When is a music app an instrument, and when is a music app an album? And if it’s neither, what is it? The questions arise as more and more apps come to suggest themselves as non-traditional instrumentation, to be employed by musicians. Perhaps the suggestion that an app is an instrument is meant philosophically, or casually — but even if it is meant rhetorically, what impact does that designation have? For example, if musicians choose to sample a track off the recent Brian Eno album, Small Craft on a Milk Sea, they have the option of paying a licensing fee, or of trying to slip the use under the radar and hope for the best. But what if musicians want to use the Eno iOS app Bloom on an album? The Bloom sounds, these synthetic petal drops, are clearly composed by Eno — but do they require a ride around the same sort of permissions merry-go-round as do Eno sounds produced for a proper album?
Someone over at archive.org seems to be testing these boundaries, by posting lengthy (79-minutes in this case) MP3s (and other formats) of Bloom in action (MP3). The brief note accompanying the MP3 says it all:
Pre-generated audio from the Bloom iOS application. This is Bloom in Classic mode with the Ambrette mood. It is 79m long.
It’s somewhat ironic to listen to a lengthy fixed recording of a software instrument that’s intended to sound different every time you use it. But the irony is tacit, a side point, to the main subject — and that subject is a question, questions that beget more questions: What is a recording of a lengthy stretch of Bloom? Is it an Eno ambient piece? A single? An album? A collaboration between Eno and the person who recorded it? One thing is for certain: It’s beautiful.