AnalogKit First Video, and other stuff about modular apps too

I first mentioned AnalogKit here in this post, which then prompted this second more general post about modular apps. At that point I hadn’t seen this video of AnalogKit in action, so it was good to see this and get a proper feel for what the app can do.

Personally I don’t think that the debate is over with modular stuff on iOS or indeed on any mobile device. More about that another time I think.

For now there’s this video from Jakob Haq about AnalogKit which you might find interesting.

You can find AnalogKit on the app store by clicking below

So, Modular is huge right now, but is it right for mobile music?

I was prompted to think about this because of two app initially, Patterning, Olympia Noise Co’s new drum machine for iPad, and AnalogKit, a new modular app, again for your iPad. In addition, I think that what tipped me over in writing this piece was the latest update to zMors Modular (see last post below).

For ages now I’ve seen mobile music as having a number of really important elements that in many ways differentiate it from other types of music making, especially electronic music making. These are:

  1. Immediacy – The app is obvious, you can see how to use it and understand it. You’re able to get up and running really quickly.
  2. Accessibility – And I’m not just talking about accessibility from a disability perspective. I’m talking about music software that’s easy to get to and once you’re there it’s easy to make use of.

There are other elements, but for now these two will do.

If you look at Olympia Noise Co’s Patterning app, that fits the bill really well. You can work out what’s going on very quickly, it’s pretty obvious how to use it and how to create patterns. Sure, there’s more depth to it, but you can get to that later, and if you don’t want to go there you don’t have to at all. But in terms of immediacy and accessibility I think it does very well.

Then we have a whole different type of app, the modulars. In this I’ll include zMors, Jasuto, Audulus and Modular. I haven’t actually tried out AnalogKit so far, so I’ll mention it, but not go into any depth with it.

Arguably non of these apps fulfills either of the two elements above. In terms of immediacy they all fail. In fact with a lot of the modular apps on iOS (as there are precious few on Android) you’d be hard pressed to know what to do without a fairly advanced idea of how synthesizers work. You’d probably also need to know how modular synths operate, and then also have a clear idea of some of the specifics of how all of that is implemented in the app in question. So, immediate, no, not really, in fact, not at all.

In terms of accessibility all of these types of apps also fail. There’s no real question of that at all.

It isn’t to say for one minute that I’m not a fan of either these types of apps, or indeed some of the specific apps themselves. I am. However, the point I’m trying to make or explore is how these hugely complex apps, within which users can create some totally awesome patches, can be made more immediate and accessible.

That might sound like a huge and overwhelmingly difficult task, but I think that it can be done and at the very least should be attempted. It isn’t impossible either. If you look at what Korg did with the DS-10 interface for the DS-lite you can see that they managed to make that easy to use (or at least easier anyway), and in some ways almost gamelike.

So what am I trying to say and why?

Well, if you’ve got this far it’s only fair to say thanks for reading this somewhat rambling post. I’ll get to the point though. I like the idea of modular and I like the idea of mobile music, but I think if we’re to get more people interested in and using modular apps on mobile we need to make these apps more accessible. That doesn’t mean dumbed down, not at all, it means more accessible and easier to get up and running with, and that won’t be easy at all.

However, that, I think, is exactly the challenge that’s needed.

So it’s true, the iPad Pro is a thing … (and more about today’s various announcements)

It was what everyone said was coming, and indeed it did come along. So what will we make of it? Is it a revolution, or is it just bigger, more powerful etc? Well the specs are impressive indeed. It’s powerful. Four speakers are nice, but with the addition of the new ‘Apple Pencil’ it starts to look more and more like a Surface than an iPad. Except without an accessible file system of course. And actually how mobile will this be? It is big. Personally I’ve found the iPad Mini to be a better portable device for music making than the old format iPad. I’m not sure how this device is a step forward for mobile music making except in terms of its power.

