Freak Like Me

by Martyn Davies on 9th September 2009

Returning once more to the Ovi Store, I’ve been exploring some of the offerings related to music.

Some of the app reviews on the Ovi Store are damning indeed. I enjoyed that some of the reviews featured the word ‘crapp’. I wasn’t sure whether this was a typo, or whether this a conflation of ‘crap’ and ‘app’, but I was rather hoping the latter. The iPhone has its fair share of rubbish apps in the AppStore too, so you can imagine a campaign “There’s a Crapp For That”. Like the AppStore, Ovi Store has a lot of apps are free or very cheap, so of course quality varies, and you may have to pay in invested time to find good stuff.

For myself, I find the Ovi Store no more frustrating than visiting any other kind of online application store, not just mobile, but for PC, Mac or (in the past) PalmOS. I was reminded of this recently when trying to find an app for the Mac that can interface with multiple IM services. It’s a faff downloading and trying apps only to find that you don’t like the look of a package; or the way that it works; or the way that it nags you; or the way that it wants to send your information to HQ. Or the that some packages require you to install updates and pre-reqs that you are not interested in, just in order to try an app that you may not like. Hands-up anyone who really wants the “Windows Genuine Advantage” app installed? Or “.NET Framework 3.5 Service pack 1”? More iTunes and QuickTime updates for you? No, thought not.

Do the mashed potatuh ?

Do the mashed potat-uh?

Anyway, to the task in hand: music. Firstly, Shazam is an app that my iPhone chums have been telling me about for some time, and now it’s available for Nokia handsets in the Ovi Store. The idea behind Shazam is a simple one: it listens to a piece of music for you for about 20 seconds, then does a database lookup and tells you what the music is, often also showing you the cover art of the album or track.

Shazam is clever, I can tell you that. I wanted to be able to find something that would make it fail, but it is really, really good. It effortlessly dealt with Beth Orton; Glenn Miller; The Muppets; Crowded House; Talk Talk; Elbow; Radiohead; The Libertines; Beck and Bloc Party. I couldn’t fool it with Sigur Ros, Vib Gyor, Tom Lehrer, or even William Shatner’s extraordinary interpretation of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Sting capered nimbly in a lady’s chamber to the lascivious pleasing of a lute; Shazam was not fooled. The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band were cornered; The Used appealed to Emo sensibilities, and still Shazam won through. I even tried a few orchestral pieces, which weirdly always identified the artist as “The City of Prague Philharmonic”. Other than a recording of “Carols from Kings”, I can’t remember anything that wasn’t identified; it is incredible.

You need never be curious again when you want to know what a piece of music is called. Record some audio off the telly, and you will soon know that “that iPod music” is by The Fratellis, or if you care enough I’m sure it will be able to tell you the tunes on the T-Mobile ad, where rail commuters start inexplicably dancing.

As comic aficionados will tell you, “Shazam” is the word that Billy Batson would call out to magically transform into Captain Marvel.  I’m hoping that Shazam.com have already cleared the use of the name with DC Comics/Marvel, as I’d hate to see the legal big guns of Disney come to bear on them.

Midomi Listens

Midomi Listens

Also nestling in the Ovi Store is an app called Midomi, which has a similar function to Shazam. It listens for 20 sec, then looks up the music. I should say that both Midomi and Shazam need a data connection: both apps are doing an online lookup to identify the music.

Spookily, Midomi seems to be using some of the same database, since the “City of Prague Philharmonic” also came up when identifying orchestral pieces with Midomi. Like Shazam, Midomi is a very capable music detector app. I thought possibly it was a little less sensitive than Shazam, and I ended up holding the mic a bit closer to the music source for correct identification. The rate of positive identification of tracks is extremely high.

One really great thing about Midomi though, it that it doesn’t mind if you sing the tune yourself. Shazam gives the on-screen advice “Don’t try to sing or hum the music”. At least, I’m assuming it will give you this advice too, and it wasn’t just a discouragement for me personally?

Just try to imagine me singing this one

Just try to imagine me singing this one

Midomi’s hit rate for self-sung songs was good , considering what a technical challenge this is. My karaoke services have never been in high demand, and I don’t guarantee to be able to sing all of the right notes, never mind precisely in the right key. I did get one erroneous detection of “Paul McCartney”, which was pretty obviously a low point for me. It did also transform “Love lift us up where we belong” into “Elephant Love Medley” by Nicole Kidman. Elephant Love songs could be the next big thing. Rap is dead.

In summary, both Shazam and Midomi, I can recommend thoroughly. Shazam is available in iPhone, Blackberry, Android and Nokia format; it is free on the Ovi Store until the end of November. Midomi is available for Nokia and iPhone, also free on Ovi Store.

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