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PhoneZone is musical commentary on the effect of the integration of mobile phones into our everyday lives. While this technology has no doubt provided benefits, it has also come at a cost: our connection with the 'real world' has been eroded by the endless stream of notifications calling us into the digital world. Every day we see countless examples: people zoned into their phones on BART, walking across campus, and even in the middle of in-person conversations. But it is not just adults. Kids of all ages now have access to this technology - some from a very early age. For some it is the first thing they see in the morning; they have it during school and when they're out with friends, and it's the last thing they look at before falling asleep. Is this generation being raised by technology? Are we trading quality interactions for quantity? Are we using it, or is it using us?


Aside from trying to express the aforementioned dilemma, I wanted to use this piece as an opportunity to familiarize myself with workflow options for creating spatialized compositions, and find the pros and cons of each. From this information, I would be able to choose one that holds the most relevance to myself as a composer and/or use this knowledge to develop different software. After hearing compositions made with Natasha Barrett's Max-based program "Cheddar" - which included IRCAM's spat library - I decided to go with these technologies (hearing is believing). However, I opted for Ableton Live as my DAW of choice rather than Nuendo as I am not as familiar with that workstation, and I have been transitioning off Logic to Ableton. Ableton also has integration with Max called Max for Live, which I thought would be a good way to introduce myself to writing Max patches.

Sound Materials

The piece was composed entirely of 5 easily recognizable sounds emitted by phones:

  • Original nokia ringtone
  • Recorded vibration
  • Recorded phone closing
  • Facebook Messenger notification
  • Google Hangouts notification

The minimal use of samples was intentional. This forced me to explore Ableton's extensive audio effects library if I wanted to achieve more than just a smattering of random phone sounds.


There are many binaural panner plug-ins already in existence, but I decided to make one to have the practice.

Final Piece

Originally, the form of the piece was to be ternary, with the opening offering a feeling of excitement over the new connection to the digital realm followed by a darker section characterized by the zombie-like actions of phone addicts, with the final section to reconciling those two extremes into a compromise. As these things sometimes do, the composition developed itself in its own way, and eventually it settled more on describing where the user 'goes' when their attention is on their phone, so more literally than intended it became the PhoneZone. The piece begins by introducing the 5 unaltered samples and then transitioning into a lazy space where each sample is heavily filtered and spatialized binaurally.

It can be heard here.