This week Valley Village resident Rick Ladomade introduced iArmonica, an iPhone and iPad application in which the user simulates playing this newfound instrument, modeled after Benjamin Franklin's glass armonica. The new app is featured in iTunes’ coveted New and Noteworthy pick.
Exactly 250 years ago, Franklin invented a musical device that turned the civilized world on its head–or rather, its ears. Inspired by the lilting sounds created by musicians stroking bowl rims with their moistened fingers, Franklin created the glass armonica by mounting 37 bowls inside each other in progressive sizes and spinning them with a foot pedal. The instrument was featured in pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, Handel and over 100 other composers, and is often used in Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
And then as quickly as it burst upon the classical music scene, the glass armonica disappeared. Rumor has it the lead in the glass drove the musicians insane. The more likely reason for its demise was that its delicate sound could not carry beyond small aristocratic performances and therefore was not suitable for the large concert halls that were becoming increasingly popular.
But the glass armomica is now making a comeback… virtually, thanks to Ladomade's app.
Ladomade oversees the work and markets the apps from his development studio, where he also works on projects as a film producer. In addition to his entrepreneurial endeavors, Ladomade spent 15 years as prop master for the long-running show ER and currently serves as the prop master for the hit comedy Modern Family. He has a bi-costal partnership with lead programmer/artist/musician David Marconi, who produces the apps from his Morgantown, West Virginia workstation.
Ladomade and Marconi were intrigued by the lost glass armonica, which they describe as “the aphrodisiac of musical instruments,” because it “caused young ladies to swoon and apparently drove them wild with its hypnotic sounds.”
Apparently the glass armonica has the unique ability that makes the listener sense that its music is coming from multiple sources.
“The exquisite ethereal sound it produces resonates around you due in part to the way humans perceive and locate ranges of sounds from 1,000-4,000 hertz,” according to Ladomade and Marconi's website, “which coincides with the sound range where the brain is 'not quite sure' and thus we have difficulty locating it in space.”
Although the app may initially seem similar to playing a piano, unlike tapping the keys, the player actually stokes the keys (or rather bowl rims), which are labeled in vivid colors, and can be zoomed or panned at will. The computer-generated graphics are extremely detailed and realistic. All notes are digitally sampled from nationally acclaimed musician Dean Shostak, one of only eight glass armonica players in the world.
The download sells for $1.99 for the iPhone and $2.99 for the HD version for the iPad, and includes a short history of the glass armonica, simple instructions, and the notes of three songs that can be easily learned – Scarborough Fair, My Country ‘Tis of Thee and Amazing Grace.