In this iOS music app review, San Diego-based composer Matt Isom aka Eyeball Jackson takes us through Skram by Liine, a module-based iPad app that lets you create heavy-hitting electronic music for anyone wanting a fast and inspiring music-maker.
Few iPad apps provide an immediately rewarding musical experience compared to Skram by Liine, which offers a taste of what a flexible tablet groove sequencer should resemble. While Skram succeeds as a fun musical diversion, a few key flaws limit its usefulness for more experienced music makers until pending updates arrive.
Groovebox apps on iOS tend to follow the layout of classic hardware rather than taking advantage of the tablet interface. Skram’s interface succeeds in this regard, putting four modules as well as global controls at your fingertips with a minimum of page-swiping. All the controls are no more than a tap away, making the iPad a streamlined groove machine.
Skram’s core modules are the “BR-909” drum machine and the namesake Skram bass synth. The drum module is a scaled-down, grid-sequenced rhythm machine that brings the Roland vibe you’d expect, a bit dry, but with a deep, punchy kick. The bass synth provides ample dirt and squelch for a range of cool sounds, but the two-octave pitch sequencer doesn’t extend into the sub-rattling realm.
The melodic modules in the Skram starter set are both arpeggiator-controlled synths: Heatstroke is a curious beast that combines a warm resonant filter and overdrive with more alien frequency modulation controls for abrasive, robotic and industrial sounds. Orphic, on the other hand, specializes in percussive, bell-like sounds that sound great in arpeggios and take on a dreamy quality with built-in pitch delay and chorus effects.
Working with Modules
Using the modules together is where Skram really gets interesting: While synced, each sequencer has an independent pattern control “widget” that allow you to create contrasting polyrhythms on the fly. It’s surprisingly easy to get all the modules pumping and kicking in complementary rhythm, swapping pattern slots, and keying in changes in pursuit of syncopated bliss.
The clever key chart visually shades harmonically related keys depending on the selected mode. If that sounds like too much music theory, relax, it means you can follow a chart, so you won’t have to think about it, and key changes will always sound harmonically “right.” For example, consider this demo recording, made just five minutes after jumping into Skram:
Well thought-out features like these are unfortunately offset by a few key failing points. For one thing, Skram doesn’t allow you to save program changes. Every time you start the app, you get the same default settings and patterns on all four modules, a stonewalling flaw sure to frustrate even casual users.
Skram does let you record your session, but the file export options are pretty crude, unless you’re using AudioCopy. Fortunately, Liine has indicated that they intend to make Skram compatible with Audiobus and Inter-App Audio, which would not only solve the file export issue, but also allow Skram to integrate with, or at least stand alongside other apps.
I find myself wishing Skram had a more full-featured mixer with EQ and compression. Of course, that would be a departure from its minimalist design. The refreshing simplicity of Skram’s implementation is what makes it appealing as a tool for pros.
More modules and widgets are forthcoming, as well as snapshot saving and gesture control, which is great, but Audiobus and IAA compatibility are what Skram is really missing. As it stands, Skram is an exceptionally fun toy for making headphone grooves while you ride the train. You could even plug it in at a house party and keep people more than entertained. With just a few improvements, Skram could become a bona fide iPad groovebox that inspires creativity in producers of every skill level. Fingers crossed!
- Perform songs live, generate ideas, experiment or simply have musical fun
- Make pounding club drums or tricky rhythms with the BR-909 Drum Machine
- Create silky smooth or speaker-rattling basslines with the Skram Device
- Sketch out soaring arpeggios with Orphic and leave your audience glowing with Heatstroke’s synth tones
- Create musical patterns easily with the three included Widgets: Arpeggiator, Pitch Sequencer, and Drum Sequencer
- Carry out stunning key changes, music theory not required
- Record your performance and share it with friends
Availability and Compatibility
Skram is available on the iTunes App Store here.
Read more about Skram on the Skram App website here.
Skram requires a 64-bit iPad and iOS 9.0 or higher.
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