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The Arts
06.10.09

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Phaedra

NAME THAT TUNE: A simple little app knows more about music than you could imagine.

Warbling Wonder

One man tests his musical mettle against Midomi, the world's most incredible iPhone app

By Gabe Meline


I'D HEARD this thing. This thing that lets you hold a phone up to a speaker, and then, pulling some insane and complicated algorithm out of the universe, the thing analyzes the music's wave forms and compares them instantaneously against a universal database of every recorded note in history and, poof, just like a TV dinner popping out of the microwave, tells you the title and artist of whatever happens to be playing at the time. And I thought, oh well. There goes the fun. There goes the mystery. There goes the fantastically aggravating experience of hearing the world's most kickass song on the radio, in a commercial, in a skate video or at some store and screaming, "Holy shit, my life will never be the same," and having said song stuck in your head for days while you parade around like a fool asking everyone you know if they have the faintest idea who could possibly sing this totally awesome song, wanting what you can't have, obsessing all the more, calling record stores and singing over the phone, grasping for any information about Your Song.

Yes, there goes all that. Now, we hold our phones up, it says the song's by Lady Gaga, and we sigh and move on. Lady Gaga belongs to everybody. Worse, Lady Gaga belongs to the Internet. We capitalize the Internet as if it's God. No pop song belongs to us and us alone anymore.

I had even heard about the superthing that computes all the sound files of a recording and, establishing key, pitch, tempo, modulation and sonic appeal, tells record executives which track is most likely to be a hit—most famously used to select the first single from Norah Jones' debut. Because of the programmed homogeny in reflecting certain variables of other established hit songs, and because well-paid record executives needing no longer to actually listen to the culture they claim to be behind, I had swiftly established this thing as the "devil."

But what I had not heard about was the other thing. The thing that, instead of analyzing the actual original recorded song's wave forms, analyzes your singing. You! You sing a song into your iPhone, and, if you're at least decently on-key somewhere in the range between Ethel Merman and Maria Callas, it tells you what song you're singing!

I have no iPhone, but a friend, who downloaded the app because it was only $2.99, handed me his the other day. I immediately began singing a current Top 40 hit: "I'm in love wit' you baby, and I wancha to know/ That I'm hooked on yo' body, and I'm tryin' to be yours." I tapped the phone. Three seconds later, there it was on the iPhone screen—"The-Dream: Rockin' That Shit."

I can't tell you exactly what I felt when this happened, except to say that I'm glad I wasn't on drugs, because my brain would have short-circuited and slowly leaked out of my ears. Was this really happening? Was my childhood vision of artificial intelligence, of being able to talk to the television, of being able to relate on a semiemotional level with computers—was it all coming true?

I decided to try something less current, and sang into the phone: "That you gimme no that you gimme no that you gimme no that you gimme no SOUUUUU-OUUUUU-OOOUUL/ I hear you CALLLLL-IINNN/ Oh, baby, PLEEEEEEEEEEASE/ Give a little respe—ect, to-ooo, to-ooo MEEEEEEEE!" I tapped the phone. "Erasure: A Little Respect." Incredible. I tried Tony Bennett. I tried Weezer. I tried Neutral Milk Hotel and John Prine and Keyshia Cole and anything that happened to enter my mind, tapping after each one. And it knew. The thing always knew.

So, I thought, is it looking for just the melody? Or could we sing the guitar parts? I tried to think of the most iconic guitar riff I could, and buuuunnhh-buuuunnnhhh-buuuhhnnned my best Gibson Les Paul crunch into the phone. Sure enough: "Deep Purple: Smoke on the Water." I began to feel small. I began to feel like the thing was smarter, better, bigger than me. I needed a way to outsmart the thing. I had an idea. I sang something it was sure to know. I sang a Christmas song.

But alas, I sang the pitch-perfect melody of the Christmas song with the absolutely filthiest lyrics imaginable. Take Lil' Kim and Andrew Dice Clay and Luke Campbell and Penthouse Forum and Blowfly and ramp it up times 12, and add a dose of Christian Bale and Dick Cheney, and that's what I sang into the phone. I tapped to see what it said.

"Andy Williams: Let it Snow." Ha!


MIDOMI can be downloaded for the iPhone or simply used for free at www.midomi.com.


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