As for Apple Pencil, didn’t someone say something about your finger being the most natural pointing device? I seem to remember that from somewhere. Are we going backwards or is this just full circle.

As you can tell, I’m not sold on the Pro as yet. Not by a long way. However, the mini 4 does look like a nice upgrade, but not an innovation. Not in my book anyway.

Then there’s the new iPhone …

Force touch, or 3D touch as we’re now calling it will bring some interesting developments, and that can only be a good thing. I like that. Faster is good too. But what does make me laugh is how Apple describes iOS9, “iOS 9 is our most advanced, intelligent and secure mobile operating system yet”. What else would it be?

Anyway, I think the new S models are a reasonable step in the right direction. I won’t be upgrading for a long time to come, but perhaps when iPhone 7 comes out.

Then there’s the Apple TV and TVOS.

I had thought that there would be more mention of iOS integration, but no. Is that not on the agenda? Did I miss something? Maybe there’ll be more to say about this later when it actually becomes available.

Of course the other news from Apple is that iOS9 is coming on the 16th. No doubt there’ll be teething problems and then a swathe of updates on apps and also problems with music making. Just normal stuff really.

There was of course the Apple Watch, but I’m not going to mention that as I don’t think that Apple sees wearables as viable for music making, and so far the attempts to do this haven’t been ground breaking. I live in hope.

In other news Native released Reaktor 6. I’d wondered if they might also announce Reaktor for iPad, or iPad Pro, at least as a player. But sadly nothing so far. Again, I live in hope.

So it’s been an eventful day. More will come out over time, but overall I’m not seeing real innovation coming forward. It doesn’t feel like that to me.

What are the apps you really want to master?

What’s the app you’d most like to master on iOS or any other operating system for that matter?
The complexity of apps on iOS and on android to a lesser extent has just exploded. Some apps on iOS actually rival the complexity of some desktop vstis in my opinion, and, as I’ve mentioned many times before I think that to a large extent we’re replicating the desktop. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. Instead I’m interested to know what app or apps you want to master and why?
Apps like Sunvox and Jasuto are just complex and difficult to get to grips with and require a big investment in time and effort. Others, like Audulus are capable of massive complexity and some of the patches I’ve seen created with Audulus defy reason in their design and execution. 
So where do you get started with some of these?  How do you find the time and the resources to get your head around some of these apps?
For example Noatikl and Mixtikl from Intermorphic often perplex people and leave them wondering how to get to a point of proficiency. 
It isn’t easy. That’s probably an understatement isn’t it. 
So what are the apps you’ve either struggled to master or always wanted to devote time to or wanted to get good at, and more to the point, why in particular those apps?

Project Ara delayed and more thoughts on modular phones

A little while ago I wrote down some thoughts about modular phones and also about modular operating systems. Then, just a few days ago, Google’s Ara got delayed, which I think is interesting. We all know (at least I expect we all know) that hardware is difficult to do, and hardware as complex as something like a modular phone is going to be very difficult.

So, why is Ara going to be delayed? Good question, I think that the official version of the story probably isn’t too far from the truth, at least as far as it goes, and it doesn’t go far at all. All they’ve said is that there are more ‘iterations’ than they expected. That’s fair enough, but what does that mean?

I think it probably means that this is a really hard project to get working, and it’s introduced way more complications in design than other hardware projects.

Personally I think that they should be talking to people involved in modular synths in order to get a better handle on this stuff. Perhaps it is the hardware, perhaps it is the OS, who really knows, it looks like they’re not letting on for now.

I don’t think that Apple will be doing anything similar soon, but I’d be interested to know what they think about it and how they might respond.

Are there too many synths?

So many synths look like this, but why?

This is something that’s been on my mind for a while now. Do we actually have too many synths on iOS, and especially for the iPad?

