination the city is getting so crowded. Fortunately we have the traffic light: green, yellow, red. Three simple colors will keep our city organized.

This performance simulates real world traffic on stage with mobile phones representing the audioscape you’d hear in real life. It is a day with heavy traffic, so be patient on your way home because there may be a surprise on the way!

A modern interpretation of 17th century Greek folk dance. Watch as projections of the past are brought to life on stage through the lens of the performer’s mobile device. Two dances are performed: Zeibekiko and Hasapiko.

The Zeibekiko is a dance derived from warriors of Anatolia and Thrace following a free choreographic structure to a rhythmic pattern of 9/4. The Hasapiko originated in the Middle Ages as a battle mime performed with swords and employs a 4/4 meter.