App Reviewed on: iPad 2
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Touch Press has been publishing astonishing digital books for iPad for as long as the platform has existed. With their earlier apps, like The Elements, The Wasteland, The Barefoot World Atlas and The Sonnets, the company shows a knack for taking a subject many consider dry or academic and turning it a multimedia feast that engages not only students, but anyone with even a passing curiosity in the subject matter. With The Orchestra, the team has raised its own bar, creating much more than a than a digibook. The Orchestra takes users on an exclusive tour of the UK’s Philharmonia and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen’s interpretations of eight classical pieces from composers like Hayden, Mahler, Stravinsky, and Beethoven in unparalleled fashion.
The app is a two-part affair. The home screen guides users to the performances first. Each orchestral work is presented with several videos focusing on key musicians/instruments and on Salonen’s baton. These videos can be rearranged with intuitive gestures to focus on whichever appeals at the moment. Below that, users watch the score scroll by in sync. One can view the entire orchestration, a curated score that focuses on key instruments in the piece, and for those who don’t read music, there is a graphical representation using color-coded bars.
On top of that users can toggle a beat map, which allows them to follow each musician as they play. There is also commentary – text or audio – offering insights into the music, conducting, and interesting tidbits about the composers. Almost everything is included in the $13.99 package, but because the app is already almost 2Gb in size, most of the arrangements are incomplete. An extended-function beat map and complete recordings are available for purchase through the app.
Were that not enough, the app also serves a digital encyclopedia of orchestral instruments. Each is displayed with an interactive 3D image, and a video by the appropriate member of the Symphonia explaining not only what the instrument is, but how it is most commonly used in an orchestra and beyond. There’s also some text, a bit of trivia, and suggested pieces to check out which heavily feature the instrument in question. Cooler still, there is a mini keyboard at the bottom of each page so users can hear the instrument play any notes they choose.
The Orchestra is the first of Touch Press’s offerings that can’t be called a digibook. The text and images merge seamlessly with the music and video, creating a immersive multimedia experience. The UI is flawless, and the perspectives shown in the videos could not be matched even with house seats. This app is a must-have, if not for the wonderful content, than to see how Touch Press continues to revolutionize digital publishing.