Piano apps on the iPad have never felt quite right. They’re an amusing novelty for a few minutes—you might play chopsticks or some other remnant from your brief stint as a child virtuoso—but who keeps a piano app on their first, second, or third page? Really?
Developed by jazz saxophonist Bastus Trump as an extension of his Masters thesis at the University of Arts Berlin, the Orphion is an instrument designed from the ground up for the iPad’s touchscreen interface. It’s a Venn Diagram that you can play. Notes are arranged in various, complementary layouts, from a simple seven-note blues scale to a complete, double octave of chromatics. To play, you just tap.
From a practical standpoint, it’s a relief to strike each circle with mindless precision. But the Orphion also measures nuance of gesture and captures this in sound. Striking each circle harder will flatten the sound, like a snare drum that’s too tight or a guitar string touching too much of the fretboard. "There is only this one characteristic Orphionsound (like if you buy a violin, there are thousands of possibilities but it will always sound like a violin)," writes Trump. In my 10 minutes of tap-jamming, I’m not sure that I generated thousands of different, distinct textures to the sound, but I always felt in control of the tone, and adding subtle glissando and vibrato was similarly intuitive.
All of this said, if anything does feel strange about the Orphion, it is this idea of "Orphionsound," which simply wasn’t what I expected. It didn’t resonate from the iPad in an organic logic like your typical stringed instrument. Trump does plan to add MIDI support for endless instrumental options, "but this wasn’t my first intention and is just meant as an alternative use for professionals," he clarifies.
Personally, I see no reason to be apologetic. I know in my gut that a mandolin will sound different than a cello. On the iPad, a slab of metal and glass, we have no acoustic reference, so playing the Orphion often feels more natural than hearing it. MIDI can only help solve this issue.
If you’d like to try the Orphion yourself and support the project, it’s $5 in the App Store.
Hat tip: Creative Applications