Ocarina creator Smule releases Leaf Trombone World Stage

Smule, the company behind the popular Ocarina app that turns your iPhone into a musical instrument, has launched a new app called Leaf Trombone World Stage. Ge Wang, the Stanford professor who co-founded the company, likes to talk about his vision for a Smulean future, that is, one in which music-making is more accessible and social – and Leaf Trombone definitely takes the iPhone further in that direction.

At the center of the Leaf Trombone app is a new musical instrument. Just as the Ocarina app was loosely based on the real-world Ocarina instrument, the Leaf Trombone sounds a lot like a real trombone. But Smule has gotten a bit more creative with its interface this time – you move a slider up and down a sheet to produce the sound you want.

The company says it was inspired by “traditional Chinese leaf instruments”. You can either blow into the iPhone’s microphone to play, or set the app to “touch” mode, where no blowing is needed (making the app both easier to learn and also playable on iPod touch). After watching a few videos and testing the app myself, I can say that the instrument certainly seems versatile, albeit less aesthetically pleasing than its Ocarina cousin.

More interesting are the features that Smule has built around the instrument, namely the “World Stage” part. With Ocarina, you can share what you’re playing with other users, but the Menlo Park, Calif. company has formalized this process with Leaf Trombone, allowing other users to rate performance on a scale of 1-10. These ratings contribute to a player’s ranking in the Leaf Trombone community. The app’s interface also makes it easier to play other compositions, with notes represented by smaller leaves flying across your instrument, showing you where to move the cursor. There’s even a way to compose songs for the Leaf Trombone in your web browser.

Smule first demoed the Leaf Trombone at Apple’s iPhone 3.0 event last month. It seemed a bit odd at the time, as the app didn’t seem to do much with the new dev tools – it just allowed in-person duets using the app’s programming interface. Connect app. Now that Leaf Trombone was released ahead of the actual release of the iPhone 3.0 operating system, it’s even clearer that 3.0 functionality isn’t a key part of the app. I guess Apple just brought Smule on stage because it’s fun and cool.

The company has raised a total of $5.7 million in venture capital.


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