Artist DJ Spooky performing with his iPad app at the Multiplicidade_Imagem_Som_inusitados multimedia festival in Rio De Janiero, Brazil.
Surely we''ve all sat bemused through the viral hit YouTube video showing New York City indie band Atomic Tom, whose gear was supposedly stolen, take to the subway and put on an impromptu performance, using only instrument emulations running on each of the members'' iPhones. Publicity stunt or not, this virtual tapping of drums and strumming of guitars is proof of concept for all naysayers to witness.
The animated alt-rock-hip-hop collective Gorillaz took it a step further on their new release, The Fall (Parlophone), making extensive use of iPads to write and record the album while on tour during a 32-day stretch between Montreal and Vancouver. The fact that such a high-profile band chose to go that route is pretty impressive, but is the medium ready for prime time?
Rudess with the Morph Wiz app
As far as Dream Theater keyboardist virtuoso and die-hard synth junkie Jordan Rudess is concerned, the iPhone—and, by extension, the iPad—has allowed him to fulfill a longtime creative vision. “I''ve always been interested in putting together the world of audio and visuals,” he says. “It''s my goal to try and put those together as much as possible and make a musical instrument or a visual instrument that''s as enjoyable and informative as possible.”
Taking what he''d learned over the years playing the Continuum hardware controller developed by Dr. Lippold Haken, plus early inspiration from Russel Black''s Bebot singing robot app for the iPhone, Rudess enlisted the help of Kevin Chartier (developer of the 4D Synth) to begin work on his very own MorphWiz application.
Their design began with the concept of using the vertical grid as a tool for not only expressing pitch but also—at its most basic purpose—to express amplitude. “You''re able to put your hand down on any spot on the playing surface and know that, if you want it to, you''ll be absolutely in-tune to a diatonic pitch,” says Rudess. “And that''s fine, but what makes it really cool is that once you slide to another note, when your finger stops near a grid line or a pitch that''s marked, it has the ability to ‘round'' or auto-correct your pitch at the speed that you determine within the program.”
While the secondary goal was to make the interface unique, visuals were carefully designed to give the player real information about performance parameters. While you slide pitch, for example, rings beneath your fingertips morph through the colors of the rainbow. Once your finger stops, the ring will change to white, according to the speed of the pitch-rounding. So, you have five fingers on the playing surface, and each finger''s moving, you can visually determine what''s going on with intonation.
“I''m so happy that a device came along, not only for me to see my vision through, but to allow people to experiment with musical concepts that they would have never had the chance to touch before,” says Rudess. “If I can give someone who''s never played music before an iPhone or an iPad and say, ‘check this out, just put your finger on this,'' and they can do something that sounds cool and inspires them, that sounds musical, there''s a lot of joy there. How can you say that''s not the greatest thing in the world?”
Jordan Rudess Extra Interview
Talk a bit about MorphWiz (released July 2010) and how that whole concept came about? Was it the “chicken” or the “egg” in so far as, was it a brilliant concept just waiting for the right medium to appear on the market for execution, or was it the iPad''s multi-touch functionality that inspired the app?
Wow, that''s a really good question! Well, let''s see – it started actually with a bit of a dream that I had, or a vision in mind, for a type of control. I wanted to be able to play notes on a keyboard – because, you know, a keyboard is obviously where I''m coming from – but I wanted to be able to play them and move my finger to any note and be able to slide at my own rate and have it be in tune, if I want it to be, exactly when I got to that note. So the concept being that I could either slide to a note or I could play any note, it would give me this sort of real freedom.
Obviously, on a keyboard (electronic keyboard) the only way to bend pitches is to use a pitch bend wheel or joystick, but I really wanted more than that. So, I''d been talking to a couple of select friends about this for a long time and one day my neighbor called me and said you''ve got to open up Keyboard magazine and check out this new product called Continuum (from …). Indeed, it had some of the elements of what I was thinking about. So I called up Dr. Lippold Haken who is the guy who invented the Continuum, he sent me one, and we started to talk a lot and I really liked what he did, and it related to the vision that I had regarding pitch bending and so on. Since it was pretty close to what he was doing, he started to develop some software that did what I wanted to see.
Okay, fast forward a little bit, and along comes the iPhone. I remember putting my hand down on it and playing one of the preliminary piano apps, one of the first things that came out for it, and I was like oh my God this is so cool! And I got very inspired because I immediately thought maybe this is the place where I could see some of these creative visions come true. So I started to get very into following the developments of the iPhone world and the apps and what was going on, and one of the very first things I got involved with is this program called BeBot made by Russel Black, a friend of mine in Australia, a wonderful program. When I saw that, it also inspired me to think about my whole pitch concept and how I wanted to have this really very musical control of pitch in a way that hasn''t been done before. So I took some of what I''d learned in playing the Continuum and I spoke to Russel about it, and he did some really cool program and made some of that happen in BeBot. I started to use it on stage and really enjoyed that.