There are now so many apps for making music on iOS that the choices are completely overwhelming at times and of course there are more and more new apps arriving almost daily. So how do you decide what to check out, what to buy, and what to just ignore?
I think a lot of that choice is around having a clear vision for what is going to work for your music and what isn’t. What will help you musically, and what won’t. All too often it’s easy to just grab new apps and play with them for an hour or so without knowing how this will take your music forward. I do this at times but more recently I find myself holding back and trying to think about how this or that app is going to help me in moving my own ideas forward or indeed take me in a new direction. I find that it helps me to do this now.
But I do wonder whether we’re going to reach a point soon where the market for iOS synths will reach complete saturation. Some of you may argue that we’re there already. You could be right. 
My concern around this is that it seems that many synths are made as replicas or ports of their desktop equivalents. That’s not a terrible thing in itself, but it doesn’t really move on the mobile world. It just brings it closer to the desktop world. I know that some people think that’s good, but I’m not sure I agree. It just means that mobile becomes an extension of the desktop music world. And once again, I’m not sure that’s such a good thing. 
Of course now with iOS9 on the horizon and the fact that it’ll bring audio units will only accelerate this. My guess is that we’re going to see a lot more VSTis arriving on iOS when iOS9 lands. But we’ve talked about this before and I was interested to hear your views on the subject.
Some will say this is a good thing. There’ll be loads more options available to a mobile musician but also it also means that iOS becomes increasingly like the desktop instead of standing on its own. 
Anyway, I’m getting off the point, which is about the number of synth apps that exist on iOS and whether we just have too many of them or not. Sometimes it’s difficult to know which synths are worth trying out and which are just iterations and remain very similar to existing synth apps. 
As I mentioned earlier, this proliferation of similar apps can lead to is a kind of musical procrastination, spending your time just trying out new synth apps or other music making apps and not actually making music, which is, after all, what most of us want to do right? Of course there’s a case for spending time experimenting with sounds and new forms of synthesis and for learning. I’m not arguing against that at all.

My main point, or question, is around whether the number of synth apps is bringing anything new to music making on iOS or not. I think I’ve made my views clear. I’m happy to see more but I want to see innovation and not repetition.

So, that’s what I think. What about you?

10 things that I believe are important for mobile music making apps

As you’re probably aware I’ve been working on and off on a project called SoundLab for a while now. This post isn’t about the project though. It’s sort of about what I’ve learnt from the project, or rather, what the project has helped me to learn. Hopefully it’ll make sense to you, and maybe make you think about your perception of why or how different apps are useful.

So, we all love our apps, that’s for sure. We all make demands on developers to add the features we love and will make those apps more useful for us, and that’s just a part of the mobile music world now.We ask for audiobus and audioshare, IAA, MIDI and lots of other things and we expect them as hygiene factors these days. But what I’ve begun to learn over the last couple of months is that actually there are some much more fundamental things that can make an app something really useful, or just fundamentally enjoyable.

So Here’s my list. Tell me what you think:

1. The most important thing an app must do is be able to help you make music in a way that makes sense for you.That might seem self evident. It is. But even the most feature packed apps won’t be any use to you if you can’t relate to them and they don’t help you to achieve what you want to, and there are apps like that, or at least that I feel are like that.

