Adorn your iPhone with audio, courtesy 3D printers Shapeways and an unusual use of the SoundCloud API to get at the data.

The content we watch on the Internet is, ultimately, just data. We view that data in fairly narrow, conventional ways, but there’s no reason that has to be the limit. In one of the more novel applications of the API for audio-storing service SoundCloud, one 3D printer is happily turning your music tracks and recordings into custom iPhone cases, each uniquely based on the waveform of your sounds.

This week in Austin at South by Southwest, SoundCloud was attracting attention with that notion, as partner manager Caroline Drucker showed off a custom case built from the sound of her walking across a train platform a pair of signature high heels. (It’s the U6 U-Bahnhof Schwartzkopffstraße, if you must know, specifically. The USA Today featured the footwear and the case. “Must’ve been the shoes.”)

Yes, Berlin, us North Americans can sport the scarf, too. SoundCloud’s Caroline shows off an iPhone case she made from a sound she made of footsteps, in a visual reminder that listening to the world and recording what you hear is always a good idea. (Speaking of which, I need to go scarf shopping … hmmm, maybe I can print it with an FFT …)

It’s primarily for fun, of course, but it does illustrate a point. Just having a smartphone along is enough to capture sound in all kinds of situations – don’t overlook the built-in mic. (Just make sure you’ve got ample focus on whatever you’re trying to record, since these mics are very vulnerable to background and ambient noise, and use an app that lets you record in a lossless format, making it more useful for musical sampling.) Odds are you’ve been in the situation Caroline was and – if you’re paying attention to your environment – got a great sound just walking around.

Here’s that original sound, as recorded with the iPhone SoundCloud app (equivalents are available for other platforms, too, so finally put that mic to use for something other than just calls):

Okay, not everyone wants a new iPhone case (or owns an iPhone), but you have to admit, this interface is cool. You go directly from a sound you’ve uploaded to a physical object. And they say music is intangible. (Seen here with a track of mine, though it does work nicely with a short, percussive sample like Caroline’s.)

And if you do want to sport your sounds on an iPhone case, check out the cool Shapeways app. (And this might just give you other 3D printing or laser-cutting ideas, so go for it.)

More on some of the other SoundCloud news soon.

You can visit CDM’s editor on SoundCloud, of course. Lots of people send tracks, so if you share your work, send a note to go with it, please!

  • Eric Sheffield

    All of the ambient sounds in this track were recorded with the built-in mic on my iPhone 4 into the free Blue Fire app:
    I was literally downloading that app as I was walking down the street towards the sound source because it dawned on me last minute that the voice memos app compresses audio.

    (sorry, is it bad form to pimp your own stuff here?)

    • digid

      It looks pretty stupid, yes.

    • Peter Kirn

      No, I’m interested to start a discussion about how people do mobile recording, so let’s hear it. (So long as the comment is relevant – and this I think is.)

    • digid

      Ah, I didn’t get that mobile recording was the focus of this article.

      In that case: The Tascam IM-2. Great extension to the iPhone, and high enough quality to get you decent recordings no matter where you are. And it’s small, leaving almost no footprint when it’s not connected to the iPhone.

    • Peter Kirn

      Ah, super cute. Having a look at that.

    • midihendrix

      i also got the impression that this piece was more about the (silly) iphone cover. personally i dont want any more hunks of plastic floating around me…as us musicians get poorer, somehow the consumer aspect music gear seems to be expanding. and the manufacturing quality seems to become not necessarily worse but alot cheaper and plasticky. you can confirm this when your early 1980s synths outlive your 2000 era plastic midi controllers.

      to respond to the mobile subject:

      theres only one way to roll out……with the big guns. shotgun, mics, that is. field recording is an art form much like photography. someone has said that a photograph tells more about the photographer than what is seen in the image. same goes for field recording.

    • Peter Kirn

      Right, but serious photography shows typically show both large format photography and Polaroids. Not every field recording needs those big guns.

  • Eric Sheffield

    Wow, OK. Mixed response.

    Well, the link to the track is in my original comment if you’re interested. Ignore it if you’re not.I posted that solely to provide an aural example of something that had been done with the built-in mic and uncompressed audio. Certainly not trying to gain any significant exposure.Anyway, at one point I had been considering a Blue Mikey for this purpose as I assumed the built-in mic on the phone would not produce very usable results. It was nice to find that assumption to be incorrect.The sounds I captured were from a nearby recycling collection/sorting facility. It’s a few blocks away from my apartment in a small town, and every so often at night, when the streets are quiet, the sound of clinking/breaking glass and heavy machinery reverberating off the nearby houses is fantastic.I WISH that it would be feasible to capture the sound of that reverberation from that far away, but it’s just too quiet and the noise floor of ambient sounds and electronics is just too high.I walked down to the facility with phone in hand, downloaded the Blue Fire app on the way, and recorded a few minutes of audio from two locations- one several yards away, and one as close as I could get, right up to the chain link fence.Luckily, this was at night on a quiet street, so traffic or crowd noise was not an issue.My findings were that the built-in mic did an admirable job of capturing high frequency detail, which was more apparent by using uncompressed audio (the high frequencies of the compressed audio used in the Voice Memos app suffer the most).I’m sure that the mic is tuned specifically for voice, so it may be that there’s better response at 1k or so, but I did not notice any problems in this regard. I used some EQ and some sped-up material to emphasize the more tactile high-frequeicies even more, but I would have likely done this even if I were using a super great mic and/or pre.I can’t speak much about the low frequency content as I didn’t really use it in the final product, but I definitely had to roll off some of the rumble from the machinery, so it was able to pick that up just fine (to a point).Really, there’s no question that I would feel comfortable using the phone by itself again in the future to capture these sort of percussive sources with little low-end content. This just so happens to align with the content of the original post as well- that of the clicking of high heels on a subway station (notice in that subway recording that you can hear the natural reverb of the space quite well- this was a key component of the sounds that I captured at the recycling facility and definitely influenced the final product).At the time the recording was done, I was in the middle of a year-long project that produced a large volume of material on a regular basis, so being open to exploring something at a moment’s notice that grows into a fully-formed idea was crucial to making that happen. In this case, I went from sitting in my apartment nodding around to having a clear vision of what this track could be within about an hour. Having a mobile device to capture that moment made this possible.It’s analogous to that anecdote about “the best camera is the one you have with you” or something like that. We’re at or very near that same level now with the sound capturing abilities of the things we have in our pockets throughout most of our waking hours every day.

  • Jens

    scarf-shopping, fft? my recomendation, the also berlin-based are knitting scarves with a hacked knitting machine, and the patterns are based on sound files.