Loopy’s been around for awhile, but so far most of the demos I’ve seen are by vocalists. There’s no reason, though, that Loopy can’t be used to record instruments. I’m finding that it’s particularly well-suited to the Korg Kaossilator, a pocket synthesizer that sells for around $130. If you don’t know what it does, YouTube it; I especially recommend “Bratenstein – Kaossilator Jam Tutorial”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq9ePfwJE6A.
- Very portable
- Great sounds, lots of variety for not a lot of $
- Lots of variety…including 10 drum patterns, each of which can be varied many ways
- Very fun
- Can layer loops to an infinite depth, up to 4 bars long
- Loops are short (no longer than 4 bars)
- Once you build up a loop, you can’t take it apart again layer by layer. You CAN “fix” the existing layers, so that when subsequent layers are removed, the “fixed” layers remain.
- Unfortunately the “fix” process takes a few seconds, and while it’s working the loop stops. For live performance, those seconds can be awkward (though you can play an instrument to fill the silence). Also, the “fix” feature is only available for loops of 2 bars and shorter.
- You can’t adjust the volume of individual layers.
- Minimal visual feedback: there’s a beat counter for loops up to 2 bars, and nothing above that.
A US$6 app called Loopy solves all of these problems:
- Loopy layers can be very long, and they can be of different lengths. How long? I asked the developer and he responded, “The only length limit is dictated by the device’s memory – the iPhone 4’s got 512Mb, so given that, say, 400 Mb were available for a single app, that’s about 40 minutes of stereo audio, 80 minutes of mono (1 minute of stereo audio is 10Mb).” I also asked about recording quality. Here’s his response: “16 bit, 44.1k (actually, I think we can get 24 bit, but for the purposes of the app, 16 bit was what I selected – the memory requirements of 24 bit don’t really justify its use).”
- Loopy can record up to 6 layers, each of which you can mute and unmute at will. If you run out of layers, you can still record more sound, either by overdubbing an existing layer, or by combining (bouncing) two existing layers; that will free up an empty layer to record more sounds onto. (If you already have a free layer, you can also copy a layer if that’s what you want.
- Loopy does all of this live, without skipping a beat or stopping the loop.
- For each layer, you can adjust the volume and stereo panning independently, and you can do it live. You can also adjust the start time of each layer, relative to the other layers.
- Loopy provides a lot of visual feedback. You can see, at a glance, which layers are muted and which are still recording. Also, you can see which tracks have only a little sound on them (and where that sound falls, relative to your current position in the loop). You can see when a layer is about to start recording (count-in), and how much is left before the loop starts repeating. Finally, there’s a metronome (audible or flashing, it’s your choice).
Most if not all of what I’ve just described can be done with a multitrack recorder such as Audacity (on the PC) or MultiTrack DAW (which is what I use on the iPod/iPad). Ultimately, an app like MT DAW is going to be more flexible, because it can also trim, fade, and add effects. But it probably won’t be as fun as Loopy; and it’s not well-suited to live performance, which Loopy is. As the name implies, Loopy is designed for making music with loops. MT DAW can do loops too, but they display as linear tracks. Loopy displays each of its layers as a loop, so it’s more intuitive to interpret.
Think of Loopy as a specialized multitrack recorder for loops.
I’ve been stressing the live performance aspect. But what if you’re just jamming at home? Can you record a song with Loopy? Yes, you can start the recorder, lay down some layers with the Kaossilator, and then start tweaking them while the recorder continues. Hit stop and that’s your song. Or — and I think this is how most people will end up using this at home — you can record the individual layers with the Kaossilator, save the session with all of your layers, and put your Kaossilator off to the side. Then record your performance of the layers: fading layers in, fading layers out, etc.
How do you get the Kaossilator sounds into Loopy? As of this writing, Loopy is designed for the iPhone/iPod Touch, although it works fine on the iPad in 2x mode. The problem is that fourth generation iPhones and iPods have lame options for audio input. You can use the built-in microphone, but the built-in microphone favors audio frequencies in the range of the human voice; low frequencies are dampened by design. This is true of anything that goes through the mic/headphone jack, including the iRig and the AmpKit Link. Also, the microphone jack is mono, not stereo. So what can you do? If you have the iPad, you can buy the Camera Connection Kit (CCK) from Apple and plug in a USB audio device such as the Behringer UFO202. (Behringer makes several units like this, all around the same price.) Each of these items, the CCK and the Behringer unit, costs about $30 (US), for a total outlay of $60, plus $6 for the Loopy app. (Plus the cost of your iPad and the Kaossilator!) But now you have stereo input, which you can use for Loopy (as well as stereo output that bypasses the headphone amp).
Problem: as of this writing (August 2011), the CCK only works with the iPad, so USB units like the Behringer are inaccessible if you have an iPhone or iPod. Solution: compatibility with those models is expected in iOS 5.
So: can you use Loopy with the Kaossilator if you have an iPod or iPhone? Yes, here are your options. You can use the built-in mic, or you can run the Kaossilator’s output into the iRig (about $35, plus a cable). I tried the Ampkit Link ($30) and had the same problem as everyone else: the Ampkit’s female input is misaligned by about a millimeter, so you have to jiggle the jack to make it work. And even when it does work, it will still be mono, and it will still roll off sub-vocal frequencies, just like the built-in mic and the iRig. Or you can wait for iOS 5, when the CCK will magically work with the iPhone and iPod. (Or, if you have an earlier device, you can buy the Belkin TuneTalk, which has a stereo mic and a stereo line input. But this will not work with the iPad, the iPhone 4, or the iPod 4.)
What about effects? Loopy has a noise gate but no reverb. One solution is more hardware: before the Kaossilator output goes into Loopy, I send it through a Mini Kaoss Pad, and Loopy records the wet signal with reverb and LP filter. That works for live performance. You can also use software, though this probably won’t work for live performance. Here’s how: because Loopy supports audio copy (“export” on the loop menu) and paste (“import” on the loop menu), you could record a dry layer in Loopy, copy it to another app, add your effects there and then paste the wet layer back into Loopy. Continue jamming…
Another iOS app that might work well with the Kaossilator is Ricepad.
from David Wilson-Okamura (dswo here on the forum)