Happy Birthday to me! PalmSounds is 11 today


In years gone by I’ve done more to celebrate PalmSounds birthday, especially last year of course where we celebrated 10 years of mobile music. 11 doesn’t seem like such a big deal perhaps, but in some ways it is even more significant. In the UK 11 is an important age. It’s an age where you move up to big school, where things get serious. Perhaps that’s not the best analogy for PalmSounds, but in a way it’s a good way of looking at mobile music and how things have changed, how they’ve developed and progressed. I think that the world of mobile music has come of age in many ways.

I started thinking about that after MMM2017. That was not only an excellent event, but also pivotal in many ways. It signalled a coming together of so many different aspects and parts of the mobile music world that normally don’t intersect. It was also significant that it was opened with a key note by Peter Kirn from CDM and was closed with me talking about the future, something I plan to revisit in the next week or so.

So I think that PalmSounds turning 11 could be significant in many ways. We’ll see if I’m right.

PS. If you hadn’t guessed it, the cakes above spell “Palm Sounds 11”, if perhaps not entirely successfully. However, like many things with PalmSounds, it was a bit of an experiment.


I don’t know what your favourite apps of the year were, but here are the ones that matter to me

I always think it’s difficult to tell you which were the best apps in any year, and 2016 is no different at all. What works for me as a great app won’t work for other people and vice-versa, so it all seems a little pointless. However, what I can tell you is which apps were important to me this year. I think that might be more interesting (or maybe not), and it’s certainly easier to do from my perspective.

So without further messing around, here are the apps that I used a lot, or found intriguing, or for whatever other reason, mattered.

1. Auxy

Without a doubt Auxy is an app that I can’t do without, at least not currently anyway. I really love it. It works for me and just fits with how I think and work right now. I’m not saying that this will always be the case, but for now me and Auxy, we’re good. I also really like the sound packs that they’ve been releasing. I got them both and love them.

2. Model 15

Moog’s Model 15 is on my list for a totally different reason than Auxy is. Model 15 is here because it’s one of those apps that I keep fiddling with and getting into and then leaving for a bit, then coming back to. I don’t know if you do that, but I certainly do. I like Model 15 and I’d really like to do something useful with it, but so far I haven’t. Who knows, maybe in 2017 I will.

3. NOIZ (and KRFT)

NOIZ you’ll know from Studio Amplify. It’s a great app for making stuff even if you’ve no idea how to make stuff, and I’m all for that. Of course the nice chaps from Studio Amplify now have KRFT in beta and I’ve been playing with that recently. It is going to be awesome. I mentioned it not so long ago here, and I’m hoping to be able to tell you lots more soon enough.

I think that these apps are going to have a really bright future and are going to help users to make things in ways that they hadn’t thought about before.

4. frekvens

I’m a fan of Mr HumbleTune’s apps, music, and design style. I think it’s great, and for good reason. His apps are amazing, and, pretty much everywhere too. I really like two of them though, nils, and frekvens. They really let you mangle sound, but in a good way, in a way that doesn’t hurt. I’m sure that other people find themselves coming back to the same FX apps over and over, and frekvens is one of those for me.

5. All things Korg

I can’t help myself but say that I do love Korg’s apps. They’ve done well this year. We’ve had good updates and new apps like ODYSSEi and iWAVESTATION. My personal favs are Gadget and iDS-10 though. Again I find myself coming back to these time and time again. I bet some of you do too.

6. AC Sabre

I think that Sabre has been a bit overlooked and that’s a shame. The AC Sabre is an amazing gestural performance tool for the iPhone and hasn’t really had the attention it should have had. I’d like to do a bit more with it myself next year as I think I’ve only barely scratched the surface of what it can do for me.


I posted on ROTOR and the tangible controllers yesterday, but it also deserves a mention here. I like modular apps but ROTOR (and Reactable mobile before it) seem to provide a more accessible route into modular than a lot of other apps in that genre. Now that ROTOR has the tangible controllers with it I’m hoping to get a bit more time to devote to it soon.

8. Fluxpad

Unusual apps and alternative interfaces are very important to me. So Fluxpad is assured a place in my list. It gives you a different way to interface with sound and that in itself is important. I like that Fluxpad is playful and easy to use and yet at the same time a highly capable and flexible app for manipulating samples.

9. Cubasis

There had to be a DAW in the list and it’s Cubasis 2.0. It’s been a big help to me on a project that I’m working on so it’s in my list. However, there was stiff competition from n-Track Studio 8 which arrived quite recently. It will be interesting to see how some of the big, and one or two little, DAWs survive in 2017.

10. Patterning

I love drum apps. Patterning is another app that just fits with my workflow. It’s just intuitive and fluid and it makes perfect sense to me. I can’t say that about all drum apps I’m afraid, but Patterning is probably one of the few go to drum apps that stays on my iPad. I’d love there to be an iPhone version too.

