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First Look: Cosmovox, an iPhone instrument

Cosmovox by Leisuresonic is an intriguing iPhone app; the kind of app which immediately looks appealing to me. Essentially, it's a theremin hopped up on music-theory steroids. While it does a decent job of emulating first-gen Star Trek sounds -- using the iPhone's accelerometer to translate vertical rotation into pitch with a continuous tone -- it ups the ante with a very complete set of scales: Major, Minor, Harmonic Minor, Major Bitonal, Pentatonic ... even heading East a bit to Okinawa and Hirajoshi (in case you want to play a digital koto) scales. All total, there are over 30 scales available, as well as a set of controls for adjusting modulation, beating, vibrato and doing other fine-tuning.

Here's the thing, though. It's a lot of fun to play with by itself, and my head immediately filled with ideas for incorporating the sound into a composition. I was going to make a video demonstration with a breakbeat and B4 accompaniment, but try as I may, I found it too difficult to really make music with it. I attribute this in large part to a lack of practice and, quite possibly, skill; I can find my way around an array of instruments but this one is truly a challenge. For as simple as it seems once you set the scale (you can't play a wrong note, right?), attaining any kind of consistent melody or rhythm can be an uphill struggle. The best results I got were from layering Cosmovox tracks (recorded through a microphone, Cosmovox has no built-in recording abilities) with other Cosmovox tracks and chopping them up in post to cut out the mistakes. Thus, my efforts yielded no (bearable) movie. The demo video in the FAQ is far more impressive than my feeble attempts anyway.

My thoughts: Cosmovox is a fun app for musicians of any caliber, with a far-reaching landscape of space-age sounds to explore. If I can find the free time, I'm hoping that enough practice will allow me to do with it what -- at this point -- only my imagination is capable of.

Last I checked, Cosmovox was only $1.99USD at the App Store. A more-than-fair price for hours of wavering, warbling fun. Beyond its practical applications, it makes a great soundtrack for any occasion which kicks off with the words, "Captain's log: Stardate ... ," too.

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