From CS 160 User Interfaces Sp10
Introduction: The Harmonizer
In the text below, I propose a simple iPhone application that will allow solo singers and songwriters to interactively generate vocal/instrumental harmonies.
Target User Group
This application targets amateur singers and songwriters, particularly those who operate in small or "one-man" bands. These users are musically creative people who practice their art in their spare time, rather than as a career, so they don't have access to the same support structures as professionals. They likely aren't surrounded by other talented musicians, don't have access to recording studios, and don't have oodles of time to sink into writing and playing music. In searching for tools and equipment, they prefer things that are inexpensive and easy to use/learn how to use.
A one-man band writing a song is at a distinct disadvantage to a full, 3-5 person band: he/she can't hear how different parts of the song work together until they've all been recorded. This can lead to a tedious, mechanical workflow: record a track, try to fit the next track on top of that, then try to fit the following top of that, etc. It can put a serious damper on the energy and vitality that are inherent in the musical process. The larger band, on the other hand, can experiment with speed, ease, and fluidity, without needing to pause to record anything. It might be possible to find a technological solution that allows a solo songwriter to hear multiple parts of his/her song at once, thus closing this gap--that's where my application comes in.
Problem Context and Forces
If I'm an independently operating songwriter, coming up with good vocal or intstrumental harmonies can be a tedious process--after all, I can't play/sing two parts at once! If I'm lucky, I have a musically talented friend who is willing to sit down with me and spend time working out some ideas. If not, then I have to actually record the melody track so that I can play the harmonies on top of it. If I want to change the melody, I need to go back and rerecord it. What if I don't have very good recording equipment--or no recording equipment at all? Gear like that can be expensive, after all, and I might not have the means to buy it. Or what if a brilliant idea strikes me while I'm away from my recording gear? I could try to write it down somehow, or keep humming it to myself until I get back to my recording equipment, but odds are I'll forget the idea before I do get back (or go completely insane from all of that humming...) I'd like to be able to experiment with song ideas freely and fluidly without having to worry about issues like these. If only I had a quick and easy way to auralize (like visualize, but for sounds) multiple parts of my song at once...
I propose a simple iPhone application that will allow the user to sing (or play an instrument) into the device and output an appropriately up-or-down-shifted version of the input signal, depending on touch input from the user. Basically, the application generates harmonies.
It's a simple application: in the sketch below, the user touches the screen at different points to create different harmonies. Touching the screen at a vertically higher position generates a higher-pitched harmony, whereas touching the screen at a vertically lower position does the opposite. In this sketch, the screen also displays incremental markers ("Third," "Fifth," and "Octave") to give the user a sense of scale. These markers don't mean that the system supports just discrete harmonies. Rather, the pitch-shifting works continuously. Ideally, a user could drag his/her finger up the screen and hear the pitch of the harmony smoothly increase.
- The application should support a large range of harmonies (a full octave above and a full octave below would be ideal)
- The application should support multiple simultaneous harmonies (via the multi-touch screen)
If users require it, a simple volume control system could be implemented via tilting the device from side to side.
Analyzing the intput/output for major/minor tonality and changing the display colors accordingly could be a nice touch.
Additionally, the ability to record sessions and upload them to a PC or Mac might also merit invesitagation.
This application could also be used in musical performances: this sort of gadget-driven music is gaining popularity in underground electronic music scenes. As an extremely practical case, it could also be used (by adding to the display information about the notes being played) to tune a musical instrument, making for one less piece of equipment to deal with (the old tuner).
This iPhone app seems somewhat related in that it can generate harmonies. However, it does not accept user voice/instrument input.