11. Wotja

You might find this one a little strange, but more will become apparent soon. For now I’ll tell you that I love Wotja’s ability to create an ambient soundscape from a few words. It’s simple to tailor and tweak to do exactly what you want too.

I’ve also found myself coming back to Mixtikl recently and really getting into that app again. I think that these generative technologies are so deep that it can be easy to get lost. However, I think it’s worth it to dive in and explore and I’d like to do more of that in 2017 with all of Intermorphic’s tools.

12. Skram

Last and by no means least is Skram from Liine. I’m a fan of apps that make the process of creating music simpler and more immediate. To me that’s really important. I thought Skram was great when it first came out and the latest update has made it even more usable. I hope that it keeps going and brings more and more people into making music, and I’d also really like to see an iPhone version of it too.

So that’s 12 apps (more if I’m honest) that mattered to me and continue to do so. I hope you found that interesting. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.


Bastl Instruments making things that all mobile musicians should consider …

I’m a fan of Bastl and I have been since I first saw them in Frankfurt in 2014. They’re makers of excellent hardware and ever since I first met them they’ve made more and more excellent devices.

I met them in Berlin this year at Loop, as they were running a workshop and I was using the space for a workshop directly after them. They were kind enough to provide me with one of their new Kastle synths. I posted about Kastle a few weeks ago. It’s an awesome little device and packs way more punch than you’d ever think from a tiny little micro modular.

Bastl’s latest video on Kastle gives a detailed walk through of the synth and is really worth watching. But be warned, you might not be able to turn back!

But of course Bastl Instruments do so much more, and in fact their latest foray into DIY is a cause for celebration in itself. OMSynth miniLab is a circuit development and performance interface designed to help inventors quickly build and experiment with creative circuits. It was designed with beginners in mind but is perfectly suited for seasoned builders and complex circuit development.

In many ways OMSynth miniLab seems like a likely successor to Teenage Engineering’s now discontinued OpLab, although in many ways a lot more hands on and experimental. This is a device that could get people involved in some real experimentation, which can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

If that wasn’t enough Bastl have also announced bitRanger ADDON boards, BITBOARD & SYNAPSIS. bitRanger in itself is an excellent experimental synth and these new add ons take it up to the next level. The BitBoard is a breadboard add-on module that allows users to build custom circuits and user interfaces for the BitRanger, and the synapsis is a 4×4 pushbutton matrix that offers performative control of the Bit Ranger.

When you add all of this up, what you get is a synth company who are really pushing the boundaries of modular, of experimentation, and of miniaturisation too. These are not easy boundaries to push. What Bastl are doing is hard, and yet they make it seem easy, effortless. That requires real skill and a generous helping of excellent design talent.

Personally, I think that Bastl have a very bright future. Who knows where they’ll go next, but wherever it is it’s going to be exciting and probably break some new ground. I’ll be watching whatever it is they do in 2017, and I bet it’ll be great.

I’ll leave you with this interview with Bastl after the workshop they did at Loop.


A first look at BLOCKS from Roli

Last week I spent a very pleasant couple of hours at Roli HQ in East London. You might remember Roli  as the maker of the expressive keyboard, the Seaboard, and more recently the Seaboard Rise. The technology behind these products is very interesting in its own right, but for the purposes of this piece I’m only really going to explore it from the perspective of their most recent product BLOCKS.

However, before we get into the detail of BLOCKS I think it’s worth understanding how Roli got here and the pieces that they’ve put together to make this happen. So I’m going to spend a little time in exploring some of the work that Roli have been involved in to get to BLOCKS. I hope you’ll find it useful.

Understanding the jigsaw, seeing the picture

Over the last few years Roli have made a series of acquisitions which, up until very recently, hadn’t made any sense to me at all. However, with the release of BLOCKS things start to come into focus a lot more. For example, Roli acquired JUCE back in late 2014. JUCE is a cross-platform C++ library used in a lot of music apps. This gave Roli a real advantage in building the iOS apps that they have on the store now. But JUCE isn’t something that they’re keeping to themselves. Roli have an annual JUCE event, The Audio Developers Conference. The last of these was held at the beginning of November and had around 250 delegates attending.

Just under a year later Roli acquired Blend.io, a collaborative music network which allows artists to share work and involve other artists in tracks. This of course gives Roli its own platform for sharing and collaboration.

Finally, and most recently Roli acquired FXpansion, makers of very high quality VST instruments and FX. Given the above and also Roli’s direction with BLOCKS this makes perfect sense.

When you connect all of these pieces together with their existing technology that powers the Seaboard it all starts to fit together, and when you get to use BLOCKS you can see exactly where this is heading.

