Electronic Guitar: Plays Well Together

Combine the real-time processing features of your laptop with your iPad
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I was well into performing ambient electronic music live, using my guitar and a laptop, when the iPad audio-app explosion hit. (See our Top 200 iOS apps story at emusician.com for a comprehensive list.) I immediately began exploring any app that would allow real-time processing of my guitar.

It soon reached a point where I could conceivably perform solely through an iPad using an amp modeling app such as Positive Grid’s Bias FX; apps such as Borderlands, iDensity, and Samplr; and utilities like Audiobus and Kymatica Aum. Still, as I already had a few years invested in my laptop chops, I wanted to see if I could combine the plug-ins and looping capabilities I loved in Ableton Live with the unique features of my iOS processors.

The author’s Macbook Pro, running Ableton Live, sends signal to iPad apps through an iConnectAUDIO4+ interface

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Fortunately, I came across the iConnectivity iConnectAUDIO4+ interface. In addition to the typical inputs for mics, instruments, speakers, and headphones, the interface allows me to connect a computer and an iOS device and send the audio back and forth. It immediately inspired visions of turning my iPad into a touch-controlled plugin, or, even better, using the iPad as a multi-effect return in Ableton Live, my performing DAW of choice. I wanted to be able to send audio from any track—be it guitar input, a live recorded loop, or an imported clip—into the iPad to be processed, and then back through Live’s main outputs.

Fig. 1. The iConnectAUDIO4+’s powerful patchbay software lets me set up apps as a return in Ableton Live.

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As soon as I got my hands on an iConnectAUDIO4+, I found that realizing my dream was more difficult than I had imagined. Setting it up to process everything coming out of one track or the master output of Ableton was easy; processing things as a return, in parallel with the main output, not so much. It required a complicated set up using iConnect’s powerful but confusing audio mixing software and patchbay (see Figure 1). But thanks to great support from the company, together we were able to figure out a system whereby Return C in Live sent audio to the iPad out of Live outputs 5 and 6 and then back to a separate Ableton track for the iPad, which brought processed signal in through inputs 3 and 4 (see Figure 2).

Fig. 2. Return C in Ableton Live sends processed signal to the track labeled iPad.

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I am currently running iDensity and Samplr in parallel with Audiobus on the iPad, and using Audiobus Remote on my iPhone to switch back and forth. I won’t kid you: It has been a long and arduous process getting this rig to work consistently—more through user error than any inherent hardware issues—but the rewards are worth it. I can play guitar into a track in iDensity in real time and have it granularly processed to any pitch I chose using the handy keyboard on that track, and still have five more tracks on which to process it differently (or any other track or loop in Live). All I have to do is turn a track’s send to Return C. Samplr lets me record guitar loops, pitch them up or down, chop them into slices that can be played with my fingers or set slices to repeat in an ostinato pattern. Oh, did I mention that iConnectAUDIO4+ powers the iPad?

I have only just begun to explore combining the laptop and apps, but the possibilities appear endless and very exciting.