Electro iPad

iPad App – eDrops Nature

Today’s app comes courtesy of of Audra who passes on occasional finds (if they aren’t too annoying). She found eDrops Nature free because she has another app that tells her when free apps are listed.

eDrops Nature is one of four very similar apps by Noe Guerrero. So far I have only tried the nature version and another more electronic eDrops Free version of their Pro app. Each one uses a dropping ball as the main theme (similar to SoundDrop), and you select various objects for the ball to bounce against to trigger built-in sounds. There are also other ambient tracks in the background controlled by the two columns of circles on either side of the screen.

I was immediately drawn into eDrops Nature, as the sound palette covers a lot of my favorite areas of drones, water, ambient piano and acoustic percussion. The pin-ball like interaction between the ball and the sonic elements creates a lot of random rhythm and melody, and you are free to change any element as you notice patterns forming – often by surprise.

You can save and load your creations (though this interface element needs work). There is no in-app help, so unfortunately the app stops and jumps you to a web site for details, but you are unable to use them in context. I found this particularly annoying, and completely counter productive compared to other similar apps that guide you while you are experiencing the app.

eDrops Nature in action.

Still, it’s a good app for generative music, and I can seem myself using it on my radio show. The pro version gives you some more capabilities, including the ability to change tempo, which is kind of important! Otherwise you are stuck with a slow ambient tempo, which isn’t too bad for creating mellow background. Unlike many other apps tried, this one didn’t get on Audra’s nerves quite as much, and she actually found it relaxing.

Here’s an example:

eDrops Free is another story in terms of the sounds available. Definitely more techno/electro. The interface is similar, but there are some important differences. There are very clear icons for bass, snare, and hi-hat percussion elements, while there are other icons that represent different kinds of waveforms.

Same outside-of-app web help plagues this eDrop Free.

The much more chaotic eDrops Free.

With both of these apps you can save your templates, and with the Pro version you allegedly can share with others, but I do not see anywhere that indicates you can download your creations in WAV or AIF format – something that would be more useful for serious users.

A much more chaotic experiment using eDrop Free can be found below. This one would DEFINITELY annoy any spouse. I didn’t care for the sound selection in the more techno version of eDrops. Even though my signal was well under clipping on my recorder, the sounds are just too compressed and distorted to be of much use for anything outside of a few genres. I think the interface lends itself better to ambient generative music, not beat-based music. Its unclear what sound palette is available in eDrops Pro, though for 99 cents it isn’t much of a risk, so I might check it out.

Electro iPad

iPad App – Bloom

Living in Bloomsburg, I am used to seeing things with “Bloom” in the title, so why should software be any different?

On his web site, Brian Eno describes Bloom as “a music box for the 21st Century”, which is just as apt a description as any. Eno is a proponent of Generative Music, which- very often – uses predetermined parameters, algorithms and probability in combination with user input to create a system in which music can be generated. So in this regard Bloom is not really an instrument like many of the iPad apps out there, but rather a whole universe to explore.

Headphones offer a real treat when playing this app because there are subtle panning elements and aural goodies throughout the various modes. The sounds are very evocative, and relaxing, which is why a sleep timer has been included for those who wish to use Bloom as a soundtrack for bedtime. But that isn’t to say that this app is boring… far from it.

Below are three different pieces – one for each mode. The first one, in Infinite mode, runs through all of the different “moods” or scale options. The other two mode demonstrations stay primarily in the mood “Ylang” (though you can allow the piece to randomly evolve). Due to the nature of the pieces, they can never be created the same exact way again, which is part of the charm of apps like these. There are several other apps in this series, and I am looking forward to exploring those as well.



Electro iPad

iPad App – Echo String

Echo String is a cross between an electric harp and piano. Like many apps it takes a few minutes to wrap your head around the design, but once you have that “Ah HA!” moment, the fun really begins.

In fact, Echo String can be considered an instrument onto itself, with its own technique that needs to be developed over time. While it is easy to play chords and melodies, it is also very likely you will hit adjacent – unintended – notes as you play. Players with larger fingers will have this problem. The good news is that the layout makes it impossible to play a “wrong” note, and there is always some musicality to what is played, making it good for improvising.

The built-in record option doesn’t appear to have a click, and there is no count-in – but it appears that recording begins with the first note played. Below is a picture of the app in use. Here’s an example from a recent Signals with Shivasongster broadcast:

Electro iPad

iPad App – Monolith

Monolith Loop works off of the same “pebble ripple” principle as Brian Eno’s Bloom and several other apps, but the ripples bounce off of each other a bit differently. There’s only one tone, adjustable by pitch and resonance. It’s pleasing enough, and can be further configured in six “moods” (Major, Minor, Raga, Egypt, Insen and Bali).

One thing I’d like to see is some MIDI sync (or tempo value entry) for this app because it can set up interesting rhythms, but it’s hard to sync anything else with Monolith. I tried using tap tempo in Ableton, and inevitably the iPad and DAW end up out of sync before long.

Purchasing the app allows saving, which is nice for composing, but just as a generative app it is great for randomness. A sleep timer is available for yet another extra charge.

Here’s a short improv:

Electro iPad

iPad App – Samvada

As an avid listener of Indian music, I have been through many of the available apps, and I’m usually not impressed. Some have a very “toy” like quality, and are pretty cheesy. So I was skeptical about yet another app… but Samvada is different.

The fact that this is a free app is kind of amazing considering the depth of the raga tuning and Indian raga theory that this one app possesses. Samvada is a great teaching tool for Indian music, as well as a fine sound design tool for composers. This app was clearly a labor of love considering the care taken in the design.

Samvada has a special mode that uses the iPad mic to pitch-match its sympathetic string sounds to whatever you are playing or singing. This is similar to what an EHX Ravish Sitar pedal does, but with the added benefit of more visual output and a larger selection of modes (and less cabling).

I’ve already begun to work this app into my radio show, and look forward to exploring it further. Demos to come soon.

Electro iPad

iPad App – Fourier Touch

Fourier Touch has practical applications as a teaching tool besides being a tool to generate tones for use in composition. It’s actually one of several apps by KonakaLabs that are available free, and well worth a look.

One neat feature is that you get a readout of the exact frequency you are generating, and how wave forms interact, though only one waveform type  (sine, triangle, saw, square, etc) is playable at one time. Still, it’s enough to inspire interesting sound creation, particularly if you add other processing (like a reverb pedal) afterward.

There are also two accelerometer interactions built in, which can be a bit frustrating at first. One of them is set for volume. Another is set for frequency, so when you stop touching the screen, the program will default to a frequency and volume based on how you hold the device.

This is one app that is less useful when the iPad is mounted in a stand. The best results for experimental tones come from holding the iPad flat, then tilting it in various directions with one or more fingers on the screen so that the resulting combined waves, frequency sweeps and volume changes generate alien radio transmissions.

Here’s a short alien radio transmission:

Electro iPad

iPad App – NodeBeat

NodeBeat is a generative music app. I first learned about this app at the electro-music festival in 2012 from LuxSeeker, another electro performer. Like many generative apps, NodeBeat is a bit abstract, and takes some getting used to. Half the fun is exploring the interface. What do we mean by generative music?

You can look up a formal definition elsewhere on the web I am sure, but for me, generative music is a way to tap into a subconscious sonic world using certain parameters set up by the technique. There are all sorts of analog and digital generative music, but most of them have one thing in common – you are giving up some control. How much control, and under what conditions (rhythm, key, melody, tempo, etc) may vary.

Using a minimalist approach of three basic icons (Square, Circle and Dot), the player can develop rhythmic and chordal patterns on a colorful screen. Over top of this, the player can solo using a set scale (many are provided). Yeah, pretty abstract, and without a complete tutorial it is difficult to describe. So let’s just listen to some examples.

First we’ll hear a fully formed backing part created by moving the Square, Circle and Dot elements around until I liked the result. This is called “Hungarian Bedtime”. I’ll explain why in just a bit.

So yeah, it’s nice but needs something more… which is where the melodic options come in. NodeBeat uses a pre-set ribbon controller type scale system that makes it possible to play without making any real mistakes. This can be seen as a crutch in some ways, but there are many ways to configure this so that it is more challenging. The important part is that NodeBeat is fun, and lets you create something quickly.

In addition to settings for the key you are playing in, you can change the octave relative to the octaves on a traditional keyboard. You can also select from a variety of preset scales, and one of those is Hungarian Folk. I selected this one for my example because – in my acoustic capacity – I have actually played with a Hungarian folk group. So here’s the results with a little melody line and some bass added:

So it isn’t brilliant, and that’s not really the point. In fact, you only become self-conscious when you start to record this stuff. Speaking of which, there is an on-board record option, but it only lets you do one layer of melody playing on top. I prefer to use an off-board recorder so I can separate rhythmic and melodic elements. The melodic “instruments” are different type of synth sounds based on wave forms, and they can be played by themselves without the rhythm. So you could conceivably use NodeBeat as its own instrument, taking the best performances from the best sounds or sections of your loop.

NodeBeat will recognize multiple contacts on the screen, so you can play melody and bass at the same time. So this piece will likely evolve into something more with practice. The reason I called it Hungarian Bedtime was that the scale and the groove were very soothing, and then it really was bedtime and I didn’t get any of my first experiments on tape. So now I am going back to flesh out the idea.

This is a deep – if simple – app. There’s gravity and MIDI features I am not getting into right now simply because I have a lot of other apps I want to get to. But I have already got $3.99 of fun out of it and can see it being used on my electro-radio show, either live, or in prepared pieces. If you take this app to bed with you and a good set of headphones, beware: you may not actually sleep!



Blog Electro iPad Project

iPad Apps

The peer pressure one feels when it comes to gadgets today is pretty bad. Add to that the additional coolness factor and creative potential of various musical gadgets, today’s musician feels additional marketing pressure. Some may even be shocked that I am only a recent convert to the iPad.

I resisted the iPad when the first generation came out. I thought it was a great idea, and I thought Apple would do a great job. I simply didn’t want to jump in too soon. I also just didn’t want another device to backup, maintain and worry about. When iPad2 came out, I was seriously tempted, having seen the technology begin to mature and find acceptance. Still, I couldn’t see the point in an additional device.

Our trip to Ireland in 2011 proved that a tablet might be useful for our next overseas trip. Cafes are far and few between it seems, and Wi-Fi is more accessible, but you need a device and I have no interest in traveling with a laptop, no matter how slim.

The only other reason I could justify an iPad was to run Bjork’s Biophilia app. Bjork is my secret musical mistress (Audra is well aware). I bought the app ($17!) thinking it would run on my iPod touch, but I didn’t have the right version. Alas, it would be a few months before I saw the wonder that was Biophilia. After seeing the live show, in which 4 iPads were networked together in a window-frame like device, I was even more intrigued, and knew it was only a matter of time before I got one.

It was only after my wife’s school adopted an iPad pilot program and got outfitted with 10 devices (including one for the teacher) that I felt the need to catch up with her (a rarity). Other justifications came when I reflected that, at the 2010 and 2011 electro-music festival, there were quite a few people using iPads, and the number seemed to grow each year. Most of the electronic music mags that I read have dedicated mobile app reviews, and I was seeing some exciting things. Since I was diving deeper into generative music, and performing electronic music live, it seemed like the right time to jump in. I was already enamored of Apple’s superior design, and would certainly not buy any other tablet.

Did I justify the purchase enough?!?

Not to be outdone, I opted for the iPad3 this summer, and immediately auditioned as many apps (besides GarageBand) as I could. Sure, GarageBand is cool and all, but there is so much more out there. But auditioning apps is more difficult than one would expect. In the early days of my search, there were over 8000 apps. I could barely get to 4000, mostly because the search function in the app store annoyingly sends you back to the beginning of a search if you make the slightest mistake with the back button (a bug I would like to see fixed). While iTunes on a computer allows marking favorites, I found no way to do that on the iPad’s App Store.

Out of those initial 4000 (most of which were just not of interest), I culled about 25 apps that I think are innovative, or very useful to me as a composer, experimentalist and sound designer. I’m going to do some short reviews here and highlight my favorites. I’ll be looking at things mostly as a musician, but also as a software developer who puts a lot of weight on the user experience.

The other reason I am putting this together… at electro-music 2012, Andrew Koenig led a dedicated workshop on portable music gadgets, and of course iPad apps played a big part in the discussion. There were other times at the festival when it seemed like a whole room full of people were using the apps – some with headphones and some interacting with each other. Mark Mosher from Modulate This! gave a great talk on Alchemy Mobile, an app I was already trying out but didn’t realize was so deep. There’s just no turning back now. So I hope these short reviews are helpful. Here are my basic criteria and heuristics:

Music apps should be fun, easy to use, and should have a save capability or export option. I do not want to be locked into a developer who is gone  next year. Apps should be useful for composition/sound design, but not rely too much on traditional compositional methods (i.e. allow improv).

Free or cheap – I am not against paying for something if it is good. So in the case of apps over $20, I want to know if they are worth it.

I’m looking for stuff that is unusual, organic, melodic, and experimental. I gravitate towards certain types of sounds, and there are certain instruments that I like more than others. So the apps I select will reflect that. There are now well over 9000 apps, and I doubt I’ll ever get to the end of the list. Many are games, silly noise makers, branded artist apps, or utilities that don’t fit into composition. We’ll be ignoring those.

So let’s get started!

iPad App Reviews

Electro iPad

iPad App – Orphion

Orphion is a bit like an electronic Hang Drum or Zen Tambour. One key difference is that Orphion has many more physical layouts that provide a different interaction with the instrument than could be achieved with a single physical instrument (if you could afford one). This is a very solid, inspiring app. What makes it so compelling is the different gestures that create different types of sounds. There’s also MIDI out capability.

For the sound quality and inspiration, Orphion is a bargain for $4.99.

November 2012 Update – As part of the preparation for my electro-music radio show this month (show #24), I’ve been exploring ways to incorporate my favorite iPad instruments into improv sets using Ableton’s live looping capability. Here’s a brief example.

Electro iPad

iPad App – iKaossilator

After using the small yellow hardware version of the Korg Kaossilator for a couple years, I knew that one of the first apps I would try was the iPad version. Many of the same sounds are here, and there are some new ones. But there’s even more functionality. At $19.99, it’s a bit more pricy, but worth it if you are a big fan of the hardware versions.

One of the big problems with the original Kaossilator was that it didn’t have memory beyond a few seconds, and once it was turned off, you had to start over. Korg came out with a second version of the hardware unit that solved this and added a lot more functionality, but if you are trying to reduce hardware, the iPad app is worth a try. My big beef is that the tap tempo is not native on the front of the app – you have to go to a menu to get it to function.

I have yet to get the AudioCopy function to work, but the direct upload to SoundCloud is very helpful for immediately getting ideas out to your audience… if you are into that sort of thing. I prefer to have a bit more time to edit pieces and incorporate other instruments and processes, but here are two examples: