Ocarina: Designing the iPhone’s Magic Flute

Computer Music Journal
Ge Wang
Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA)
Department of Music
Stanford University
Juli 2014

Ocarina for the iPhone is one of the earliest mobile-musical (and social-musical) apps in this modern era of personal mobile computing. Created and released in 2008, it re-envisions the ancient flute-like clay instrument – the 4-hole “English- pendant” ocarina – and transforms it in the kiln of modern technology. It features physical interaction leveraging breath input, multi-touch, and accelerometer, as well as social interaction that allows users to listen in – anonymously and voyeuristically – to users playing this instrument around the world, taking advantage of the iPhone’s GPS location and persistent network connection. To date, the Smule Ocarina and its successor, Ocarina 2, has more than 10 million users worldwide. More than 5 years after its inception at the beginning of a new era of apps on powerful smartphones, this article chronicles Ocarina’s design – both physical and social – as well as user case studies, and reflect on what we have learned so far.

Location and global positioning play a significant role in Ocarina. This notion of “locative media,” a term used by Atau Tanaka and Lalya Gaye (Tanakaand Gemeinboeck 2006) has been explored in various installations, performances, and other projects. These include Johan Wagenaar’s Kadoum, in which GPS sensors reported heart-rate information from 24 participants in Australia to an art installation ona different continent. Gaye, Mazé, and Holmquist (2003) explored locative media in Sonic City withlocation-aware body sensors. Tanaka et al. have pioneered a number of projects on this topic, including Malleable Mobile Music and Net Dérive, the latter making use of a centralized installation that tracked and interacted with geographicallydiverse participants (Tanaka and Gemeinboeck 2008).

Read the whole article on Researchgate.
©Johan Wagenaar