Can you Turn That Thing Off? : Cellphone sounds, measures, and performance

Posted: January 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

Original Cover of Tarrega Sheetmusic

You’ve heard it before, naturally.   The Standard Nokia ringtone, or Nokia tune, was actually a lifted musical phrasing from a work titled Gran Vals and was composed by the influential Spanish classical guitarist and composer Francisco Tárrega.  Written in1902 the piece was not considered one of Francisco Tárrega’s greatest compositions, though, as of 2009, it was the most heard (“recognized”) piece of music on the planet.

Nokia Tune with Sheet Music

Above is the Nokia Ringtone, tune/melody (or at times just called the “nokia”) which is, still at the present time, the most common sound file used in Nokia mobile phones.  The phrase though derived from (measures) bars 13-16 of Gran Vals has actually been altered and the last note is different from the original phrasing (you can compare with the original score in the videos below). This measure, per its altered state above, is played worldwide on a average of 20,000 times per second.

Gran Vals – Francisco Tárrega

The Executive Vice President of Nokia ( the Finnish phone maker and communications corporation -headquartered in Keilaniemi, Espoo) Anssi Vanjoki, brought Gran Vals to the attention of Lauri Kivinen and in 1993 they sat down together and choose the phrasing with its alteration to  “create” the ubiquitous  “Nokia tune”.

The Tone is now considered the first ever musical ring tone for the mobile phone and it is estimated to be played approximately1.8 billion times every day.

Marc-André Hamelin , “Valse Irritation” 2007

The French Canadian pianist and composer, Marc-André Hamelin (above) plays his variation of this composition which is titled “Valse Irritation” (2007). This is a personalized transcription of the Nokia tone which Hamelin plays spontaneously in concert when he becomes aware of a mobile phone ring (thusly the title of the composition).

Nokia Fugue (Op. 31) Vincent Lo

DIY composition for the nokia tone.

But the cellphone as sound can be thought of as something else as in Bora Yoon’s 2007 performance Plinko. Here the phone becomes a sublime counterpoint to voice, and the surprising glockenspiel.

Bora Yoon, PLINKO 2007

Bora Yoon (born 1980) is an alternative performance/musician who is known for her use of a variety of uncongenial instruments, as well as the anomalous confluence of objects she integrates into her pieces to produce sound.  Her work tends to the haunting and subdued which is countermanded often by the objects used to generate her compositions.


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