“People who create things of value deserve to be rewarded for that creation, no less than people who build cars or make computers or cook McDonald’s burgers. This is a fundamental axiom without which there is no benefit in creation for any purpose save as a hobby. If we do not accept that idea, then what we are doing is we are saying that as a society we do not want the contribution of talented, creative poor people who can not support themselves in some other way; only the independently wealthy with plenty of time on their hands and the means to support their creation need apply. If I intend to invest in a camera, or canvas and paint, or studio recording equipment, I better do it without any expectation that my investment will be rewarded in any tangible way, and so I’d better have enough money to do so without the expectation of return. This idea is, I think, self-evidently horseshit.”—Franklin Veaux (via chipotle)
I recently bought an iPad for the primary purpose of exploring the device’s potential as an experimental musical instrument. After about a week of research, I’ve discovered some very promising and creative software that suggests that the iPad can indeed function as a very powerful means of sound control and exploration. However, I was surprised how difficult it was, amidst the glut of cheesy emulations of acoustic instruments and instant techno beat machines, to find apps designed for experimental purposes. So, in the humble hope of aiding like-minded seekers, I offer this small guide to some of the best apps, according to the criteria of conceptual originality and musical open-endedness.
(Note: I am interested here in experimental interfaces, rather than instruments in the conventional sense, where there is a clear correspondence between gesture and musical output. Although it should be noted that there are some really stellar instruments of this type for the iPad, such as Geo Synthesizer and Animoog.)
Droneo ($2.99): Very neat little app for creating rich, slowly evolving drone textures. It allows you to fine tune the individual frequencies outside of equal temperament, and has some very nice built in samples. The parameters can be tweaked in a number of ways, allowing you to actually “compose” your drone with some sophistication.
SoundyThingie ($2.99): This unfortunately named app is actually quite cool, taking a widely used concept—converting graphical patterns into sound— and doing something more creative with it. You can make complex branching structures of lines, each of which corresponds to a tone whose pitch varies according to its vertical position. Individual waveform assignments and the possibility of altering the play speed and timing make for a subtly complex instrument.
DrawJong ($2.99): One of many apps that combine sound and visuals, DrawJong is “a two-oscillator FM/wave terrain synthesizer based on chaotic attractors. It is capable of producing wild glitches and weird waveforms, along with a steady stream of gorgeous visuals.” A sensory feast for eye and ear.
Glitch Machine ($2.99): It was reading about this app that inspired me to take the leap into iPad land. Glitch Machine is a live-coding environment that uses reverse Polish notation to render a constant output of luscious low-bit noise. Actually coding with any intelligence is way beyond me at this point (and the relationship between code and output is highly obscure), but you can do a lot simply by trial and error, and the potential of this app is staggering. It also allows you to easily save and export your work.
WaveShaper ($5.99): Load up a sample and use two fingers on the X-Y pad to mangle the hell out of it in real time. A very clean design and lots of fun to play.
MendelSynth ($1.99): A simple but very clever concept: each circle represents a sound—noisy or harmonic, static or varied—and by “breeding” two sounds, you create a set of offspring that are genetic mutations of their parents’ sonic qualities. It’s a neat and intuitive way of exploring electronic sound. Not playable as an instrument, but you can email your favorite sounds to yourself for later use.
NotePlex ($1.99): Notes are created as nodes on a vast, scalable grid. Pitch is determined not by placement on the grid, but rather by color. Nodes are activated by pulsars, which emit pulses regularly according to the tempo setting. Each node also has a setting which determines how it conveys the pulses it receives—it can send more pulses in all directions, or just one, or none at all. Plus, each node can be given a life-span, that is, the number of times it can be activated before disappearing. NotePlex can be used to create highly complex generative compositions that evolve in unpredictable ways. The built-in sounds are unspectacular, but you can import your own samples.
Anything by Nicholas Collins: His apps are among the best, and many of them are free. (They are unfortunately developed for iPhone, so they’re not ideal for iPad, but they work.) Some focus on live coding in which the user manipulates symbolic objects whose relationship to sonic output is tantalizingly opaque (TOPLAPapp, RISCy, Cryptoclash); others use samples (BBCut, Concat) or photos (Photo Noise, Photo OSC) as the basis for sound experimentation. Collins’ iGENDYN is a lovely multitouch implementation of Iannis Xenakis’ dynamic stochastic synthesis.
Made this the other day. I thought about it, and I realized the reason why I like making videogame sounding music sometimes is that those sounds recall memories of playful exuberance and justifiable ridiculousness. It’s also hilarious to listen to this during rush hour riding mass transit.
Since my chest still won’t allow me to play trumpet, I’ve been exploring some new ventures in music-making. Everything’s a process. I figured that since I make a lot of stuff on the regular, I should at least have some of it available somewhere for folks to take a listen. For now, it’s soundcloud via facebook. My plan calls for regular updates. The link above will take you there. Feel free to throw some creative challenges up on my wall, and I may take a stab at it. ;)
“It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can treat everything as a joke—that may be, perhaps, the real end and final holiday of human souls. When we are really holy we may regard the Universe as a lark.”—G. K. Chesterton, All Things Considered (via Kelly Hogan (via austinkleon)