The iPad is clearly the gadget to get this holiday season. With an impressive selection of music applications from companies such as Propellerhead, Moog, and Korg it’s become the must-have device for musicians too. As an early-adopter of the device I can tell you – it’s worth the hype and quickly evolving from a sound-toy into a full-fledged instrument. Music applications are still new and evolving so you can’t expect full integration into your DAW or workflow just yet. But on the other hand I now have an Electribe, a couple Moog filters and a Korg MS-20 in my bag for less than the price of a new DAW. Not to mention applications by loads of other indie developers pushing sound-creation in positive new directions. The world of iOS apps moves fast (and constantly.) So we’ve rounded-up our favorite music applications for those of you who got iTunes gift cards this season and are looking to inspire your music creation sessions.
iOS 4.2 + MIDI – In November Apple released the much-anticipated iOS 4.2 – which added MIDI support and multi-tasking to the operating system. While this development is still new, some software is supporting MIDI and many hardware devices are already working. Using the Apple Camera Connection Kit ($29) you can plug a class-compliant USB controller into your iPad to control certain applications. Some applications that are supporting iOS MIDI as of publishing include: Yonac Mini Synth Pro and One Red Dog’s Molten Drum Machine. Another option for MIDI on your iPad is the Line 6 Midi Mobilizer. It looks like a robust package but it also requires a separate API from the ones provided by apple – so check app compatibility before you buy it.
MIDI TOUCH / MONITOR APPS – On the software side of things, one company has seemed to grab the torch for MIDI development: iOS MIDI. They have released two MIDI products so far – the free Midi Monitor app and the $18 MIDI Touch controller application. Midi Monitor is great – pick it up immediately. It’s a simple program that will allow you to test and monitor your MIDI hardware with the iPad. The company has posted a nice listing of iOS MIDI devices that work and devices that don’t work with the iPad and a lot of comments/updates from users. MIDI Touch also looks great, although I haven’t bought the app to test it just yet. The program seems to offer a customizable layout-editor (similar to TouchOSC) with nice graphics and MIDI integration to control your DAW from the iPad.
DJAY for iPad - Algoriddim is the first company on the block to offer a DJ suite for the iPad (Djay $20) that allows you to “take full advantage of iOS 4.2.” That includes access to your iTunes library for mixing as well as the ability to broadcast across AirPlay systems. Although we can’t claim it will be as fluid as Serato or Trakror, it will definitely fill the need for people who want to rock the apartment party on their ipad. Algoriddim describes the video: “djay for iPad analyzes 2 tracks in parallel (BPM detection, beat grids, etc), *while* drawing the waveforms *and* playing / processing 2 tracks in real-time (minimal latency), smoothly rendering graphics, sharing via AirPlay and possibly recording the output to storage memory!”
KORG iMS-20 – In the realm of music-creation apps, one company that has been setting the standard for great sound and interface design is Korg. The iElectribe is still a smash success (and lots of fun to play with) but Korg pushed the envelope once again with the release of the $16 Korg iMS-20 application in October. This app is a full re-creation of the original Korg MS-20 Analog synth plus two kaos pads, an analog sequencer, full routing options and the ability to save and recall sessions. Keep in mind – this is not actual analog sound. It’s binary code recreating the sound of the MS-20. But it sounds pretty amazing, looks polished and is definitely one of the best ways to learn about synthesis on the iPad. With the ability to export sounds you can also integrate your sessions into your DAW. The analog sequencer in this app is a bit tedious and tricky to figure out if you haven’t used one before. But the ability to play sequences via the (two) kaos pads and record the sequences is very fast and fun. Sessions consist of patterns that can be copied and edited into songs, all of which can be saved and copied easily. The iMS-20 also allows re-routing of almost any parameter in the application by way of virtual routing cables. Because the sequencer is analog, you can control it via other variables in the synth (for example an LFO or CV output.) The possibilities are endless and the depth of this application is intimidating (but it’s not hard to get started with.) The iMS-20 is currently the best-selling music application in the iTunes store. I can see why. Highly recommended application.
SYNTHMATE – This is a clever new polyphonic synth application that bends the rules for performance and looks like a lot of fun for $3. Wire to the Ear’s Oliver Chesler calls it an “inspiration maker.” From the Synthmate website: Using a simple design, the user can use 1 hand (5 or less fingers) to play the synth while with the other hand, control the synth by picking between Presets, Scope, Scale or Parameters panel. Working in both landscape and portrait modes, with the x-axis assigned to pitch and y-axis as user assigned. I also recommend checking out the Synthmate blog where creator Steph O’Hara goes into intimate detail on the development of this application.
iSEQUENCE – One synth/sequencer application that has been a bit of a sleeper hit this year is Beep Street’s $15 iSequence. I bought this app based on high user reviews and then it took the back seat for a while as I dug into the brand-name apps. But over time I keep coming back to iSequence due to it’s in-depth notation and automation features. The program is based on a (16) step-sequencer with 8 tracks of audio – one drum track and seven synth/audio tracks. You can assign effects and record automation on-the-fly. The (beautiful) interface takes some time to understand (button assignments are not always where you think they should be) but once you get the hang of it this program becomes a powerful writing tool. I turn to this app more than most others when I want to lay down a fast groove or have an idea for a synth loop in my head. Development seems to be strong with iSequence and the site has a healthy user group and promises for “more effects and flexible audio routing” in future updates.
TOUCH ABLE – If you own Ableton 8 and are looking for a wireless user interface for it, look no further than Touch Able. The price is a little higher than other apps at $25 but the multi-touch integration with Ableton that you get is amazing. With artists such as Sebastien Leger promoting the device it’s quickly becoming a pro performance tool for the iPad. The company has just released version 1.1 with numerous updates including: “tempo control, resizable tracks and slots, relative faders, global record, new menus design, inertial scrolling, and a set of great enhancements.” You can read a list of the new features on Touch Able’s website as well as user forums that offers lots of information as well. After playing with multiple wireless options for Ableton on the iPad this has become my weapon of choice.
REACTABLE MOBILE – Reactable is a table-based light and object music interface that was created by four researchers at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. The performance applications of this product were made famous by Bjork who used the system in live performances. After much development the team has released Reactable Mobile ($10) for the iPhone and iPad. It’s a very neat device that features an audio and graphics engine based on the real Reactable. The company says “Reactable mobile is a versatile synthesizer that allows you to play and process your own sound samples and audio input.” We say it’s just a lot of fun to play with this unique music making interface.
REBIRTH – After the lackluster performance of the Rebirth iPhone application I wasn’t very excited about this app. But then I played with it.. and wow. This is a full re-creation of the program with better interface design, sound and graphics for the iPad. It’s lacking high-quality audio export (which I am hoping Propellerhead will include in an update) but offers Soundcloud integration and “skins” which change the samples as well as the look of the interface. Altogether it’s an impressive package that has kept me toying around with the 303’s long after bedtime. Dubspot did a feature on this software that gets a bit more in depth on the specifics of this cool app.
SOUNDCLOUD – The iPhone application offered by Soundcloud is especially nice as a free interface for your Soundcloud account. A recent update to the app now provides a big benefit to users with the addition of recording from your iDevice. After you record you can upload your recording to Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter and Myspace instantly.
GRIFFIN / TARGUS iPAD STYLUS – The Pogo stylus was the first iPad stylus to hit the market but was not highly rated for accuracy. These two new styluses by Griffin and Targus are very similar to each other in design and come highly recommended by many users for fast and accurate use on the iPad’s touch-screen. While I can enjoy using my fingers for games or typing, I find that many of the buttons (in the iMS-20, Rebirth, iElectribe) are too small for my big fingers. Furthermore – you sometimes can’t see the knob parameters when you turn them with your fingers. I picked up the Targus iPad Stylus and love it for music creation. It has also reminded me how much I enjoy drawing (in Sketchbook Pro and Adobe Ideas) and doesn’t leave fingerprints on the screen.
COMING JAN 2011 – KONKREET PERFORMER – Konkreet Labs promise that the MIDI / OSC control device called Konkreet Performer will release in January 2011. This looks like a beautiful combination of graphics and sound control. We can’t wait to get our hands on it.
Michael Walsh is an audio/visual artist and journalist living in Los Angeles. Read more of his work at soundsdefygravity.com