Day 1, Ge Wang Keynote

Want to be expressive as a musician without years of training or carrying heavy instruments around?

Ge Wang, co-founder of the app company SMULE and  an associate professor at Stanford University, asked the audience to rethink what musical instruments are, and how smart phones, iPhone, iPad and laptops can be expressive devices.

Born in Beijing in a house filled with music (including his own accordion), Ge moved to the U.S at the age of nine and developed his love for music by combining it with computer science.   He has been trying to redefine what an instrument is, and how technology interacts with music.

In his experiments, orchestras are formed with laptops, virtual instruments played with free-space controllers or melodies made from live streams of tweets.

Ge treated the audience to the 2008 Beijing Olympics theme song that he played on his best-selling iPhone app Ocarina. The virtual instrument app allows users to create flute-like music by simply blowing into the iPhone microphone while pressing  keys on the touch screen.  It also has a social component — users are able to hear what others are playing around the world, through a visual display of the globe and wisps of music levitating into space from their geographic location.

He also demoed some recent work from his team such as Magic Piano, an app to play the piano by simply tapping the circles on iPhone screens.

He showed his soulful voice by singing along with I Am T-Pain, an app that uses Auto-Tune technology to alter a user’s voice while singing into the mic. And for those inclined to record video and audio to make a virtual drum set, he showed how SMULE’s meta-instrument product, MadPad, could sample and play back anything to make music.

Ge concluded by telling the audience he felt, “technology should create calm,” and that the goal of his team was, “to get ordinary  people in the door  to be expressive and have fun with music.”


Video of Ge Wang on the ocarina: