Back Talk: Jordan Rudess


Photo: Paul Undersinger

Jordan Rudess may be best known as the keyboardist in Dream Theater, but he is also very involved in the world of iPhone/iPod touch and iPad music apps. From his first app, JR Hexatone (Amidio), a very non-conventional drum machine/sequencer, to his more recent MorphWiz (Wizdom Music), an instrument that uses the touchscreen interface in a compelling way, Rudess has been an active participant and high-profile evangelist for the whole music-app concept.

What''s your overall feeling for the potential of music apps on the iPhone/iPod touch and iPad, but more specifically for the latter?
I am such an enthusiastic supporter of that world. I see it as providing the next level of possibilities for musicians, for electronic musicians. I think it''s one of the most important things that''s happened in the world of electronic music for a long time—to let people actually have their hands on a multitouch screen. Especially because it''s something that the general public can now kind of afford. Not a day goes by when I don''t check, “What are people thinking? What are they doing? What''s out there [in the app world]?” And there''s this entire jungle of stuff that comes out. Some of it''s just not that good—some of the things are just toys—but you see some really interesting things. Everything from people doing generative kinds of music applications, which in many cases are really cool, to people making these really, really amazing control-type surfaces on the iPad. And you have the ones that work—totally self-inclusive—that don''t need to be connected to the outside world. Something like a MorphWiz, which works on its own and will also connect to the outside world, or just are controllers.

What does the multitouch screen do for these devices'' potential, compared to a normal computer with a mouse and a keyboard?
I think it opens up a whole world of expression. That''s what I''m really excited about: putting your hand on the actual sound, on the actual graphic. As an artist, it can be anything from a tablet to draw on to a surface you''re making music on. So there''s no doubt that everything is moving in that direction. It''s just a no-brainer: This is where it''s all going.

What do you envision for tablets from a music-app standpoint—perhaps beyond just the iPad—maybe five years or so down the road? Are they going to be studio tools or mostly just for live performance?
First of all, I think that what''s happening is that people are going to be needing even more power than something like what an iPad offers. I can only imagine that the multitouch idea will make its way onto the personal computers that we use, so very soon we''ll be able to put our hands on these tablets and they''ll be fully functional, fully powerful machines. Because there are limits now. The iPad is great. I''m loving it; it''s exciting. We''re exploring everything it can do. But if you put it up against a MacBook Pro, there''s a power difference.

The processor, the amount of RAM, and so forth.
Exactly. If you want to do some advanced synthesis, if you want to start doing some intricate additive synthesis [on an iPad], you might have a bit of a problem because you''re going to run into a roadblock. So the concept is there right in front of us, and everyone who is interested can start to work with it, start to play it. It''s obviously got a ways to go.