Then one day I went to the App store and saw this little program called 4D Synth by Kevin Chartier that had that whole vertical kind of control on it. I wrote to him back and forth and the communication back and forth got more intense until finally we realized that this is a really interesting thing and we wanted to work with each other and I said, wow, a chance to start from scratch and really make a vision happen. So, from that time, it took about eight months to get MorphWhiz the way we know it off the ground and in store the way we know it.
So we started working on this thing around the whole pitch concept – which is using the vertical grid as a real tool for not only expressing pitch but also – at its most basic purpose – to express amplitude. So, once you get a grip on pitch and amplitude and your finger really is on those controls all the time, you start being able to do some real expression.
The other thing is that, what it does is, you are able to put your hand down on any spot on the playing surface and know that, if you want it to be, you''ll be absolutely in tune to a diatonic pitch. And that''s fine, but what makes it really cool is that once you play a note and then slide to another note, when your finger stops near a grid line or a pitch that''s marked, it has the ability to round or auto-correct your pitch at the speed that you determine within the program. You don''t even necessarily have to think about it, because it''s all programmed behind the scenes and you can just enjoy the mini miracle that''s going on in the 80 patches that are provided. You can think of it almost from a violin point of view – like if your finger went down anywhere on the fret board – and it actually was the exact note that you went for – and then you slid to something else, and when you stopped your finger without even adding any vibrato, it brought you in gracefully or musically to the correct pitch. Even if you were left or right of the grid line or pitch line, it would have tuned it and then when you start moving a little bit, you can do vibrato but from the exact pitch that you want to do the vibrato in. What''s especially cool is that every note that you play is totally independent, so if you play one note and you''re bending up, you can play another note at the same time and bend down, and they can all stop at different times. Everything is an independent voice. You can have two notes fade in and while they''re loud, another note may be fading out; one note bends and the other one doesn''t, etc. You get this very interesting, almost lap steel or pedal steel kind of control of the music. So, that''s the musical vision of it.
The other big part of it is that I''ve always been interested in putting together the world of audio and visuals. You know, in my mind, and in physical reality, I think they''re very much the same - they''re operating off of vibration. And it''s my goal to try and put those together as much as possible and make a musical instrument or a visual instrument and make it as enjoyable and informative as possible. So with MorphWiz, the goal was let''s make this thing look really cool and trippy, but let''s put some visuals here that really can give you some information about what''s going on with what''s happening with the performance. For instance, you''ve got rings that you can put under your finger, and while your pitch is sliding, the rings will travel through the colors of the rainbow. Well, once your finger stops, it will change to white according to the speed of the pitch rounding. So, you have five fingers on the playing surface, each finger''s moving, you can visually see what''s going on with the intonation as well. The reason it''s called MorphWiz is because we have this very strong concept of morphing, where we like things to be able to smoothly go from one waveform to another. So, when you''re changing your audio waveform let''s say by going up the vertical grid on a particular note, it can also change your visual image, so that it''s morphing between, like a sine wave and sawtooth waveform, for instance.
I''m so happy that a device came along that''s powerful enough to allow, not only for me to see my vision through, but to allow people to experiment with musical concepts that they would have never had the chance to touch before. There are certain developers that I''ve met, and I think Apple kind of groks this as well, that the amazing thing about these devices is that we''re bringing music to so many people. You know, some people say “oh well, they''re not really musicians because they didn''t train…”, or that it''s not right or something like that. I have totally the other thought, which is that music is one of the amazing things that we can all touch and we can all experience and it''s one of the things that just makes life better. If I can give someone who''s never played music before an iPhone or an iPad and say check this out, just put your finger on this, and they can do something that sounds cool and inspires them, that sounds musical, there''s a lot of joy there. So, I mean, it''s kind of like, how can you say that''s not the greatest thing in the world?
The world knows you''re a huge synth junky. What apps are you really stoked about at the moment?
Well, I was just playing with Synthtronica the other day– what''s very interesting is he (Christopher Penrose of Leisuresonics) never really calls it a vocoder because he''s playing with formants and has a lot of control over them, so it''s really a formant synthesizer, if you will. But for those of us who have been playing with synthesizers for years, it''s really hard not to just say ‘oh, it''s a vocoder''. He has his own concept, and I am thrilled that he put out something that''s a little bit different than some of the other stuff that''s out there.
Then there''s this new app by my friend Wallander over in Europe called WI Guitar. You know, Wallander Instruments did the WIVI Band app, which was really one of the first iPhone apps that used any kind of modeling. And if there''s anybody that knows how to do that, it''s Arnie Wallander, because he has a professional tool out called Wallander Instruments with all different kinds of winds and brass instruments. So, he put out this app that did like 15 different wind instruments and did that really, really well – like amazing! When I did my MacWorld keynote speech, I wrote a woodwind quartet and did a video with me on each side of the screen playing as a Jordan Quartet. So, when he told me he was releasing this new guitar app, well… when you play it you just go, okay, this guy just knows stuff that other people just don''t know (laughs). It''s just so amazing. I guess he''s got a patented technology that works on dynamic sampling and it''s so expressive. The sustain of the guitar is so real and just really beautiful and unlike anything else that I''ve really put my hands on.
Another one of my favorite companies that I like to keep my eye on and be involved with whenever I can is Sound Trends, that does the Looptastic stuff. Aaron Higgins, the programmer there, is just brilliant and he does some great stuff. I got turned onto his work a long time ago with Sound Warp that uses physics and a bouncing ball that you throw around. Looptastic lets you manipulate loops on an X-Y pad where you can control effects. It''s really intuitive and fun. When Aaron programs a filter or a stutter effect, you know it''s just going to be so right.
What do you think the strength of the iPad is right now – more as an instrument or as a control surface?
Well, I think that having your finger on the pulse of what''s happening is what it''s all about. Obviously computers are all moving towards a multi-touch kind of an idea, and that''s just what''s going on. So, as far as the next generation of musical instruments, I think that''s what this is all bringing in. I think that''s why I''m so completely stoked by all this. I mean, I was excited when I left Juilliard and discovered the minimoog – I thought that that was amazing, I could keep one hand flying on the keys while the other hand was on the knob controlling the sound. But, now I''m like the next level of okay, this is obviously where it''s all been going! But, anything from a really expressive musical instrument like MorphWiz…to things like just manipulating a waveform, something like the Curtis app, where it''s really, really just fun using your two fingers to do stuff like pinching, zooming and doing all these granular things…it''s so different from my app, but it''s just so totally cool.
What kinds of issues, if any, have you faced with the iPad? Exportability, interfacing with your DAW, etc.
You know, every day things seem to get a little bit easier. I was really happy when you recently started to be able to access your iTunes library from within an app. For instance, when I first started showing MorphWiz, I needed to have a backing track so that I could play along with something I composed. So, to do that, I had to use something external and I was like come on, why can''t we just access the internal library? So now, of course, you can and also do all sorts of crazy processing with it that you couldn''t before. The other thing that''s really cool that''s more recent is this sharing that''s actually on the App page of your iTunes app, where you can go in and a lot of apps allow you to move documents into them. Like I just moved a whole bunch of Richard Devine loops I was playing with into Synthronica by plugging in my sync cable, going to that sharing screen, just said add, and that was it. It was easy!
But, still there are challenges. I''m thinking about what am I going to do live? What''s amazing is that you can do things like play wireless MIDI. That''s pretty cool. However, how reliable is it, you know? It''s like, do I really want to use it on stage? I think there''s some more work to be done there with those kind of connections…do you use Bluetooth? You know, those type of things to me, it''s great that they''re kinda working and it''s cool but, as far as being an instrument that a performer could use, and using those features, it''s a little bit like “ermm, I don''t think so, not quite yet!”
So, primarily, how are you using it in your live set?
Well, Dream Theater hasn''t been on the road for a while, so the last time I used it was on our last world tour. What I did is, you know I have this kind of rotating stand system, and I had my stand builder build me an arm that came out to hold the iPad in a nice position. I''d run MorphWiz, just the audio in the app, no MIDI app of any sort to control anything. For the next tour, though, we''re at the beginning of starting to think about how we''re going to do this, and I''m thinking about some ways that I can''t really announce right now of presenting iPads that would be really really cool, but we''ll definitely reach the next level and I''ll surely be doing something with the next level of MorphWiz, which we''re working on an app now that''s going to include MIDI and become like a pro version of MorphWiz.
What do you think the biggest shortcoming of the iPad is at the moment, as far as a professional audio tool?
Well, anybody who''s tried to play music on this thing, there''s no pressure sensitivity, that would be nice. And with the iPad2, they''re saying there''s velocity sensitivity based on the accelerometer, but we''ll have to see what that is. Right now, you only have that one level of touch where you''re just basically putting your finger down on it. Those two things would make a really big difference. One of the things that you kind of miss is the tactile feedback – you really can''t feel the note you''re playing, there''s no vibration. The smart programmers do stuff where you can kind of forget that, because there''s something visual going on, like in MorphWiz there might be a ring or particles tracking your finger.
As someone who follows this stuff daily, I look forward to when the power is there to do more like 3D kinds of things. It''s partly there now, but it''s difficult to program and you have to be careful not to run out of processing power and not able to do anything else. If you look at the new Orb feature in Spectrasonics Omnisphere 1.5, and the Omni TR app for remotely controlling it, for instance, I think that''s just so awesome. But could you just imagine adding the three dimensional idea to that, so where you''re not only moving the ball all over the screen, but you could also throw it back or pull it forward. It''s possible with finger ‘pinch'' or ‘spread'', but I just want to see more of that.
What would you like to see in the future for iPad?
I think there''s just so much room for growth. Even with the size of the iPad now, I think people want it to be bigger. And, I mean obviously there are bigger touch screens out there, but they''re not Apple software, and Apple software is very easy to work with, it''s fun, it makes sense from a player''s point of view, and from a programmer''s point of view. It''s not like programming other (platforms) where you''re just having to overcome all these weird, quirky hurdles. When you play the iPad it just feels great, musical and artistic. It''s why it''s so popular. I think they could make different sizes, and as the processors get stronger, I think it''s going to be amazing.
Do you think it should stay iOS, or OSX on an iPad device?
I definitely see the marriage coming, and look forward to when we can buy our next Apple computer and it''s all a touch screen in your lap! Remember, this is all in its infancy. When we, as developers, get together we just look at each other and it''s like, nothing''s been truly established. We talk about what can happen, just technically, on the device, and also from a business point of view, how do you work this, what''s the business model, how much do you charge? Do you make a free app, is that going to help, is that going to hurt? In-app purchase is another good model.
Portability and convenience are of course paramount to a gigging musician. Alex Skolnick, the stylistically diverse guitarist with heavy metal outfit Testament and, most recently, the Alex Skolnick Trio (a jazz group known for playing bebop renditions of classic rock and metal tunes), admits that these features originally sold him on the whole notion of tablet-music in the first place. Already accustomed to pocket headphone amps like the Zoom, Korg Pandora, and Tom Scholz Rockman back in the day, Skolnick—a self-proclaimed “iPhone geek”—found it a natural progression to join forces with Agile Partners (in affiliation with Peavey) and endorse their AmpKit guitar amp simulator app.
“Sometimes, when you''re backstage, you might leave your headphone amp on the bus, or vice versa. But you always have your phone on you,” he chuckles, adding that it was AmpKit, alone, that really made him an iPad user.
“You know, I didn''t really see the purpose of the iPad at first. I have my iPhone and Macbook Pro, and I just didn''t see the point of this third product that''s kind of in the middle. But, after using AmpKit, I really ‘got it,''” he says. “The graphics are better, yet it has the same kind of [iPhone] interplay with the touchscreen, which you don''t have on a laptop. Just to have that in a bigger package than your phone is great.”
While Skolnick mainly uses AmpKit for songwriting, warming up, and practicing, he admits that the technology''s not at the level yet where he can experiment with amp/mic combinations that directly translate to the studio with physical gear.
“But, that''s no fault of the product—I feel that way about pretty much any handheld amp product, or even a lot of the plug-ins. I haven''t really found one that replicates the sound that you can get with a real amp and a real mic. But, I wouldn''t be surprised if we get to that point. Compare it, though, to any other miniaturized rigs, and it''s one of the best out there.”
Could he ever see himself taking to the stage with just an iPad? “I mean, if it really got close, sure! I remember the dawn of Pro Tools, for instance, and thinking, ‘there''s no way this is ever going to replace 2-inch tape.'' But, I was completely wrong. Sure, analog is special, and if you''re a purist and you have a huge budget, somebody like a Lenny Kravitz, for example, then it''s great. But most records, even huge-budget records, aren''t made like that. When Metallica cuts a record, it''s done digitally, you know? So, okay, I was wrong about that. But, if we were to see something like that where this iPad technology competed, absolutely.”
Alex Skolnik Extra Interview
How''d you hook up with the Agile Partners guys and what really pulled you into their product?
Well, AmpKit partnered with Peavey, and I play Budda Amps, which is also partners with Peavey. So, when AmpKit was looking for someone to demo their product, my name came up and I guess they liked the idea that I came from diverse styles. They shipped me the product and let me download all the possible models, and it was just really fun, and I just thought, this is great, because I tend to warm up backstage with headphone amps using products like the Korg Pandora, and I used to have the Zoom back in the days, and the Tom Scholz Rockman was the first one. I always liked products like that, and this is something like that, except it goes into your iPhone, and I''m an iPhone geek! (laughs)
This is just a lot more convenient because you always have your phone on you. Sometimes when you''re backstage, you might leave your headphone amp on the bus, or vice versa. And this app, alone, has really made me an iPad user. You know, I didn''t really see the purpose of the iPad. I have my iPhone and Macbook Pro, and I just didn''t really see the point of this third product that''s kind of in the middle, but it''s not one, not the other. But, after using AmpKit, I really ‘got it''. The graphics are better, yet it has the same kind of interplay with the touchscreen, which you don''t have on a laptop. Just to have that in a bigger package than your phone, but one that feels the same as far as the touchscreen goes, is great. So, yeah, it was really AmpKit that sold me on the iPad.
How are you using AmpKit? Mainly as a scratch pad for coming up with amp/mic ideas that you later translate in studio with physical gear, or are you actually recording with it?
Right now, it''s more for songwriting, warming up, and practicing. I''ve jammed with some other people on it. But, I don''t think it''s at the level yet where you could actually experiment with amp/mic combinations and then duplicate them in the real world. But, that''s no fault of the product – I feel that way about pretty much any handheld amp product or even a lot of the plug-ins. I haven''t really found one that really replicates the sound that you can get with a real amp and a real mic. But, I wouldn''t be surprised if we get to that point. Compare it, though, to any other miniaturized rigs, and it''s one of the best out there.
Let''s say that AmpKit got to the point where it really could compete with tens of thousands of dollars woth of killer amps and stomp boxes – could you ever see yourself going on stage or into a session with just an iPad?
I mean, if it really got close, sure! I remember the dawn of Pro Tools, for instance, and thinking there''s no way this is ever going to replace 2-inch tape. I mean, I thought, this is great, there''s this option for making records now for a lot less money, but I always thought there''d be this demand for analog signals and tape. But, I was completely wrong…I was wrong. Sure, analog is special, and if you''re a purist and you have a huge budget, somebody like a Lenny Kravitz, for example, then it''s great. But most records, even huge budget records, aren''t made like that. When Metallica cuts a record, it''s done digitally, you know? So, okay I was wrong about that. But, if we were to see something like that where this iPad technology competed, absolutely.
Obviously, the iPad has some limitations. The proposed horsepower increase of the new Dual core A5 processor notwithstanding (At time of interview, the iPad2 had not yet been released –Ed.), what do you see a limiting factor with the current iPad, where you say I just really wish it did this?
Oh, that''s really interesting. What would be really great is, when I''m recording on my Pro Tools rig, it would be really nice to be able to integrate the iPad into my recording sessions. I would be guessing that would involve some sort of business partnership between the various companies involved, and there''s no reason I couldn''t just use it audio-wise, for recording, but I think that the technology needs to be developed a little more so that it could compete with really great plug-ins.
But you''d agree that the iPad is going in the right direction, and that this is the future of computing?
I would! And, I mean, I was very skeptical when Steve Jobs did that original iPad press conference. I just didn''t get the point. But, now I really see it. I mean, for the product being in its origins, you know, just being one year, I think its potential is great!
Touch OSC, with the Korg microKontrol
It''s been a decidedly less of a sonic revelation for Joe Gore, a Bay Area producer/multi-instrumentalist (and former editor for Guitar Player) who''s recorded with the likes of Courtney Love, Aimee Mann, Carrie Underwood, Tracy Chapman, and The Velvet Underground''s John Cale, to name a few.
“I''m not yet at the point of using the iPad as a sound generator for much, except for fun. But, I''m using it as a tool to control the more mature sound generators in a computer. It''s really 100-percent there,” he says. “The most amazing hit-the-ball-out-of-the-park app that I''m working with so far is TouchOSC [by Hexler]. Especially since Apple, to their eternal credit, jumped on it really quickly and released a Logic upgrade [9.1.2] specifically designed to support that functionality.”
Essentially a programmable remote-control environment, TouchOSC is user-definable and can be customized to any hardware or software system that implements the Open Sound Control protocol. “It''s just spectacular,” says Gore. “The template included with the app is a brilliant piece of UI design. Not only does it, as you might expect, work really well at moving faders and things like that, but it has a very ingenious way of getting deep inside each channel and editing plug-ins directly from the iPad surface.”
Speaking about his previous experiences with hardware DAW control surfaces, Gore recalls that it was always more effort to access anything beyond basic levels adjustments, and it often took as much time to remember how to perform functions as it would have to just grab the mouse.
“But with TouchOSC on the iPad, it''s just so beautifully done,” he says. “Because the communication is two-way, you get meaningful text about everything. It also feels really good and the ergonomics are fantastic. And that''s just the provided template. With TouchOSC, you can build your own control surfaces, though I haven''t experimented with that yet. It''s kind of like MainStage, where you can drag virtual knobs and faders and size them; it''s just fabulous. A few minutes with that is just enough to convince you that the future (of mixing) is going to be some version of a touch interface.”
Joe Gore Extra Interview
You were a fairly early adopter of the iPad. Did you view it as a music production tool from day one?
Having said that, it''s no secret that the iPad, and even the iPad2, haven''t got a huge amount of computing horsepower. So there''s definitely a lag in terms of real time processing, recording, streaming audio. So, it''s clearly a big step down from working on a dedicated computer. Obviously the iPad is of spectacular convenience if you''re traveling; it just so happens that I haven''t been on tour since I''ve had my iPad, but I expect the next time I go out it will be amazing to having something so portable. But, here at home, when I have a bunch of computers and a couple of iPads, I can focus on what iPad stuff really makes me want to grab for the iPad rather than go to the workstation.
I also understand from your tech blog that the iPad has found a relatively ‘dedicated'' job in the studio.
For me, the most amazing hit the ball out of the park app that I''m working with so far is TouchOSC (Hexler), especially since Apple, to their eternal credit, jumped on that really quickly and released a Logic upgrade (9.1.2) specifically designed to support that functionality. It''s just spectacular. The template included with the app is just a brilliant piece of UI design. Not only does it, as you might expect, work really well at moving faders and things like that, but it has a very ingenious way of getting deep inside each channel and editing plug-ins directly from the iPad surface. When you work with other DAW control surfaces, it''s almost more effort to access anything beyond just turning levels up and down but, for me at least, using sends or adjusting plug-in parameters it almost took as much time to remember how to do it as it would have to just grab the mouse. So I''ve always had an aspiration to pilot everything from the touch surface.
But with TouchOSC on the iPad, it''s just so beautifully done – particularly in the plug-in channels, where there''s a slider to select between different plug-in slots. And because the communication is two-way, you get meaningful text about what everything is - also feels really good and the ergonomics are fantastic. And that''s just the provided template. With TouchOSC, you can build your own control surfaces, though I haven''t experimented with that yet. It''s kind of like MainStage, where you can drag virtual knobs and faders and size them, it''s just fabulous. A few minutes with that is just enough to convince you that the future is going to be some version of a touch interface.
You mentioned before that you have purchased dozens of other music apps, but haven't really accomplished much with any of them. Are they not living up to your expectations?
It''s strictly a question of horsepower. I think a lot of them are beautiful, and it''s astonishing what they do. Synthronica by Leisuresonic really intrigues me, though. It seems to be heavily influenced by MetaSynth in terms of processing sounds using a paradigm from the world of pixel graphics. It''s kind of intriguing because that''s generally an offline process, in that it''s not a synthesizer that you''re trying to play in real time. There was something kinda cool about that way of working (with MetaSynth) in that you''d set up a process to calculate, run the numbers, and you might be rewarded with an amazingly cool and unique piece of audio that you could cut up and put into a sampler or do whatever you like with. So, Synthtronica seems to look intriguing in that way.
Another cool app I just discovered is SynthX (Way Out Ware) created by Jim Heinz, the same guy behind products like TimewARP 2600 and KikAXXE. It''s got an Amiga-like influence with very rough, digital graphics and an intriguing playing surface.
One stumbling block with a lot of these audio apps is how to take digital assets in and out of the iPad. The current arrangement is kind of kludgey. If you''ve recorded a MIDI file of your drum box sequence, or you''ve made a cool audio clip, how do you get them in and out? And most programs have a means, but it''s the same problem with many of the drawing programs as well. It''s this kind of kludgy thing, where you connect the iPad to your computer, open up iTunes, and there''s this tab inside iTunes that lists third party apps and some kind of import and export mode. It works, but it''s kludgy and clunky.
Some of the virtual synths are really fun. You can definitely come up with compositional ideas. Ellatron HD (omenie), the Mellotron clone, is really fun. miniSynthPRO (Yonac Software) is a really cool minimoog with an X-Y joystick modulation touch thing that''s really fun. The studio.HD app (Sound Trends) seems to be a really nice implementation of a multi-track DAW on the multi-touch format. The one that I think is really fun and beautiful is iOrgel (allm Interactive), this very Victorian looking musicbox sequencer with virtual playback.
And I use a lot of the utilities, like tap-tempos and tuners and such. As it stands right now, iPad is just a really good tool to take to rehearsal. You know, you can record rehearsal, check tempos, check tuning. Another realm where it''s been incredible and life-changing is just as a mobile database and documents things. I''ve been doing a lot of work in the last couple of years in the DIY world, building guitar effects and pedals. The iPad has been spectacular as a workbench tool where, with a program like GoodReader (goodiware), I can have thousands of schematics and notes and illustrations in a searchable database. There are some really great electronics calculators, circuit simulators, reference books and such. In that respect, it''s been huge.
The way I use iPad is that I''m not yet at the point of using as a sound generator for much, except for fun. But, I''m using it as a tool to control the more mature sound generators in a computer, or as a way to organize and use data for making use of any number of ancillary programs. It''s really 100-percent there. Looking at that, it''s easy to see how the sonic portion of that will be there as well, before we know it.
Well, let''s crystal ball it for a moment, then. How would you like to see the iPad, and other touch devices like it, develop in the future?
