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Godfather of Ambient Creates iPhone App

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Seemingly not content with having fathered an entire musical genre, pioneered generative music, produced U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name, collaborated with Bowie and generally rubbed-shoulders with a raft of modern music legends, Brian Eno has now released his first iPhone app dubbed Bloom ($3.99).

Developed by Peter Chilvers, in collaboration with Eno, the app is described as, “Part instrument, part composition and part artwork…” The idea is that anybody can play with Bloom and coax gentle melodies and ambient soundscapes out of their iPhone.  Having downloaded the app, plugged a pair of speakers in to my iPhone and cranked up the volume, it took only a few moments to compose an authentic ambient piece that sounded like a convincing out-take from Eno’s Music for Airports.  It works and it is a joy to toy with.

Being a sound-based app, the screenshots on the store do it absolutely no justice, Bloom ends up looking somewhat staid.  It’s in hearing Bloom and experiencing the ambience that it creates, that you truly understand how magical it is.  According to the App Store product page, “… Bloom’s innovative controls allow anyone to create elaborate patterns and unique melodies by simply tapping the screen.”  Setting aside the marketing spiel, Bloom is utterly unique — a truly enchanting experience, like nothing else I have experienced on the iPhone, this is an app that will make you smile.

Those familiar with Eno will have seen this app coming a mile off — he’s always been keen to exploit the latest technologies and platforms for his artworks, all the way back to creating Mac-compatible Media Art distributed on CD-ROMs. These days there are several Eno-inspired tools and toys available on Apple platforms.

Oblique Dashboard Widget Arty folk with a bit of a creative block may want to check out Oblique Strategies. Originally developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt as a deck of cards, each card features obtuse, odd and frequently stimulating tidbits of advice to re-energise the flow of creative juices; favorites include, “Not building a wall, making a brick,” and, “Move towards the unimportant.” The virtual Oblique Strategies decks are available both in widget flavor and iPhone/touch app flavor, for free.

Back on the desktop, TAB readers inspired by the ambient experiences offered in Bloom should investigate the joys of generative music a little further. For his seminal ambient album Generative Music 1, Eno made use of a piece of software called Koan to generate the album. With Koan, you’re able to feed the software a few basic variables and values and it’ll pumps out a piece of unique music at the other end.  The software has long since evolved and is now superseded by Noatikl, available for OS X.

29 Responses to “Godfather of Ambient Creates iPhone App”

  1. Olly Farshi

    Hey Gary, App Store prices are fluid, the sellers can change the price (or even set the app to free) anytime they want. At the time when we published the article, the price of the app was $3.99.

  2. nonspecifie

    Eno stole the concept for this app from desktop programs he publicly admitted using and admiring ~10 years ago. The only real differences between the functional specs of the originals and Eno’s adaptation for iPhone are the original’s intent for use as a compositional tool with a desktop UI, and the intent of Eno’s clone for use as entertainment with a small form factor touchscreen UI.

    That and the fact that probably only about 20 copies of the originals were ever sold, whereas Eno and his partner will likely sell hundreds of thousands of copies, or even millions.

    I found this interesting since 33 years ago, in his liner notes to “Discrete Music”, Eno freely admitted stealing Steve Reich’s tape delay idea, saying he was glad Reich abandoned its use (implying that he was now free to pursue it without impinging on Reich’s provenance.) Those were the days when originality and ownership still counted.

    Since then, successive cultural generations of hip-hoppers have been slapped down in court, charged with plagiarism when publishing samples of copyrighted recordings. Yet the current strong trend in the software business is to encourage plagiarism and abandon the protections traditionally afforded by the patent system.

    Especially funny to me about this is the landmark case involving Melle Mel’s “White Lines”, as I remember it. Without permission, “White Lines” reused the signature bass line from a Liquid Liquid tune, and Liquid Liquid sued. At the time, Melle Mel said something like ‘Well, they didn’t get a hit out of it; at least I did.’ This is the poster child for the current thinking in the software products and services business.

    There is a lot more that could and should be said about all of this. But my point here is that Eno’s time has finally come: he is free to take to the largest market, for profit and with impunity, the products of his plagiarism and elegant unoriginality.

  3. A note to David: the life of Eno’s “Generative Music 1” was limited by hardware and driver support. It was written to take advantage of the feaures of a specific PC sound card (SoundBlaster AWE), and drivers for that card stopped being available when the version of Windows moved up from Me to XP. This hardware dependence meant that “Generative Music 1” could not be presented in another form (apart from audio recordings).

  4. You mention “Generative Music 1,” and Koan/noatikl, but not if you know of any way to access the album itself. Has it been redistributed in any form, do you know (as the oblique strategies now have)? I’m always on the lookout to get my hands on a copy, and I thought maybe you’d know something about it.


  5. Olly Farshi

    Very good question Dave, I didn’t mention in the article – it’s $3.99 in the US Store, or, if you’re purchasing from the UK Store, £2.39

    And I really can’t recommend it enough (if you’re in to ambient music), it’s a very special app.

    • I really disappointed with apple’s 13″ and 15″ powerbooks. As well as all there flat screen displays they currently sell. They all have the reflective screens. I hate looking at my screen and seeing a window or some molding near my desk. These screen are bad.
      What is Apple thinking? What the point of having all these high pixel screen when you can’t see the image clearly?! This isn’t pimp my ride. I don’t know anyone who wants a glare screen.