Creative uses of Apple's iPod continue to emerge, with news of a songwriter who uses the device as his backing band.

Hailing from Austin, Texas, Chris McFarland uses an iPod stuffed with a plethora of sounds - drum tracks, steel guitar - as his backing outfit. He sings his songs and plays his guitar on top of his virtual band-mates.

"McFarland started making the rounds in Austin’s music community in the late 1990s, with a mix of ’70s singer-songwriter folk and ’80s post-punk aggression that’s been intact since," reports the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Conscious collective

Like much human endeavour, McFarland isn't the only artist exploring news ways to deliver their muse. US iPod title Playlist reports on brothers Johnny and Frankie Navin, also known as The Aluminum Group, who replaced their backup band with a pair of iPods.

With HP prepped to ship its own licensed iPod clone through its major network of electronics retailers, Apple's music player stands on the edge of achieving untold market traction.

Artists and musicians are at the cutting-edge: iPod/music player clubs are springing up, including London's newest event, also called Playlist. This takes place on September 4 and then weekly from September 18.

Cultural inspiration

iPods are becoming increasingly important in modern urban culture, with their effect seen in UK newsstand magazines like Word and Q; the release of iPod-specific magazines in the US and UK (Playlist and iPodUser), and the appearance of iPod flash mobs.

Duke University in the US is engaged in another iPod experiment, offering its incoming freshmen an iPod pre-loaded with course-related information, timetables and other syllabus-related information. This move is described by the University as, "part of an initiative to encourage creative uses of technology in education and campus life."

Georgia College and State University Professor Rob Viau also uses iPods to enhance his English and interdisciplinary arts courses because he believes the gadgets are an excellent resource for his students to easily download the sound portion of their studies.

Art galleries and museums are also climbing aboard, Tokyo's brand-new Mori Art Museum has launched an audio guide service using iPods.