My prediction and hope is probably something that''s occurred to just about everybody already too. But, I think probably there''s going to be some conceptual merger between the laptop and the iPad. Whether that means a superpowerful iPad, or a something like a MacBook that you interact with via a tactile interface. One way or another, we''re going to have responsive touch interface and massive computing power converging. I don''t know when or how, but that seems to be the direction. Getting back to where I started, the TouchOSC thing was really just a revelation moment because it was just so beautifully realized and worked so well out of the box and was just such a gratifying way to work, I think that was the moment where I really thought, yeah okay, I kinda see how this is going to shake down.
And wouldn''t a third, Z-axis also be pretty cool? Say, where you could get that kind of push-twist multi-function like on consoles and such?
Interesting. I didn''t come up through the typical engineer''s path, so I don''t have the neuro-muscular attachment to the fader that a lot of people do. But, one thing that''s kind of interesting is to see how some of the drawing applications like Sketchbook Pro use various means – like if you''re working with a Wacom stylus tablet, for instance. Those are velocity and touch responsive like a MIDI keyboard is. The way that translates in the graphics software is, say you''re emulating a felt pen tip, and that if you press harder, it widens out and makes a fatter or darker line, and if you lighten up it trails off into a little hair''s breadth. Obviously the iPad doesn''t support that sort of thing, but it uses another take on velocity where, if you move the stylus from point A to point B slowly, it will make a big fat line, and if you brush across really quickly it will make a thin line. So, there are ways to make another layer of control, even without touch sensitivity. I''m just not aware of anybody doing that in audio yet.
TURNING THE TABLES
Acclaimed New York City-based reggae-dub composer, producer, remixer, and multimedia artist Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky, whose autonomous virtual DJ/mix app has already enjoyed 3.5 million downloads, credits the iPad as being a total game changer.
“My app lets me DJ pretty much in the same way that I would use turntables. I''ve been slowly getting rid of the turntables altogether—I know that sounds like sacrilege,” confides Miller. “But I use it all the time, every day. I''m in the studio now, for instance, in the middle of doing classical music, and I''m using Sibelius and Finale to notate material through a virtual piano app.” Miller also uses his iPad for effects, especially the Moog Filtatron app; remixing looped tracks with the Audio Palette app from Kent Jolly; and beat generation with apps such as DigiDrummer, iDrum, and Major Lazer.
He does see shortcomings with the iPad as a professional audio tool, though. “The interface, and being able to get things out of it is a drag. It''s a definite bottleneck. You have to do everything through the iTunes interface—importing, exporting. I mean, they''ve tweaked it and they''ve done all sorts of stuff, so that''s good to see. But, it''s just very ‘locked,'' and you have to figure it out a little more. You have to open up a Mac account like me.com or mac.com, and it''s just that extra step. It''s a very sticky architecture; it keeps pulling you further and further in, and it doesn''t talk to other things.”
For this reason, Miller generally records the output of the iPad rather than rendering and saving audio internally. Random slowdowns and/or crashes, he says, are other issues that plague the machine at the moment.
“I mean, even the New York Times app or friggin'' Martha Stewart app—there''s always quirky things that somehow bounce out and all of a sudden, the next thing you know, the software''s quit, right in the middle of something. So, it''s that kind of uncertainty in the middle of a concert that you don''t want to have. I''d like it to be as robust as the desktop Macs. But, because it''s so new and it''s had so much energy leveled at it so quickly, I think (developers) have just been throwing software into it without going through a lot of beta testing. In fact, the audience is the beta testing!” Miller laughs.
“The iPad has become this mega ecosystem very quickly, like really shocking. I had no idea it would move this fast.”
DJ Spooky Extra Interview
What sets your app apart from other virtual DJ/mix apps out there?
There''s a couple of things at hand that make the iPhone app very different, which is, its flexible. I''ve checked out the Deadmau5, RJD2, and DJ Shadow app, which basically just lists his calendar of tour shows. Those are all peers or friends of mine, but people seem to be focusing more on the very surface elements of what the iPhone app can do. I like the Richie Hawtin app, for instance, because it lets me interact with the audience live, in real time, but it doesn''t necessarily let you integrate your iTunes library. What I think will really revolutionize the whole thing is letting you link your iTunes library to the app. That''s why ours has been so popular, with about 3.5 million downloads. So it''s been a phenomenal success. Most of the other artists that I mentioned from my peer group, they''re keeping theirs very locked, and I think ours is very open architecture.
What other apps are you currently using for music?
Amazingly, I''m using the Moog Filtatron app the most. I also tend to use stuff that has keyboard and editing environments all in one. But there''s also a piece of software called Audio Palette (Kent Jolly) that has a really great graphical interface that allows you to remix looped tracks. Then there''s the Brian Eno app, Air. And an ambient one called Thicket (Interval Studios) that''s pretty cool.
How do you typically use your iPad in your live set? Describe your rig.
