Shulamit Ran likes her ring tone.
"It's a harplike arpeggio going up and down," says the Chicago composer, who won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in music for her "Symphony." "It's very gentle. It's fun, and it's very delicate."
And the tone, which came with her latest phone, is a huge improvement, she says, on one that "came out of my phone" at a meeting years ago and caused her to turn "deep purple." That time, her son had programmed the embarrassing alert, which Ran, also on faculty at the University of Chicago, remembers only as being "some 'mojo' something."
Sub-30-second musical bursts emanating from cellphones are not a thing you would at first expect to discuss with someone who teaches and executes musical theory at the highest level.
And you'd probably be especially surprised to learn that Ran, in a new project, has written ring tones herself.
Ran's new ring tones, for a project led by the city's Spektral Quartet that was to debut at a performance Saturday night, are a perfect example of how the rise of smartphones — so ubiquitous that they are carried by 64-year-old classical composers and rap-loving grade schoolers alike — is making people approach their art form from new angles.
But so is the Art Institute of Chicago's tack, which will see the venerable museum introduce a new, media-rich app, Closer, on April 16. The current app, Tours, offers various guided tours (Birthday Suit, Femmes Fatales, The Two-Hour Tour, etc.) and maps.
Another fine example is the Lyric Opera of Chicago, currently developing an app that would allow people to call up surtitles — simultaneous translations of the lyrics — to go with the company's live radio broadcasts.
Indeed, across the city's arts and cultural organizations, there's a push to meet visitors where they live, which, for many of us, is in a space where our own brains meld with those of an iPhone or an Android device.
Many of these efforts are in their infant or toddler years. Most organizations are still executing such basic tasks as "optimizing" their websites for mobile devices, meaning they'll read as well on a hand-held gadget as on a desktop computer. But the attempts to leverage the immensely powerful devices that people now carry — and consult with almost neurotic frequency — are legion.
Largely gone are the old apprehensions, the old tensions that marked the relationship between smartphones and the arts. Where those running organizations once wondered what to do about these new devices that could record audio and video and take pictures — practices that had sometimes been barred — now they know: Embrace them.
Embrace them, that is to say, without turning their spaces into something that looks like a high school cafeteria, a collection of faces intent on glowing screens.
And embrace them, of course, while still beginning theatrical performances with a reminder to turn the darn things off, because in such a setting they can be even more annoying than the unwrapping of a cough drop.
"We allow phones in the theater, but we really don't allow people to use any kinds of digital devices," says Lori Kleinerman, Goodman Theatre's director of marketing. "It's the right decision for our patrons and the artists. Theater is transportive."
Ditto for live classical music. Stand-up comics, too, these days routinely begin shows with a funny but very serious request that audiences not record, not text, not snap pictures.
"If you're sitting there flashing a thing in my face, that's gonna distract me," comic Aziz Ansari said in a 2012 Pitchfork interview, explaining his aversion to cellphones.
But for most other organizations, most other settings, the phones are being welcomed.
"Hundreds of people in the course of the day taking a picture of 'A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,' we believe that raises the desire for the real thing," says Erin Hogan, the Art Institute's head of interpretation. "We think it's a positive thing that the phones allow these images to enter the visual mainstream."
Like the Art Institute, the Field Museum offers an app that highlights the collections and helps guide tours, also called Tours. The Field had already moved away from the traditional headset and tape recorder.
"The idea of putting more control in the hands of our visitors is what we're looking at these days," says Meg Keslosky, the Field's director of communications.