From Seaboard to Noise

Just over a year ago Roli brought out their first app, NOISE 5D which enabled a user to take advantage of the brand new 3D Touch features in the iPhone 6S and 6S+. Releasing this as a free app gave Roli a great platform to show just what could be done with this kind of expressive technology.

The app also had the whole Seaboard sound engine (Equator) inside it. The app could pair with the Seaboard Rise using BLE and worked like a dream.

As an aside I’m still somewhat confused as to why more apps don’t make use of the 3D Touch functionality inside the 6S and up. It’s confused me for about a year now and as far as I know there are only a tiny handful of apps that have incorporated it, and two of those are from Roli themselves.

Let’s talk about BLOCKS itself

If you’ve seen photos or video of BLOCKS then you’ll already know that it’s a modular music studio that uses the same hardware technology that is in Roli’s Seabaord but in a smaller, more accessible, and affordable format. The basic hardware unit is the Lightpad which retails for £170. You can do a lot with just this unit, but of course you can scale up too, add more units and expand your set up. That’s the idea of course, and I think that when artists start to get to grips with the hardware they may well just do that. Whatever you buy you’re going to use their iOS app NOISE as that is what powers this stuff.

The Lightpad does just about everything that you can do in the app but with a much deeper layer of expression available to it by virtue of its pressure sensitive surface. The interaction with the app is seamless. When you press down on the Lightpad you can see what happens in the NOISE app. You can see what I mean in this short clip which shows the ‘learn’ function.

Every instrument in NOISE has a learn mode which shows you what the instrument does and how it works. When you’re running NOISE with a Lightpad this works even better, and as you can see from this short clip you can quite clearly see what you’re doing on the Lightpad from your iOS screen, and this includes pressure data too.

The Lightpad is paired directly with the iOS device, and pairs quickly and without issues, which is more than I can say for other BLE devices I’ve used. However, when you have two Lightpad units together you don’t need to form a second pairing (although you can and I’ll explain that later).


Above you can see two Lightpads working together with the iOS device. When you magnetically clip one lightpad to another the connect over what Roli call DNA connectors. You can see these connectors around the sides of the device, and clipping them together means that are instantly sharing data and useable as a part of your set up. The connection to the iOS device is made via a single BLE pairing.

If you wanted to use multiple Lightpads over different pairings that is possible too, but the point I’m making is that you don’t need to worry about that if you’re working on something on your own. This makes for very flexible hardware configurations.

Some thoughts …

I have to say that the time I’ve spent playing with BLOCKS has been really enjoyable, and I think that the main reason for that is the level of expression that you can achieve with the surface. For many, myself included, having this degree of expressivity from a mobile device / set up will be quite a new experience, and I think that this is something that will distinguish BLOCKS for users.

It’s important to remember that Roli has only just released BLOCKS. It is perhaps a month old now, and in many ways is only at the start of its journey. Roli have made a very good start with the hardware, with the app, and, most importantly, with how the two work together. Which is critical in my opinion.

What’s next

When I was with Roli last week we did talk about the future. Of course they were cautious about talking future plans. That’s understandable. But we also talked about the community and how they’re responding to users. I think that the fact that they brought the original NOISE functionality back in a new app (see this post) can only be taken as a clear signal that they are listening, and that’s very positive.

They also have an API for BLOCKS, which I haven’t investigated so far, but could be a massive hook to increase adoption of the platform. More about that another time I think. For now I’m impressed with what Roli have brought out. It really is an accessible and affordable music platform. I think that Roli have made an excellent start. Where they go next with BLOCKS and with NOISE will be critical to making it a big success.


Why Mr NightRadio and WarmPlace is where the boundaries of mobile music are being pushed back

I started thinking about this piece when I saw the video above and realised that actually the boundaries of mobile music were being quite firmly pushed back by the work that Mr NightRadio is doing. The Quantum DJ is clear proof of just that. It’s a unique device and in fact one that I’ve been waiting for this year.

Just the fact Alex is making hardware as well as maintaining his already excellent software is impressive, but when you actually look at what Alex has done in software and hardware you start to realise that this is where the boundaries really are. Let’s talk about why.

We’ll start with SunVox. I remember when SunVox first started. I remember using it on my Palm OS Treo 650, then on a Dell Axim running Windows Mobile OS. Of course it came to iOS and Android, and it runs on desktop platforms too. SunVox keeps moving forward and even now is in beta again.

It has to be said that there are very few modular apps that can say that they run on so many platforms, and SunVox just gets better and better. I’d like to say that there are only a handful, but I’m not sure that there are even that many.

But SunVox is just the start. There’s all of Alex’s other apps to consider, for example, PixiTracker (+ the 1 bit version), PixelWave, SpectrumGen, SoundFields, and Nature Oscillator. Those are the ones that I’m not going to talk about (but they’re all worth checking out actually).