The iPad basically has taken over the role of turntables for me. My app lets me DJ pretty much in the same way that I would use turntables. I''ve been slowly getting rid of the turntables altogether – I know that sounds like sacrilege. The stuff I''m using is meant to be like a third turntable, but it''s pretty much taken over the role of the turntables. I don''t use the iPad as a remote, though.
What do you feel is the iPad''s best asset for making music?
There''s a lot that could be said for the intuitive and quick process of just getting into something. Stuff like DigiDrummer lets you do very quick beats.
How do you get the results out of the iPad and into your DAW?
I''ll export them as files back into iTunes, then bounce to my desktop and into my editing environment. I usually use SONAR or Sony Vegas to edit video. These days, I have to admit, I''m in the middle of a crossroads in terms of music, because I''m doing a lot of classical music.
What do you see as the iPad''s biggest shortcomings, as far as it becoming a professional audio tool?
Well, the interface and being able to get things out of it is a drag. You have to do everything through the iTunes interface – exporting, importing. I mean, they''ve tweaked it and they''ve done all sorts of stuff, so that''s good to see. But, it''s just very locked and you have to figure it out a little more, and at the end of the day it''s just time and space – and I''m very busy. Most of the other software that I have, it allows me to import and export very quickly, but with Apple stuff you have to dig into a little bit. It''s exactly what I wanted to avoid in a way, because it''s becoming kinda monopolistic in the way that the PC was, and I worry about that in terms of the future of Mac stuff. The reason I liked Mac before was that it had a very flexible and open system, but it''s like Steve Jobs is the Pope, and they''re saying that you can''t interface with Flash, for example. It''s just annoying and pointless. So, in the end yeah, the import/export factor is a small issue, but it''s an issue.
How would you see working around that?
Just make it very intuitive, no extra steps. It''s the same thing with PDF files, or sending attachments. You have to download the entire attachment to the iPad and then resend it.
What would you like to see the iPad become, as an ideal tool for doing what you do?
Hmm, good question. There''s only 24 hours in a day, and I would love it if there was a way to make the iPad more of a dynamic editing environment. The fact that you can just tap and touch makes creating drumbeats kind of interesting. What I love about DigiDrummer, for example, that''s the one I use to make beats, or iDrum, or Major Lazer, you can''t really change things around, so that''s what I mean about them having a closed architecture. If I could have multiple programs open simultaneously, that would also be great. I don''t like how you have to keep all these apps in a nested hierarchy, so to speak.
How much are you using the iPad for actual production in the studio?
I use it all the time, every day. I''m in the middle of editing some beats and doing classical music right now, for instance, and I''m using Sibelius and Finale to note material through Virtual Piano. I use it for effects, especially the Moog app. I just record the output.
Talking briefly with BT (Brian Transeau), he felt that the iPad is currently a very powerful multitouch controller, but it''s lacking the horsepower to become the kind of realtime effects processor, sitting in the middle of a multi-in/multi-out signal chain that he needs for his sets. Yup, I''d agree, it''s a definite bottleneck. I''ve been doing concerts with the iPad pretty much every couple nights of the week for the last year. The problem has also been being able to save and export things. You have to open up a Mac account like me.com or mac.com and it''s just that extra step. It''s a very sticky architecture, it keeps pulling you further and further in, and it doesn''t talk to other things.
How do you see the future of the iPad?
I''ve been doing a lot of environmental projects, where I took my iPad up to the North Pole, and I was using it as a portable studio, recording and editing tracks while I was in the Arctic. It allowed me to have a very portable situation, not having to carry a lot of extra stuff in my backpack. I had good experiences with it, but I really like it as a controller, as a wireless hub so to speak, for other devices. You can set up everything from WiFi material, I can interact with the audience in real time using my app. It''s just a matter of processing speed. It does sometimes slow down and/or quit randomly – I mean, even the New York Times app or friggin'' Martha Stewart app – there''s always quirky things that somehow bounce out and all of a sudden the next thing you know the software''s quick right in the middle of something. So, it''s that kind of uncertainty in the middle of a concert that you don''t want to have. I''d like it to be as robust as the desktop Macs. But, because it''s so new and it''s had so much energy leveled at it so quickly, I think (developers) have just been throwing software into it without going through a lot of beta testing. In fact, the audience is the beta testing! (laughs)
I think what Trent Reznor did with Ghosts, and what Richie Hawtin did with the Remiix: Plastikman Replikants app is pretty cool. I''m always checking out different ways that people can engage the medium. We have a team of people spread between New York, LA and Tel Aviv working on my iPhone app, and because of that we have a whole ecosystem in place. We''ve done different versions of it, kinds of layering, a freemium model – which is giving away the app for free but then having a structured and layered purchasing arrangement. We''ve had a really good response and I have no complaints, but it is really super fast, and it''s become this mega ecosystem very quickly, like really shocking. I had no idea it would move this fast.