Creating Music on the iPad: iOS 5, Genome MIDI, Mixr, iMaschine, Meta DJ, Rhythm Studio

With this week’s launch of iOS 5, which brings more enhancements to audio routing and processing possibilities, many app developers are rolling out new updates and software to take advantage of these new features. Among these are Native Instruments’ iMaschine, Sound Trends’ Meta DJ, Pulse Code’s Rhythm Studio, and David Wallin’s Genome Midi Sequencer. This week we take a look at the latest sonic possibilities for music creation on the go with your iOS device.

After weeks of reading about it we’ve finally got some time with iMaschine and it’s living up to the hype. You can create four different tracks of pads/samples, audio recordings or virtual instruments with a mixer and two effects busses for mixing. The first thing we wondered about was how the pad action would translate to a glass screen and we found that responsiveness of the virtual pads is great. There’s even a screen that allows you to input velocity by way of tapping on a vertical bar (height = velocity). A handy recorder allows you to record your voice and ponder why it doesn’t sound like Jamie Lidell (read more on that at CDM in a great piece by Peter Kirn.) While it’s very similar to other sample/loop/drum boxes on the iPad, iMaschine represents what many music producers have been begging for in an application: integration with the music software we use on the computer. And in that sense it’s brilliant. You can create a project in iMaschine, sync your iPad, grab the file and open it in Maschine. You can’t, however, do that the other way around. Maschine files do not open in iMaschine. If you have Maschine expansion packages like Transistor Punch or Vintage Heat – you’ll be excited to hear that NI offers in-application purchases (a mere 99 cents) that bring selected sounds and kits to the app version. I’ve started a few tracks while sitting in front of the tv or on the porch and they’ve turned out to be useful building blocks to bigger projects that I’m now building in Maschine. This is a new workflow I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

One of the most interesting features to come with recent iOS updates is the ability to run more than one music app at a time. In addition, many recent applications are allowing cross-app routing for sound and MIDI. Korg’s iElectribe, SyncKontrol and iMS-20 were all early adopters of midi import/export technology but it’s taken some time for other applications to catch up. Recently we’re finding a wealth of applications that are pushing the boundaries of what we thought we could do with an iPad. Among the frontrunners for this development push is White Noise Audio, who’s Genome MIDI sequencer is causing some excitement amongst iOS creatives. In the above video we found vlogger Dischord giving a nice breakdown of how to run Genome, Sunrizer, Bassline, Molten and MoDrum all at the same time, in sync. Incredible!

The ability for apps to run together is partially because of Apple’s updates to the iOS but it’s also a result of The Open Music App Collaboration Manifesto by Rolf Wöhrman. Released in August 2011, this document calls on iOS music developers to push ahead with inter-app collaboration features. He notes that “most best practices described here are neither rocket science nor my inventions. I just tried to summarize what needs to be done to have a great user experience.” An example of this document’s effect can be seen in the above video where SoundPrism‘s Audanika demonstrates how you can use SoundPrism Pro with Sunrizer to map the accelerometer to control expression.

The Open Music App Collaboration Manifesto: This is a doc about how iOS apps should use MIDI while running on same device. It provides a set of best practices which should make user experience as great as possible for people who want run apps in parallel like in these scenarios: 1. A controller app (like SoundPrism, Polychord etc.) in front plays a sound generating app eg. a synth (like NLogSynth etc.) running in the background. 2. Two beat-oriented apps eg. a drum machine (like MoDrum, Molten, Funk Box etc.) is running in sync with another app (like NLogSynth arpeggio or BassLine etc.) 3. A sequencer app controls other sound generating apps like synths, drum machines etc.- An external MIDI controller plays a synth app running in the background while the iOS interface is used for an app in the front triggering loops. 4.  Any combination of these scenarios: A sequencer app controls a drum box & arpeggiated synth in the background while the user plays controller app controlling another synth in the background.

