Inspired by the Arcomis International Brass Event, the Arcomis Brass app for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch features specially commissioned interactive music pieces that feature brass instruments. The Arcomis Brass app enables a 'player' to interact with the basic elements of music in order to produce a range of variations in a similar way to improvised music. Each "performance" of the piece will be different but the sound of each piece is inherently distinctive. The app, just like any other instrument, has been designed to be accessible to everyone but also to enable more advanced and nuanced performances.
The Arcomis Brass app compositions are divided into a series of pages, or tableaux, each of which features a number of cells represented by a collection of round on-screen buttons. Each button represents one cell of the composition. The button is used to start and stop the playing of each cell. Behind the scenes the compositional framework of the app enables composers to specify a set of rules that govern how cells behave and how they combine with other cells already sounding. For example, the composer may inhibit certain cells from sounding simultaneously or prevent one cell from sound after another. The size and the position of the on-screen buttons also change based on the rules that the composer has set. This allows the composer to suggest which cells should or shouldn't play based on the currently sounding cells without forcing the user to preform specific actions.
The app takes as its starting point the same idea as the Brass Event itself, which is to enable access to contemporary musics in an accessible and attractive way. The compositional framework for the app implements a specific kind of mobile form. The composer will have produced fragments of musical material, whether this is a single musical line, a single chord, or a more developed polyphonic texture. The interface encourages users of all abilities and experience to explore issue of musical form and composition. The aim of the app from the outset has been create something that is engaging, and produces musically interesting results, whether the user is a highly experienced musician or a young child.
The app opens presenting a list of compositions. The app settings are also available from this page via the icon. Selecting one of the compositions takes the user to a description of the composition, which acts as its programme note. Pressing the Play button takes the user to the performance pages, opening the composition’s first tableau.
The composition’s buttons appear in the centre of the screen with a vertical dynamics controller to the left. (The user may move this controller to the right-hand side by turning on the Left handed option in the app settings.) Pressing one of the buttons causes its musical cell to begin playing. A single tap may be used to turn a button on or off. Alternatively the user may press and hold a button. In this case the button will stay on while the button is being held.
The composer will have set certain rules governing how the cell plays back. For example, the cell may loop continuously or may play through once only. As cells are played, the state of the buttons will change. Buttons representing currently playing cells will appear highlighted. Cells that have been disabled due to the rules specified by the composer, will appear dimmed. Some cells may also increase or decrease in size according to the rules, encouraging the user to play certain cells or discouraging them from doing so.
To play louder or quieter, drag up or down on the dynamics controller. Its colour will darken when playing louder and lighter when playing quieter.
Releasing the dynamics controller will return to the normal playing level. The composer may have set certain rules that cause the dynamics controller to affect only certain cells or to affect some cells more than others.
To move to the next or previous tableau, swipe left or right.
The composer may have specified a rule that prevents the user from returning to previously played tableau. In this case the user must play the tableaux in the specified order.
Some compositions may include a cantus firmus (an underlying melody or other fixed musical material) in one or more of their tableaux. These play automatically as soon as the tableau appears and the user has no control over starting or stopping these elements. The whole cantus firmus is played from beginning to end unless the user switches tableau. In the app settings there is an option to enable Performance mode. This disables all cantus firmus in all compositions until the option is turned off. Performance mode is designed for live performance of the composition where a live performer, using an acoustic instrument, will perform the cantus firmus.
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