As fun as an iPad piano can be for a few minutes, it’s never a satisfying experience long term. And why would it be? The piano wasn’t constructed for a touch screen; it was constructed for a piano. So if we can’t bang on a piano’s keys, how should we make melodies? MIDIWriter is an iPhone app ($1) that translates every keyboard press you make into music. The alphabetical keyboard that you already use for texting, Facebook, and emailing becomes a platform for audio composition.
“You can map any character (letter) to any MIDI sound,” explains the app’s creator, Masayuki Akamatsu. “It’s a simple rule-based process. The app converts a character you typed to a unicode, and then converts the unicode to MIDI note number and velocity.”
It’s not that crazy of an idea, if you really think about it. On a touch screen, buttons are buttons. Why not remap the functions of the iPhone’s most used buttons to do something else? Such a design lowers the barrier of entry for the user–there’s no new finger contortion to learn–and because buttons can always be remapped, there’s infinite possibility within the humdrum confines of QWERTY. “I’m fascinated with the idea that everything is a symbol and that can be transformed,” writes Akamatsu. It’s a High Art ideal with a very practical purpose: “Not only a professional musician, but also an ordinary person, can produce a unique phrase.”
Akamatsu’s goal is that we “play different,” using MIDIWriter to not just type music on our virtual keyboards, but create notes from every type of text input Apple permits, from hand-drawn kanji to peripherals that dock. For such a simple riff on typing, it sure has a lot of flexibility.
If you’d like to try MIDIWriter, it’s a buck in the app store. Just keep in mind, it won’t create music all on its own; you’ll need another app to provide the actual tones that MIDIWriter references. Without it, you’ll be type-jamming in silence.