I’ve been playing keyboard instruments since I was eight years old. As you can see from this YouTube video I shot a few nights ago, there have been a few technological advances since then in how to input and manipulate musical notes.
The iPad app that I’m using here is TC-Data from Bit Shape Software. It provides a programmable interface that converts your finger touches into controls for a musical instrument.
You can program the interface (or use the built-in presets) so that the distances, angles, rotation, speeds, and timings of your touches become expressive data. That information is then passed on to compatible music apps.
That’s right. TC-Data doesn’t make any sound on its own. It acts as a front-end for many of the high-quality music apps that are available for the iPad.
It’s a whole new world to explore for those of us who had hoped that someday — in the future — we could bring a synthesizer or two along on a vacation. Now we have the equivalent of hundreds of different musical instruments squeezed into a device that’s as slender as a book.
And we can play those instruments in ways that we never could have imagined.
I have a fondness for the clunky, analog sounds of vintage sci-fi films. Not the sophisticated soundscapes of recent blockbuster movies, but the low-budget, let’s-see-what-works audio from the 1950s and 1960s.
Remember the room-sized computers that hum at alternating frequencies? The hum was offset by the whirring of the computers’ storage reels, which periodically spin and stop.
Or the sputter and whine of the hero’s ray gun? Surprisingly, it was almost identical to the alien’s own weapon, except for a higher pitched sound and contrasting color for the laser beam.
I used a digital synthesizer to recreate some of the types of sounds that are associated with this genre. I then converted those sounds into files that you can use on your mobile device. You might use them as ringtones, alerts, notifications, or alarm tones. They range in length from 3 to 16 seconds.
With everyone else trying to be contemporary with ringtones from the latest blockbuster, you can go the other way with retro sci-fi.
MP3-Compatible Sci-Fi Ringtones If your mobile phone supports MP3 files, you could try these MP3 ringtones. They recreate the mechanical and electronic sounds of a vintage sci-fi movie.
Note: Click on the gray “play” icon to preview a ringtone.
Looking for something different in an analog-type ringtone? How about trying the sounds of a vintage pinball machine?
Since the 1970s, most pinball machines have adopted electronic tones, recorded sounds, and overly intrusive music. Earlier pinball machines used bells, bumpers, and metal sensors to create a calmer, less insistent aural atmosphere.
In addition to ringtones, you could use these sounds for alerts, notifications, or alarm tones.
When you hear these sounds in a crowded area, you’ll know it’s your mobile device that needs attention and not someone else’s.
With everyone else trying to be hip, you can go the other way, and be retro.
MP3-Compatible Pinball Ringtones If your mobile phone supports MP3 files, you could try these MP3 ringtones. They recreate the bells and mechanical sounds of vintage pinball machines.
Note: Click on the gray “play” icon to preview a ringtone.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could have ringtones that are simple and relaxing, instead of the jarring sounds found on most mobile phones?
I’ve been searching for the ideal ringtones and audio notifications for my cell phone and tablet — and I think my search may be over. Imagine a bell-like ringtone that is both short and pleasant. Or a notification that’s a high-quality recording of an unobtrusive chime. Sound good? These are just two of the inspired aural creations at Cleartones.net.
The Cleartone site currently offers two sets of ringtones and notifications. The first set (titled Cleartones Classic) features tones, dings, and chirps that are likely to be the least annoying synthetic sounds you’ve ever heard on an electronic device. The second set (titled Cleartones Organic) is similar in approach, but was created entirely with acoustic instruments. The instruments include metal bells, chimes, glass bowls, woodblocks, and marimba.
Of course, you can mix and match the sets within your phone or tablet. You might have one slightly more aggressive configuration for use when traveling and another more soothing configuration when relaxing at home.
The prices are quite reasonable given the number and variety of sounds. The sets include audio files that are compatible with both iOS and Android devices. You can also preview some of the tones to determine if they might be a good fit.
Next to leaving your phone on vibrate, Cleartones are the closest thing to silence. Highly recommended.
You like to listen to music while on the go. But there’s this problem. You can’t hear the world around you with the ear buds blocking your ears. You could place the ear buds loosely in your ears, but then you can’t really hear the music. So what do you do?
If you use an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad to listen to your music (or any audio material), you should check out Awareness! The Headphone App. It turns on the built-in microphone to measure the sound around you. It then uses that same microphone to let you hear the outside world whenever the external sound rises above the ambient noise.
If you’re waiting at an airport gate, you’ll be able to hear the announcement about your flight change. You’ll be able to hear a nearby car horn when you’re jogging. And you won’t be startled when the waitress brings your food.
The Awareness app works well and has some nice features. You can manually set the threshold where the microphone will turn on (you may want the threshold to be higher or lower for different situations). You can override the cutoff to temporarily hear everything around you (just in case). And you can have the app automatically lower the music when the microphone is triggered (otherwise, the volume level is unaffected).
This has become my favorite app when traveling. I often use my iPad to watch movies on a plane. Previously, I would pause the movie and pull out my ear buds in order to hear any inflight announcements. Now when an announcement is made, I can choose to listen or not, without any disruption.
It’s a hot, new product that’s completely sold out for several months. The man who conceived the product was largely responsible for the design of the iPod. And just about every review of the product has been wildly positive.
Sounds great… except it’s a thermostat. That’s right. One of the most innovative of the current crop of consumer products is a rethink of the lowly wall-mounted thermostat.
The Nest Learning Thermostat is the brainchild of Tony Fadell, who created the iPod and spearheaded the original iPhone through its production process. With a team of former iPod and iPhone engineers, he has developed an intelligent thermostat that learns which temperatures you prefer and at what times you prefer to change them.
Modeled after the iconic Honeywell circular thermostat, the Nest is simple to operate. Turn the ring clockwise to lower the temperature. Or turn it counterclockwise to raise the temperature. Yet behind the familiar circular shell is a sophisticated array of sensors that measure temperature, humidity, light, and activity.
You connect to the Nest’s features over Wi-Fi using your computer, phone, or tablet. It’s designed to learn your habits automatically, so you can save money on your energy bills. If you turn the temperature down two nights in a row, the Nest will turn itself down for you on the third night. And when you’re away from your home, it will switch over to a more energy-efficient setting. It even tracks your energy consumption so that you can see how much money you’ve saved.
I haven’t had a chance to install a Nest in my home, but I hope to give it a try as soon as possible.