Although we haven’t gotten our hands on the Mixr dj application (it launches today), this looks like a very promising piece of technology for the mobile dj or vinyl enthusiast. Mixr is feature rich – offering details such as pitch, tap to tempo, scratch, multi-cue, and pre-cue in your headphones (with an adapter.) But what really impresses us is the responsiveness that the app displays in the above video. That and the Crate Manager, which looks like an intuitive way to create sets and playlists with a nice graphic interface. The whole package seems aimed at vinyl djs who are looking for a responsive and professional way to play with sounds on the iPad. As part of that target market I’m excited to give it a test drive. Mixr will be hosting a live UStream launch party for the application on Wednesday October 12 at 10PM EST. Check their blog for more information.

Another clever DJ app we’ve come across recently is Sound Trends’ Meta DJ. Meta DJ also incorporates a  nicely designed and responsive DJ application but this time in the form of a four-deck layout with minimalist graphics similar to the company’s Looptastic app. While Mixr seems aimed at the vinyl enthusiast, Meta DJ seems aimed at the DJ/Producer. With a feature very similar to Traktor’s Sample Decks and four decks to work with it’s very versatile for performance. A new update brings hardware controller support for Numark’s iDJ Live as well as Headphone Cuing. Other new features include bulk import from iTunes, EQ, low/hi pass Filters, and more drumtron beats. Sound Trends explains the app as follows:  “Meta.DJ is targeted at modern DJ-style performances and lets you blend your iTunes music tracks with drum machine beats, sound fx, synthesized instrument parts, mix effects like delays, stutters, filters and more. Each iTunes track can get it’s own reusable Cue and Loop presets, to let you work the track to the fullest. Access up to 4 musical devices at a time to max-out your mix with quad DJ decks or whatever you need to make the house rock. Easily save a Snapshot of a device that includes its content (music tracks from iTunes, synth presets and key, loops, etc.) and mix parameters (FX, fader level, etc.) for easy recall into the work area of your Set. Just drag and drop a Snapshot into the work area and you are ready to use the device. Start a track playing, add a beatbox, and keep building it up. The mix is yours!”

Isle of Tune is a new application that is changing our perceptions of what a music sequencer can be. It looks and plays like a Sim City for music which the creators explain as follows: “Isle of Tune is a unique music game that allows the creation of musical journeys defined by street layouts. Each tree, building and roadside object plays it’s own sound or muscial note as a car passes by. Construct loops, tunes and elaborate cityscapes then share them with with your friends and others to view and rate.” While it’s not the next groundbreaking sound design application I can see this appealing to younger enthusiasts.

Lastly, it would be a shame not to mention Rhythm Studio in this roundup, which celebrates an update this week and is currently on sale in the app store for 99 cents. If you’ve just gotten your new iDevice and you’ve come across this article in hopes of finding the best music app for your money – Rhythm Studio is your application. This is a program that has been around as homebrew for Nintendo DS and PSP systems for years and has finally come to the iOS market. While the website and tutorial videos aren’t as slick as the competition, the app itself delivers robust features and performance (especially for the price.) Pulse Code explains the app as “an easy to understand interface resembling real instruments.  This means that one button does one thing just like it would with real hardware.  Knobs turn, switches slide, and buttons press. You won’t get lost in abstract interfaces or design. ” The latest update includes three synths (one of them a TB-303 clone), two drum machines (808 and 909 inspired), a mixer with FX sends, a sequencer, control pad, and effects (Delay, Flanger, Chorus , Distortion, Foldback Distortion, Lo-Fi, Low Pass Filter, High Pass Filter, Gate). Highly recommended.

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Dubspot blog editor Michael Walsh is a  journalist, DJ, music producer, and Dubspot instructor. He believes in open-source ideas and advancing the evolution of music by sharing ideas that push technology in new directions. As a catalyst for of electronic music’s growth, Michael was co-founder of the Ritual Recordings house imprint, helped develop numerous club nights and events, and has curated music for corporate events with clients such as Nokia, Puma, and Betsy Johnson. Michael has been a professional DJ for over two decades and produces house and techno music under a number of aliases.

  • juan
  • 10/12/2011

Meta.DJ, iMaschine and Tabletop are by far the BEST apps out there for music making amongst others but these are fully equipped to be playing for HOURS no kidding… Mixr DJ sorry to say right now has nothing to offer and is way over priced, no effects, no pads, not even a sync button WTF? for that i recommend DJay, iDJ or even Sonorausurus Rex these all bring great effects, waveforms, scratching and syncing which is most important oh yeah and comfortably priced..