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Local duo produces Piano Invention app that turns composing into a mobile game

By John Terauds on September 17, 2012

On Tuesday, Toronto-area music educators Shaun Elder and Pablo Joseph officially unveil Piano Invention, a music-manipulation app for mobile devices. It’s kind of like Photoshop for the sounds of a piano.

Elder has worked extensively with Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music to develop a variety of computer-based tools to help students in novel — and always interactive — ways. Joseph is an arts educator with a wonderfully eclectic turn of mind.

Piano Invention joins a growing number of mobile music-related creativity tools, from the iPhone and iPad keyboards to apps that allow people to mix and manipulate a wide variety of sounds.

Significantly, the app was built on Art Jam, a platform designed for interactive audio and vidual experiences on phones and tablets by Moonrider, a Toronto software startup.

The free app comes with two pieces of music, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and J.S. Bach’s C-Major Prelude from the first book of The Well Tempered Clavier. The user experiences the music via a screen animation (such as the one pictured above) that contains a variety of touchpoints. Each touchpoint changes the sound in some way — changes that can be saved as a new piece of music.

Users can buy additional sound files for the app on iTunes. (The No. 1 paid piece? Beethoven Für Elise — every young piano student’s dream grown-up piece.)

“The app encourages you to play with sound and gain an awareness of different kinds of musical resources,” stated Jennifer Snow, chief academic officer with the Carnegie Hall Royal Conservatory Achievement Program in a press release. “There’s a puzzle-like quality that makes you want to find the connections between the elements. And the inclusion of sheet music bridges the app to traditional teaching practice.”

Elder and Joseph have timed the launch of the Piano Invention app to coincide with the Glenn Gould anniversary because they say it was inspired by something the pianist said in a 1969 CBC interview: “I think we’re going to make kits, and I think we’re going to send out these kits to listeners, perhaps to viewers also, as videotape cartridge gets into the act, as I think it will, and we’re going to say, ‘Do it yourself. Take the assembled components and make of those components something that you genuinely appreciate’.”

The two educators are encouraging people to create a short piece of their own, and post it to a Glenn Gould @ 80 online tribute within the app.

Whether or not it’s a stretch to bring Gould into the picture, the app sounds like a wonderful addition to any iPad or iPhone — and there’s no reason adults can have a bit of fun with it, too, once the Angry Birds have become a bit bored and winded from chasing pigs.

The app is available for free do iTunes download here.

Here is Joseph with a demonstration of what Piano Invention does:

John Terauds

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