Ocarina really is one of the coolest things ever. If you have an iPhone and even the slightest interest in playing music, you probably want this, even if you don't know it yet.
The app turns your iPhone into a wind instrument--a high-tech ocarina. You blow into the microphone, move your fingers to cover virtual "holes" on the screen, and it plays pretty notes. It's like magic.
And it broadcasts what you're playing to anyone else who has the software, anywhere in the world. (Yes, you can turn off that option if you want to.) Which means you can also listen to anyone else who's playing. (Okay, technically you're listening to clips that the server has recorded from other people, but it feels like you're listening to other people who are playing.)
I bet most of you didn't go watch the video the other day. You should. A description of this app doesn't do it justice; you have to see it in action.
On the company's website, there are easy-to-follow instructions and a couple of videos (including a five-person Ocarina ensemble playing "Stairway to Heaven" in multi-part harmony). They also have a forum where users post "scores"--easy-to-follow fingering charts for a variety of songs. I've posted three so far (converted from ABC format): "Suo Gan" (the pretty Welsh lullabye featured in Empire of the Sun), "Skye Boat Song," and "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella." The most popular songs on the forum seem to be "Amazing Grace" and a wide variety of tunes from video games, plus Picard's flute tune from "Inner Light." The forum also features occasional light music theory posts, to help wannabe transcribers decide what key and mode to use and so on.
All this can be yours for only 99¢ from the App Store, at least for now, and it's absolutely worth every penny.
The app apparently doesn't currently support the iPod Touch, but I have a vague idea that it will at some future point. Not sure where I got that impression.
. . . Another nice thing about it is that you can plug in headphones and play silently. Though I keep accidentally whistling as I blow into the mic.
Thanks again to j7y for pointing me to this, and to Ben N for pointing me to the explanation of how ocarinas work, which helped me get more of a sense of how the fingerings relate to the notes. But I don't want to make it sound complicated; if you want to, you can just follow the fingering charts without having the slightest idea how it all works.