But there are a couple of apps that do require a little more attention. PhonoPaper and Virtual ANS. Both of these are just incredible apps. Unique and brilliant and capable of taking your sound to completely new places. I used Virtual ANS to complete a track called “Probably get the tube” which I wrote for the Cities and Memories project “The Next Station”. I used it to sonify old pictures of Regents Park Underground Station, and it did an awesome job.

These apps are amazing and, as I said before, they’re pushing the boundaries of the world of mobile music. Which brings me to this video, of SunVox and PixiScope.

PixiScope is a library for the PixiLang language, which itself was used to produce PixiTracker. How awesome is that?

So what am I getting at? This little multi-platform ecosystem is really going places in a very quiet and unassuming way, and that’s amazing in itself. If you’re not aware of what Mr NightRadio is up to, then now is the right time to acquaint yourself.


Now there’s a real alternative to SoundCloud

Over the last few weeks I’ve talked a lot about the issues I’m having with SoundCloud and I think it’s only fair to say that I’m not the only one too. Add to that the current rumours around a possible purchase by Spotify, which could generate some serious changes, if indeed it does go ahead.

I’ve also posted about a few of the possible alternatives to SoundCloud, but one that I haven’t really talked about in detail is Orfium. I’ve been watching Orfium for a while now. Looking at what they’re doing and where they seem to be going, and I’ve been very hopeful about their direction. So just the other week I decided to get in touch with them and have a serious chat about what they were about and about their proposition for a community like ours in the mobile music world.

I have to start by saying that I was more than pleasantly surprised. In fact I’d go as far as saying I was really impressed with not only what they’re doing, but also with what they’ve got planned too. On top of that, Orfium was actually very easy to talk to (not so with all services in this space), and also very open to ideas.

So now seems like a good time to talk in more detail about what Orfium has to offer for the mobile music community and why I think that it looks like one of the best options for mobile music people to switch to. Let’s start with why Orfium is worth taking a look at in the first instance. The simplest start point here is to check out this comparison:


Now of course you can argue that Orfium is a lot smaller than SoundCloud is right now and that without a significant user base there isn’t going to be the same level of community and possible interaction. True, I won’t argue with you there, but without people moving over to Orfium, or at the very least giving it a try that’s always going to be the case. Which is why I’ve now set up on Orfium, and as soon as they’ve got their groups functionality I’ll get a group set up for mobile music. Yes, that’s right, they’re implementing groups! One of the most recent issues that we’ve all had with SoundCloud, the removal of groups, is not going to be a problem with Orfium!

Now that’s got to be a good reason to take a look. But there’s more, lots more. Let’s take this one feature at a time and make a detailed comparison.

But before we move on let’s dwell for a moment on that issue of user base. Whilst it’s true that Orfium is just starting out and that we, as a community, should get behind them (in my view). It’s also fair to say that from a monetisation perspective their user base is not an issue. If, for example, you take YouTube monetisation then this is not restricted by Orfium’s size at all. It’s worth remembering that.

Let’s move on and take a look at some of the areas where Orfium really excels:

80% artist pay out
This is about as high as it gets and I don’t think that you can argue with it really, especially when you look at what others have to offer.

Remix monetisation
This is an unusual feature, but quite welcome I think, and one that will make sense and be useful to a lot of readers.

Distribution terms
It’s up to you the artist, you choose, free or priced all within the same platform without having to add links to out where you can buy the track. I like this a lot, and for me personally it works just the way I want.

Rights management
Now this is probably one of the most interesting parts of the platform. Orfium is actually is a digital rights platform built to facilitate a social network for musicians. This makes Orfium a real choice for someone looking not only to get their work heard, but also to get paid for it fairly. That’s a very powerful feature in my book. Add to that non-exclusive publishing, micro-licensing, sync-licensing and creative commons licensing service options. It all adds up to a very powerful service for hosting your music. Add to that the current issues in the world of licensing and it really is a better way forward.

So what else? There’s more …
For now Orfium has no iOS or Android apps. When I say for now I mean for now. Orfium has these in their plan and their working toward getting these out there and into the hands of users.

But it doesn’t stop there at all. There’s plenty more coming too. But that’s for another day, as I can’t tell you everything that Orfium are doing or have planned. But let me sum up by saying that I think that what they’re doing and where they’re going is right for musicians, iOS, mobile or otherwise and I think that it adds up to a real alternative that we should all take a look at and think very seriously about moving to.

To finish off it’s worth mentioning that Orfium offers unlimited free hosting, and they have special accounts for record labels and distributors (add to that they’re working on special accounts for publishers and curators). Orfium only take a percentage of revenue when the music actually generates revenue, meaning there are no upfront costs (as well as no long-term contracts).

In my view Orfium is a real alternative to SoundCloud and they’re moving forward with new features that truly serve the artist community. Go try it and tell me what you think.