Photo credits : Joao MB Costa

Visitors of Lowlands form a staggeringly large orchestra with their own smartphones.

Sunday, 21 August marked The Smartphone Orchestra’s world premiere at renowned music festival Lowlands. Using their smartphones, thousands of Lowlands visitors collectively created a single, monumental work of music, composed especially for this occasion: a musical piece with every smartphone making its own unique contribution, thanks to sophisticated technology and an entirely new method of composition.

The Smartphone Orchestra makes a powerful riposte to the criticism so frequently uttered against smartphone use today. However, thanks to the orchestra, instead of a group of individuals each staring at his own telephone the crowd came together to experience a unique moment of collectivity. Proof that modern technology can bring people closer together.

This idea had already existed for some time. The Smartphone Orchestra team has dedicated an entire year to programming, tweaking and testing the necessary technology. However, the team had to grapple with many problems besides the technical challenges: they also needed to discover a new way of composing music. Writing for huge numbers of smartphone speakers requires an entirely new way of thinking.

The piece played at Lowlands is loosely inspired on minimal music, in which various patterns form a bigger whole when put together. Where traditionally musical instruments form the building blocks of a composition, in this case the ringtones and notification beeps of smartphones are the key ingredients.

Following several test sessions at Oerol, with Spinvis, and at the Sonár Festival in Barcelona with Brian Eno nodding in approval, it was now time for the official premiere at Lowlands.

Steye Hallema, initiator of The Smartphone Orchestra:

‘The smartphone is literally getting more and more “under our skin”. It makes a lot of things much easier, and I also make use of the advantages it offers. However, I regularly ask myself if it is healthy for us to be continually overloaded with information. Our brain also needs to be able to daydream and to “tune out”.

This is why we wanted to reverse the operation of the smartphone and use it to get people to come together and share a wonderful experience. We are very proud that we were able to achieve something on this scale at the Netherlands’ most pioneering pop festival. It was an experience that I, in any case, will not quickly forget!’

 

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