The best apps are the ones that let you express yourself and create something that you’re happy with. That you like and that you can be proud of. And the definition of that is entirely up to you (of course).
2. The best apps are or at the very least can be playful. 
I think that one of the most important things you can do with an app is just enjoying playing with it. I mentioned it in my post on Monday. Playing is not for any purpose but just to play. To have fun. To simply enjoy the act of making music or making a sound. If you app can do that then it’s the best app for making music.
Sometimes it’s easy for us to forget just how important playfulness is. In many ways it is at the core of music making, but it can be easy to overlook as it’s all too easy to be task focused on making something or polishing or even the technicalities of music production.
Play is important. Don’t forget it.
3.  The best app in the world is the one you’ve got with you when inspiration strikes. 
I remember reading something about photographers and what is the best camera you can buy and the best for different types of photography etc and one photographer saying in this piece that the best camera you can have is the one that you have with you when there’s an amazing picture opportunity right in front of you. I know that’s a pretty vague story but hopefully you get the gist of it.
I don’t think that’s any different with making music. If inspiration strikes and you’ve got nothing with you to make music then that’s just tough. If all you’ve got is your iPhone and it’s got an app on it that let’s you make music and capture your inspiration then that makes it the best for the job.
4. The best app is the one that just works. 
Increasingly in order to make music you have to spend time in getting to grips with an app. You need to learn it and understand it. You might need to configure it and you might also need to do things before you can prepare for recording or making music. I think that mobile is about immediacy, so really, and a bit like point 3, the best app is the one where you can be up and running and getting your ideas down straight away.
5. The best apps are the ones that are responsive to user’s requests.
Ok this is more to do with the developer rather than the app itself, but in many ways the two go hand in hand. There’s a balance to be had with responding to user requests for features and changes. It isn’t always in the best interests of the app itself. Sometimes a new feature of change can break as much as it mends and of course just because one user wants something doesn’t mean that everyone else will welcome it.
Being able to find a reasonable middle ground is a real art and some developers are great at it whilst others are not so good. I’m not naming names, that wouldn’t be fair.
6. The best apps are not abandonware
It’s fairly obvious but of course it is worth saying anyway. We all hate it when our favourite app gets abandoned by the developer. It’s no fun at all. But it does happen and sometimes for very good reasons.
7. The best apps have balance
What do I mean by balance? I’ll tell you. Balance means that you don’t have to be an expert user to be able to make music with the app. It means that you can start the app and get up and running quick. It means you don’t need to be an engineer or understand the intricacies of modular synthesis to get some cool sounds. However, if you are able to do all those things you can if you want.An app with balance will not trade off technicality for usability. It really isn’t easy, but getting it right is really worth it.

8. The best apps move with their users
Great developers listen to their users and what their users make as well. They’re in tune with their community and they know what users are doing and asking for and talking about.
9. The best apps inspire as well as motivate
I think that really good music apps shouldn’t just be great for making music but also inspire you to a degree. Not give you actual musical ideas, although there are some like Mixtikl that do, but more about the experience inspiring you to make more music and explore ideas. It’s like the interface in some apps makes you want to try out new ideas, and that’s great.
10. The best apps are invisible 
By that I mean that the app, the UI etc don’t intrude into your workflow, don’t become a hindrance. In fact, in my view the best apps almost disappear when you use them and just become an extension of your creativity as a musician.
So that’s my view on what makes a great app. I’m sure you can come up with other things to add, or disagree with me. Do feel free, as I am as always interested in what you think.

Stop being so serious and just ‘do’ some music

I was playing with Auxy on the train and it made me think and remember something from a few weeks ago, and that made me remember that sometimes what’s really important about music is something that we forget all too easily, or at least I know that a lot of people do.

More of that in a minute though …

Playing with Auxy reminds me that music is just fun and that there’s a joy in making a sound, in creating something with no agenda, just the joy, the fun, of making a good sound. Auxy is great for that. I’m not saying that there aren’t other apps that are good in this way, but Auxy was the one that made me think, reminded me that this is important.

I mentioned the other day about being at Abbey Road studios and talking there about SoundLab. One of the other speakers at the event was Tim Exile. I really like Tim, I really like Tim’s music, and I really like his attitude to music. When he was talking he spoke about just ‘doing’ music. I like that idea. I like the thought that sometimes we should just do music, without an agenda or an outcome, without a purpose other than ‘doing’ music. I think that’s easy to forget. In fact, very easy. I know I can forget that and get caught up with the whole importance of creating patches and the technicalities of electronic music.

But when that happens, I’m going to try and stop and think about ‘doing’ music, and just that, and remember the joy of sound.

So I thought I’d share that with you, something to think about maybe?

