SoundPrism was released for the iPad a few days ago, and of course I bought it right away. The app presents a novel new interface to music creation that will both be a great learning aid for budding musicians, a fun tinkering device for hobbyists, and quite possibly a useful musical instrument for experienced musicians.
Sebastian Dittmann, one of the creators of SoundPrism, notes in the introductory video how it is not necessary to know any music theory to create music with the app, and indeed it is constructed in such a way that anything you play will sound good. That is no small feat, and it makes it a great instrument for beginners. But in order to understand how this was achieved, and to learn how to really take advantage of the app, it is interesting to explore the music theory behind its construction.
I am by no means an expert on music theory, but I quickly figured out the basics and thought I’d share.
The notes on the SoundPrism screen are structured around the well-known pattern of the major scale. SoundPrism opens to a bright green screen which represents the C major scale, and which you can always return to by pressing the targeting icon in the bottom righthand corner. If you scroll the SoundPrism interface along the vertical axis the color of the screen will change to indicate a change of pitch, which means that the layout of the notes represent a different major scale. I’ll return to that later.
Let’s use Solfège terminology to refer to the notes of the scale regardless of pitch. You’ll no doubt recognize the “do-re-mi” pattern from the famous song from The Sound of Music. This is the basic pattern of playing a major scale in SoundPrism:
The scale naturally extends in both directions:
At first glance it looks like a pattern that will need to be memorized, but it is simpler than it looks. There is actually only a single note in each vertical column of the matrix, and to play the scale from low to high, you simply move through the columns from left to right, playing the dark keys:
There are seven rows on a single SoundPrism screen, and the middle row represents the base note of the scale, so on the “home screen” the middle row contains four octaves of “C”, only three of which are immediately visible:
As already mentioned, you move between the different keys by scrolling vertically. SoundPrism has twelve different screens you can cycle through, corresponding to the twelve different notes in the chromatic scale, and each has its own color. The order of the screens corresponds to the Circle of Fifths. Scrolling upward moves clockwise around the circle of fifths, starting with the key of G, while scrolling downward moves counterclockwise, starting with the key of F.
The different keys are color-coded as follows:
Armed with this basic knowledge you should be able to play any number of known songs in SoundPrism as well as construct your own. I’ll post more later as I explore the interface further, and I highly recommend that you follow Audanika, the makers of SoundPrism, on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Tumblr as they have promised to post tutorials of their own very soon.
Also, feel free to share this on Twitter.
There is a fundamental difference between Amazon and Apple’s online stores. Even though they both employ one-click-to-buy functionality to entice impulse shoppers, Amazon knows that they are dealing with a wide variety of products and price points and therefore allow users to bookmark products on a wishlist for later purchasing.
Apple’s iTunes and App Stores have no such functionality. Audiobooks aside, most of what Apple sells is 99 cent songs and $1 and $2 apps which, for most users, don’t require much deliberation. We click, we buy, and Apple surely has not regretted licensing Amazon’s 1-Click patent .
Nevertheless, I occasionally find more expensive apps that I’m not ready to purchase right away, or even cheaper apps that I have no immediate use for, but which I want to keep an eye on and maybe purchase later. Apple provides no wishlist functionality, I can’t mentally keep track of it all and actually switching to a different app to jot down a note is way to cumbersome for all we lazy firstworlders, so I’ve come up with an easier solution.
The trick is the “Tell a Friend” feature, present in iTunes on both the desktop and the iPhone. Instead of telling a friend about an app, you can tell yourself, and with a bit of Gmail trickery, you can automatically compile a wishlist of future purchases.
Just click the “Tell a Friend” button below the description of the app, and send the resulting email to yourself without changing the default text:
You can then set up a filter in your email client to automatically sort these emails into a folder, which then becomes your wishlist. In Gmail you can set up a filter to scan for emails containing the text “Check out this application” and file them away under a label called “Wishlist” or “Apps”, like I’ve done here:
So Gruber lists the reasons why he thinks Amazon’s Kindle is going to flop, mostly having to do with its lame-ass last-century DRM restrictions (for those in a hurry, he posted an executive summary on Twitter).
Let me add a few non-DRM points to that:
I know you can’t say that to someone who has actually had a real baby, regardless of its size and fugliness, but for a product like this I think derision is in order. Countless others have pointed out how it totally looks like something that’s been lying around IBM’s R&D lab since the mid-80s (and FSJ thinks it’s only the first in a glorious line of products) so I can’t add anything but my agreement.
And what’s with using a third of the size of the tablet for a keyboard that is only for searching for new books? Imagine if Apple had launched an iPhone with no email, no SMS, no nothing that required text input except for searching the iTunes Wi-Fi store and then used a third of the iPhone’s front real estate for a plastic keyboard! Yeah, imagine that.
And not only is the Kindle actually bigger than any normal paperback book, it’s so ugly that I’d rather be seen in public with the ugliest book I own than with a Kindle.
And while we’re at the size, I realize that it’s cool to have your whole library in your pocket, just like it’s cool to have your whole music library on your iPod, but while we usually listen to lots of songs during the day, most normal people only read one book at a time. So to gain any advantage from an e-book reader it should be at least as small as a paperback book, if not smaller. Which leads me to:
I don’t necessarily agree with Gruber that PDF is the only feasible e-book format today but I do think it has a lot of advantages, including preserving the typography and design of the original work and not crapping all over it by justifying text but not hyphenating it.
And frankly, reading PDFs on the iPhone (or iPod touch in my case) is super slick. It doesn’t work as an e-book reader right now because you have to re-download the PDF every time you want to read it and can’t easily return to where you left off, but all we need is for Apple to give the iPhone a dedicated PDF reader with some of Leopard’s Preview.app features like annotating and bookmarking files. Or if Apple won’t do it maybe Mike McCracken and friends could give us an iPhone version of the brilliant Skim.app?
Seriously peoples, I’ve got two old Handspring Visors lying around that I’ll sell to you for real cheap. How about $20? That’s 1/20 of what Amazon is asking for the Kindle and you get a device that is half the size and weight of the Kindle and has an excellent and freely availabe e-book reader that works with any kind of text you throw at it for your eternal DRM-free enjoyment. Heck, I’ll even toss in my old Stowaway keyboard if you’re afraid you’ll miss those cute little QWERTY buttons on the Kindle. I bet you that even with the Stowaway fully unstowed your Visor will still feel smaller than the Kindle.
Think about it and get back to me, mmkay?
A friend of mine just bought his first Mac today, a MacBook Pro.
I just sent him a short list of what I would suggest installing on it first (after taking the time to play around with Leopard, naturally). So why don’t we start with that here as well: