Going Gaga Over Virtual Music Making

"Poker Face" played on iPhones and a classical-style chorus of dozens – show the power of YouTube

The videos, at first glance, don't seem to have much in common: In one, a young woman uses four iPhones to play a credible version of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." In the other, 185 voices power a classical-style choral piece, which wouldn't be all that unusual, except that the singers recorded their parts separately from 12 countries, using webcams.

The shorts, which debuted within two days of one another late last month to varying degrees of success on YouTube (guess which one already has surpassed 1 million hits), are among the latest examples of how the site has become an exciting platform for experiments in music.

With MTV pretty much a Reality TV channel nearly 30 years after its debut, YouTube is growing as an online, do-it-yourself version of the old Music Television model. The site serves as a laboratory for a democratization of sorts in music making, and shows the enduring power of a good tune – and a good gimmick – to draw a crowd.

The young woman behind the iPhone "Poker Face" is among an increasing number of practitioners using apps to make music (as Mashable notes, she played Beyonce's “Irreplaceable” on a mere three iPhones in a previous video).

The choral piece, titled “Lux Aurumque” and composed by Eric Whitacre, needed a lot more people – and machines. Some 185 singers downloaded sheet music for the piece, and shot videos of themselves performing the various parts. The result is seamless and ethereal, in both sound and vision.

The YouTube folks are smart enough to recognize the lure of music. Last year, the video service assembled a virtual symphony orchestra from around the world, conducting online tryouts and bringing the winners to Carnegie Hall to play a concert.

But not all undertakings need to be that elaborate. YouTube's become a spot to find everything from concert performance snippets to bootleg songs to a band bouncing on treadmills to a guitar-wielding toddler singing "Hey Jude."

There’s a long history of marrying music and technology, not only for distribution, but for music making. In the last century, Les Paul and other electric guitar pioneers paved way for rock-and-roll. Grandmaster Flash and others turned a medium – the turntable – into an instrument, helping transform popular music.

The levels of musicianship vary, but anything that gets people playing tunes can’t be all bad. There have been indications that video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band (both of which have spawned a genre of YouTube videos), have spurred at least a modest increase in sales of real guitars.

YouTube announced last month that an astounding 24 hours of video is uploaded to the site every minute – and it’s a good bet that a significant amount of the footage is music-driven. So take a few minutes and check out the two videos below:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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