New movements in iPad MIDI: PolyChord, FL Studio Mobile, TouchAble, Livid Block, Alesis iO

This month in iPad / iOS news we have exciting developments in DAW control, MIDI performance applications, multitrack creation software and some cool hardware add-ons for your iPad. The theme that runs through all of these products is the innovative use of Core MIDI, which was introduced with Apple’s iOS 4.2 operating system for iPads, phones and pods a few months back. The initial news about MIDI on our iPads was exciting but didn’t yield very much in the way of cool features when it released. But after a few months of development we are starting to see major refinements in software and hardware that use Core MIDI to achieve some new connectivity between your iDevice and your music studio.

One application that has been around for a while now but keeps delivering great things to my workflow is Polychord. This seemingly simple app comes from a company called Shoulda Woulda Coulda who explain the program as follows: “Polychord is drums, bass, chords, and accompaniment all wrapped into one. Simply press one of the chord circles and your on you’re way to writing a song.” The app provides a set of 9 graphic circles that represent chord values. As you touch each one the chord will play. Sounds easy enough, right? Now if you change the key (at the top of the screen) and choose major or minor chords you can instantly access hundreds of chords in seconds. Now add Core MIDI and Polychord will output this information to your favorite program as MIDI information. This is amazing for those of us with not much formal training in music – a great way to get to know the chords and instantly lay down music that works in key. In addition to the chord buttons the application contains a piano-roll sort of strip on the right that lets you strum music in the key you have chosen. I have had incredible fun with this program in Reason, Ableton and Live – works well with all three. Polychord 2 just hit the App Store recently with a lot more goodies packed into the app as well check them out here.

Over the past year we have surveyed quite a few apps that offer graphic control options for Ableton Live. There are a few that stand out in the crowd. One company, Liine, has been developing new features for Ableton performance workflow (like Kapture Pad) and getting great press. But the dark horse that is currently winning the race to total DAW control in Ableton Live is TouchAble. The app offers six different modules (Clip grid, Mixer, Devices, Keys, Pads, XY Pad) and two command menus (Clip & Transport) to cover nearly every control element of Lives session view. With the release of version 1.2 this robust app brings new features to the xyz control module, decreased latency and better performance all around. If you’re looking for an all-in-one option to control Ableton Live from your iPad then TouchAble is your app.

One application that has been the talk of forums for months now is FL Studio Mobile. The app has not yet been released but is causing quite a stir with users saying it trumps Garageband for ease of use and functionality. The program will be available for all Apple iDevices and features a multi-track recorder, step sequencer, piano roll, and a playlist for arranging parts/tracks. One key feature that stands out in this application is compatibility with the FL Studio desktop version.  For those of us who have dreamed that ReBirth might work with Reason or the iElectribe with our hardware version this is huge! It’s also worth noting that this will be the first FL Studio product available on any Apple operating system. For now they are teasing fans with “coming soon” messages but check Image Line’s website for updates on this app as it’s reported to release very soon.

While app developers have been hustling to give us clever applications that utilize Core MIDI, some major hardware manufacturers have sights on the other side of the market with hardware add-ons to extend functionality of your Apple tablet. So far the Alesis iO Dock looks to be the most exciting and feature-packed gadget we have come across for the iPad.  Its  an audio interface / performance dock that comes with a plethora of input and output options as well as full recording, performing, and playback control that works with just about every  audio/video program in the App Store. Features at a Glance: Turns an iPad 1 or 2 into a recording/performing/playback station, Dock features two XLR/TRS inputs with phantom power – MIDI I/O, Core MIDI-compliant – works with virtually all audio/video apps.

Livid Instruments is offering less audio but more open-source MIDI options in a much cooler package for iPad called the Livid Block Station. The Block Station is a clever piece of hardware that adds hardware control for MIDI applications on your iPad while giving you a nice space to keep your device while you rock the knobs, buttons and faders. While it doesn’t offer power or audio outputs,  it is customizable, open-source and carries a lot more street cred from the geeks. This product is running as a limited edition product that you can buy directly from Livid Instruments.  Once these items are out of stock they won’t be available again. Features from include: USB powered
,  MIDI in and out jacks
, bi-directional MIDI communication (talkback)
, class-compliant, 64 programmable backlight buttons, programmable MIDI mapping, open source software tools, expansion jacks for additional connections
. Needless to say – we want one.

Michael Walsh is the Editor of Dubspot’s Blog, a producer of audio/visual art and a journalist living in Southern California. Read more of his work at

  • dj zonabi
  • 5/18/2011

nice collection of new ipad midi gear- the Livid gear is definitely high quality, and we dont say that just cause theyre in Austin too!

keep groovn


  • Andy Chimicles
  • 5/18/2011

I’ve been using Livecontrol for TouchOSC to control Ableton. It’s pretty amazing, the multiple XY pads let you get super expressive with the controls. I might have to switch to Touchable though, their xyz screen looks incredible!

  • D zim
  • 5/18/2011

Wow, touchAble video kicks ass!

  • Jara
  • 5/18/2011

Also MiDi-to is awesome if you own Serato. I am using it to easily control serato wirelessly.