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At last! Stylophone now available on iPhone!

test 2 December 2008

Watch out, that waspish warble is back, as the iStylophone App comes to the iPhone, writes Dave Robinson. Classic electronic gadget the Stylophone was advertised by Rolf Harris in the ’70s (“It’s fentestic!”), propelled to astronomic heights by Bowie’s Space Oddity, and has recently found a champion in YouTuber Brett Domino via Chris Moyles’ Radio 1 show.

Now the icon is set to thrill – and, equally, irritate – a whole new audience as of yesterday, December 1st. For that’s when the “original pocket electronic organ” – actually, a single-voiced handheld synthesizer – was released as an iPod Touch/iPhone App by the somewhat self-aggrandising Very Cool Software Company working alongside original maker D_breq.

Ben Jarvis – a product design student, now head of D_breq and, critically, son of Brian Jarvis, who invented the Stylophone in 1967 – brought a digital re-issue of the instrument back to the shelves of HMV, Debenhams and Zavvi, and the pages of and, last year.

“A couple of friends said it would work well on the iPhone,” says Jarvis. Indeed, the key to the technique (and therefore the sound) of the original instrument was to slide a stylus, glissando style, up and down over a printed circuit board. Just like you scroll bars and menus with your finger on an iPhone, in fact. “Given the success of the relaunch, we were approached by a couple of software companies with ideas for doing things for Stylophones; one was the Very Cool Software Company.” Jarvis worked with the developer to provide sound samples and develop the artwork, and the aspiration became an App.

iStylophone has fewer keys (15 as opposed to 20 on the original), but the download supplies three sets of tones/skins – Bass/Mid/Treble – reflecting the three models manufactured in the ’60s. A stylus is not required (it’s all in the finger) though Very Cool has a branded Pogo Stylus they can sell you.

Being software driven and not built of capacitors and resistors, there’s more functionality available to the user (or should we say, musician). “The Stylophone is a ‘Marmite’ sound – you love it or hate it,” laughs Jarvis. “But if you play two of three together, they actually sound quite nice. So we have a record and playback function. And we will have a ‘PlayAlonga iTunes’ function, so you can play over the top of MP3 tracks, which should be pretty cool.”

It’s got vibrato – that’s an integral part of the Stylophone sound – plus bass, mid and treble switching. “We thought for now, let’s leave it at that. Let’s make it straight forward for people to play with, and see what happens,” says Jarvis. “That’s not to say there won’t be additional versions that have additional functionality and ultimately we would really like to see the Stylophone as a proper pocket synthesizer.”

So we can look forward to a time where the disaffected youth of Britain stand at a bus stop annoying commuter types, not with an MP3 download but with an iStylophone ‘choon’ – or maybe both together?

“Let’s hope so,” laughs Jarvis. “Impromptu jamming sessions from hoodies playing the Stylophone, that would be great!”

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