Bloom

Posted by PH on November 16, 2008
Music & Technology

Bloom is a recent application for the iPhone developed by Brian Eno and Pete Chilvers. The press release describes it as “part instrument, part composition and part artwork”; in practice it’s an ambient music generator that allows the user to input notes via the touch screen. These notes are then a) displayed like ripples on a pond and b) taken up by the programme and variations are generated over time.

I’ve been playing with the thing all week. Despite being very simple to use, it’s very good at what it sets out to do. It’s hypnotic and relaxing, and does actually create convincing ambient music. There is only one sound available, a sort of cross between a piano and a harp, but there are subtly shifting drones that hover in the background as the melodies drift in and out… There are also a set of ‘moods’ that seem to change the scales used by the ‘pieces’:

There’s obviously a lot of very clever stuff going on behind the scenes. Presumably all the sounds are generated in real-time (i.e. no samples) which gives the music a very rich and warm sound. Knowing Eno, I’m guessing it uses an FM synth, probably built in Max/MSP or PD. And although the sequence generator seems to be little more than a delay line at first listening, if left alone the programme will generate endless variations on even the most simple of inputs.

I left it running today for about four hours, and it was still happily evolving when I turned it off. Running the programme this long did highlight one thing: it drained the battery in a couple of hours. Here it is in action:

I love it. It’s not a toy. It’s not a gimmick. Bloom actually turns the iPhone into a viable and meaningful instrument that allows you to produce some very listenable and sonically high-quality ambient music. I found it extremely satisfying to be able to tap out a quick sequence, let that evolve for a while while I went about my business, and then ‘add a new part’ just as I was passing by. Or shake it and start again. Whatever…

As with RjDj, it suggests a completely new type of relationship with both the music and with the technological device, and you find yourself operating somewhere between the seemingly incompatible realms of recorded and improvised musics.

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One final point: there has been a lot of comment about Bloom being a rip-off of Electroplankton (which has been available on the Nintendo DS for ages). This is just silly: I don’t particularly want to diss either Electroplankton or the DS, but, as this short video demonstrates, we’re talking completely different kettles of fish:

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