Ten years ago, demonstrating my usual impeccable business sense, I applied for a patent for a combination cell phone/fax machine/word processor/makeup mirror/hair dryer. My reasoning at the time was sound: It wasn't enough that your phone should accomplish all of your business needs, but it should help make you look good too. Form and function all the way, baby.
Okay, so perhaps the hair dryer wasn't such a good idea. But you have to admit, I was on to something. Since that time, mobile phones have become nearly all things to nearly all people. To the entertainment world, this has been a major boon: Consumers can download music anywhere, anytime, onto their phones. Major artists, realizing the importance of reaching an increasingly fragmented (and distracted) audience, have jumped on the bandwagon by releasing exclusive tracks to cell phone providers.
Now it appears that phones can play a part in the music-making process as well. Witness iBand, three art students from Austria who have hit pay dirt with a couple of ditties played on little more than their hacked and hot-rodded iPhones. Their first "release," a rudimentary number described as a "jam session," was a YouTube hit when it appeared last month. In the video, the three members (Marina, Seb, and Roger) play two iPhones, one loaded with Moo-Cow-Music Pianist software, the other with the Moo-Cow-Music Drummer, and a Nintendo DS, with an interactive music video game called Electroplankton.
And iBand's follow-up, a full-blown track with Marina's vocals called Life Is Greater Than The Internet, is an even bigger hit. The video shows the students playing two iPhones and an iPod Touch (the units are customized with PocketGuitar and Moo-Cow-Music Drummer).
As a neat little throwaway, Life Is Greater Than The Internet is engaging fluff. But is it music? Well, it does have a melody, and lyrics you can even sing along to, so the simple answer would have to be yes. But perhaps the bigger and more important question is this: Are iBand really a band after all?
That depends on what your definition of a "band" is. I realize I might be perceived as something of a Luddite in saying that my definition of a band is one that plays "real" instruments. It's personal too: As a guitarist and drummer, I never tire of the feeling of running my fingers along steel strings or bashing sticks on actual drum heads. Hell, I even enjoy getting callouses! Taping my cracked, bleeding fingers with Band-Aids (or even duct tape when nothing else is around) after a fierce drum workout means I've done something -- and look, here's the proof. Heading into the supermarket with my taped-up fingers, I'm a walking advertisement: "Check it out. I'm a musician. You don't get cuts like these from tapping buttons on a phone."
Even so, I can't deny that the advances of the synth band Kraftwerk changed the musicial landscape forever, and paved the way for groups such as Devo, Depeche Mode, and countless others (although it should be noted that in the cases of Devo and Depeche Mode, those bands blended acoustic instruments into their work) -- and now, or at least so it would appear, for iBand.
But are iBand missing something? Something as vital to the making of music as talent itself: the interaction of real musicians and the rites of passage they must all face. Throwing your guitar at your diva lead singer is a sensation you just can't get from pushing numbers. Whamming your foot through your bass drum when you realize your no-good bassist is dating your girlfriend (don't think I've forgotten, Norman Staller!) -- that, too, is a crucial part of the rock experience. The act of tossing your phone at your bandmate, no matter how deadly your aim, I'm sorry, it's just not the same thing. Not by a long shot.
Of course, maybe it's me who's missing out. The members of iBand have certainly created a stir, and chances are it'll continue. Perhaps there's still a way I can glom onto this happening scene. Hey...you know, I'm pretty quick-fingered on my BlackBerry. I bet you I could hack into it and jazz it up with some cool Moo-Cow gear. That way, when iBand make their big stadium bow later this year, I can bum-rush their monster jam and grab some touch-pad glory of my own. All from the comfort of my living room. I won't even have to get out of my pajamas. Now THAT is what being in a band should be all about.
By Joe Bosso
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