Performing Live: London’s iPhone Orchestra

Photo by Flickr user Jinho.Jung

Photo by Flickr user Jinho.Jung

Over in London, the experimental electronic music scene is positively flourishing.

Having lived in the UK’s capital city for the latter part of 2008, I discovered a bubbling sonic subculture — a community of creatives hijacking ice cream vans, reappropriating medical EPGs, and hacking instruments out of scraps of junk, all for the purposes of audio experimentation.

Particularly interesting is that, among these esoteric technologies, the iPhone seemed to be emerging as a burgeoning platform for sonic exploration. Since leaving London and moving to Helsinki, things have advanced even further as, in what is perhaps a world first, the iPhone orchestra (conducted via Wii controller, naturally) has been established.

The London Geek Community iPhone OSCestra’s inaugural performance was May 8 at Open Hack London, a one-day event supported by Yahoo! (s yhoo) that brought together ultra tech-savvy hackers for a day of coding and communicating. The orchestra, a crew of eight musicians, opened with an impressive (and deliciously geeky) performance of the “Doctor Who” theme.

It seems that the iPhone is the perfect augmentation to any serious sonic-hacker’s audio artillery. Alongside its audio capabilities, touchscreen and Wi-Fi, the device can run third-party apps natively. Apple has made coding for the iPhone a breeze (even if getting your app approved isn’t so easy). Most importantly, though, the iPhone is readily accessible and relatively low-cost.

While it’s not clear when the The London Geek Community iPhone OSCestra will perform next, it’s actually surprisingly easy to get started making music in the same way. In particular, the musically minded among you who have been inspired by the iPhone orchestra will be pleased to hear that a combination of free iPhone and desktop tools were used for their performance.


The orchestra downloaded mrmr (free) from the App Store, an app that allows you to create highly customizable audio controllers and send the data to other devices using OSC (Open Sound Control). A controller could be a piano-style keyboard, a bank of faders, or an array of twisty knobs and flashy buttons — essentially interactive widgets that allow you to control sound and music.

Free desktop application OSCulator caught all the data, beamed wirelessly from mrmr on the iPhone, and sent it to Ableton Live. Live is my musical tool of choice, an incredibly powerful performance and production platform. In this instance, the orchestra performed using a bank of synthesizers running within Live. If you’re interested in going beyond Garage Band and making music on your Mac, it’s worth checking out the Live demo.

Thanks to the iPhone and, in particular, the growing number of sound toys and audio tools in the App Store, it’s becoming easier than ever for listeners to become performers. Drop by the comments, and let me know if you’ve been using your iPhone to make music.