Also, if you don’t know Auxy, and want to just ‘do’ some music, check this out …

Auxy on the app store (it’s free) …

Talking about the SoundLab project at Abbey Road RED

A lot of you will remember me talking a lot about the SoundLab project I’ve been involved with for some time. Well on Wednesday of last week I was invited to talk about SoundLab at Abbey Road Studios in North London, but you might be asking ‘Why?’, and that’s a good question, so I’ll explain some background.

Abbey Road have been doing some interesting things this year. I first visited Abbey Road early in the year to talk about Abbey Road RED and had some really interesting discussions about music technology and mobile and where things might be headed. Not long after that I was at an event at Abbey Road all about generative and reactive or dynamic music, which was very interesting. I knew a lot of the people there, for example a lot of the old RJDJ crew were there and they know loads about reactive and dynamic music. It was a good place to catch up again.

But last week Abbey Road RED was putting on an event about assisted music and asked if I would like to talk about SoundLab. How could I pass that up?

To start with we played this video:

Which is the latest video all about Heart n Soul and tells you about the core values of the organisation. Then we talked a bit about what the project had been about and what it wanted to achieve. We ended by talking with Lilly who has been involved with the project since the beginning about what it was like to be a part of SoundLab.

At the end we finished with this video:

Which is a great snapshot of SoundLab.

It was great to be a part of Abbey Road and get a chance to show and tell about what we’ve been doing. So I really appreciate what they’re doing to get a wide and diverse audience together to talk about some of the really interesting questions in music technology. I think it’s important and I really hope that they can keep on doing it.

In fact, I wish more organisations like Abbey Road would put on events like this. I think that the whole music business would benefit from that kind of openness and also a willingness to talk freely about how our world is going to change and adapt to new technology and what that will mean for music makers of all kinds.

Some reasons why I love elastic drums so much

I’ve mentioned elastic drums on many occasions before. You’ve probably noticed that. It’s an app I’m very fond of, but why? Well I’m planning to answer that here. 

I’m a big fan of drum machines but specifically drum synths. Samples are fine but most of all I love using synthesis for drum sounds. There aren’t too many drum synths and far fewer really good ones so finding a really top class drum synth is a joy. Elastic drums is just such an app. 

So why is it so good? Simply put it is just so versatile and flexible. In fact you might even say it’s elastic. 

So let’s take a look at what makes elastic drums so good. I’m not going to run through its features in oSome sort of coherent I rder. I’m going to tell you the features that I like.

First off, automation:
I love being able to automate parameters and with elastic drums you can automate everything. All parameters for each drum sound can be automated with total ease. It is a complete dream. I love it. 

And then of course there’s randomness:

We all have times when there’s just no inspiration around and at those times a little bit of randomness can be just the ticket.  Elastic drums has a wonderful range of randomness built in. But it isn’t just random randomness, if that makes any sense to you. Elastic drums gives you options for randomness, and I like that. Here’s what you can randomise:

  • Random sequencer – Very handy for some pattern variation
  • Random instruments – For hopefully interesting sounds
  • Random instruments and sequencer
  • And finally, random everything!

So, those are two of my favourite features of elastic drums but that really is just the tip of the iceberg. Elastic drums has so much to offer, and I suppose most of all, it sounds great.

So why should you try out elastic drums? That’s maybe what you’re asking yourself. Well if your looking for a drum machine app that gives you nice natural or realistic drum sounds you can stop now. Elastic drums isn’t going to be for you. However if you’re looking for a drum app that’s going to give you almost complete flexibility to create unique drum sounds then you’ve found what you’re looking for. Elastic drums is it. 

The sound design possibilities in elastic drums is fantastic. It has a lot of presets to get you started, but actually making sounds in Elastic is a doddle. There are some nice categories to work things out, but if you’ve ever used a drum synth, or for that matter any type of synth you’ll find yourself right at home.

So what does it actually sound like? Have a listen …

So, if you like what you hear, what you’ve read, you should get it. If electronic drum sounds are what you like, you’ll never look back …