Switching Teams

irig

I am an avid SPC music sketchpad user but otherwise find the Android really lacking in the music production apps department! The openness of the system makes for inconsistent support and there is a huge latency issue. And no midi!

If I have adequate setup time i will bring my laptop with Abelton Live and a controller, but for tight gigs such as Sonic Circuit’s open mic night i will use a rig consisting of a droid tablet triggering loops via the SPC app and an iPod touch played via the Fingerist for “live” keys. However I wanted a mobile alternative for DJ gigs and found the droid DJ apps didn’t quite deliver. So I finally broke down and got an iPad, albeit a refurb first generation so I appear to be an early adopter rather than a cheapskate. I now use the iPad with iRig MIX, an inexpensive mixer for iPad and iPhone.  You can either mix two devices, or use a magic cable that splits the left and right signal to use the iRig like a mixing controller between two virtual decks. I was disappointed and a little surprised that iRig’s DJ app is only for iPhone but it does run fine in x2 mode on the iPad (UPDATE: iPad version now available). Also the iRig is app neutral so other apps such as DJay can be used with it instead. Here is a photo of me at this year’ Capital Pride arts stage. This is very quick and easy to setup compared to the laptop, which was in turn much easier to setup than CD players and turntables! And I get to use the iPad to obsessively watch episodes of The Good Wife!

As far as other music apps go, I really enjoy AKAI SynthStation, and Nanostudio on iPad. But the midi connections are a little complicated. Apple mucked about with the power for USB devices to thwart aftermarket products, so even after you buy the overpriced $30 camera kit there is no guarantee your controller will work with it. Being the gear whore I am I own 5 midi keyboard controllers. Only two will work with the iPad–the Korg Nanokey and my Behringer UMX49.

Photo by Dave Dunham

Fingerist

I paid $30 for mine. I think they originally had a much higher price tag which would have been too much money. Now I am seeing them around for $15 on bargain websites which is a steal!!

The Fingerist is awesome provided you don’t pay too much for it or worry about looking like a dork! Essentially it holds your iPhone or iPod Touch and routes the audio to a 1/4 inch output or to a speaker. It also provides a neck and a strap to support your hands while you play the music app of your choice. And there are tons of cheap guitar apps out there. I use the WaveSynth general midi keyboard app. It is apparent from my cable management issues in live performance that we are not going for rockstar posturing so the keytar schtick doesn’t do me any harm. Highly recommended piece of gear and a wonderful conversation starter at gigs!

Everyday Looper Doodles

I was home sick one day this week. I have no TV, and my sofa was bought for looks not comfort. However I was able to engage in some self-indulgent entertainment with my acoustic bass guitar played through a Behringer V-amp and sent to  Everyday Looper on my iPod Touch. The Looper app lets you post the loops to an IP address so each track can be downloaded in wav format. I tweaked the results in Reaper.

Getting Loopy

At a recent gig I was in awe of instrumental guitarist Noveller and bassist Mark Beazley. Noveller had an enormous assortment of stompboxes to create a rich sonic pallette and Mark used a Korg ToneWorks to bring the audience to tears with haunting bass solos. Inspired yet intimidated, I decided to explore what bass effects and looping I could achieve on my iPod touch. After some careful research and a failed DIY cable attempt I opted to get an iRig to connect my bass to the iPod and play with some looping programs.

The first I tried is Everyday Looper, which has gotten a lot of attention thanks to some clever videos from talented users who make it look easy. However I had trouble with the seemingly cryptic touch and swipe interface. I ended up having more fun with RiffBox and StompVox.

Riffbox is an “intelligent” looper in that you can arm it to record only when you start playing, and specify how many events will be in the loop. You can also edit the start and stop point of the loop after the fact before proceeding to the mixer where you can add layers to the loop.

StompVox’s simple interface allows you to switch displays between a looper, a gate, a reverb, and a delay. It is easy to use, yet generates enough unexpected results to make it fun to experiment with. The app lets you export wav files for download from a browser. Here is one of my self-indulgent doodles:

One closeted item that came in handy as a preamp to boost my signal into the iPod is a Behringer V-Amp I purchased for recording bass with the Window Shoppers. During rediscovery while packing for my move, I found it can get some really interesting synth, chorus and delay effects. Here’s to music projects that I can indulge in while the midi gear is packed away!!

UPDATE: I gave Everyday Looper another try! The trick was to have the splash screen instructions in front of me–accomplished by having the screen shot from the app store on my computer–and it became second nature after a few tries. The trick is to generate a click track (by swiping the first three tracks and going to tools), which you can erase as soon as you have established a groove. I am now an everyday looper addict. I have to get my cheap thrills where I can these days!!!

NanoStudio

Blip interactive has already won the hearts of iPhone and iPod Touch users everywhere by creating the blissfully fun and feature-rich NanoStudio music app. Blip has blessed us further by being one of the first developers to add AKAI SynthStation support.

NanoStudio features 4 synths and 2 drum machines. Both synths and drum machines allow for the import of user-created samples. Patterns can be recorded in either real-time or step time via the sequencer. The transport bar allows the record function to be toggled on and off so you can easily practice parts before adding them.

The app is an intuitive delight to use! To try to write further about it almost ruins the magic. I will let my fumbling demo do the talking. This demo only scratches the surface of what this app can do–I didn’t even go into the effects mode. You can try out the app on your mac or pc before you get it from the app store.

SynthStation25


In the early nineties I was half a pop synth duo called Then There Were None, named because our reliance on electronics was fueled by band member attrition. Because 2 people were responsible for a heavily layered wall of sound, our live setup was cumbersome and complicated! I had a Korg M1 keyboard that we used as a sequencer. Its midi output went into a patchbay that enabled us to send sequences to a Yamaha TG33 synth module and sync with a Roland R5 drum machine. Between songs I would frantically conduct sysex dumps from an Alesis rack-mounted data disk. I have no idea how I was able to plug in so many midi cables in the dim lighting conditions of the typical club and/or dive bar. My 21st century electronica gig setup is a breeze by comparison: all I need to do is fire up the laptop and plug in an audio interface and USB midi controller. Continue reading

Touch

I love my iPod Touch! Instead of killing time reading true crime and self-help books on the metro, I can now play with music apps and indulge my creative side before spending the day in a windowless beige cubicle. I later develop the rough ideas by connecting the Touch to my Line 6 Toneport and recording the tracks into REAPER so I can refine the arrangement and add effects. The apps I have used so far are FingerBeat, NESynth, iSyn, iDrum, Mega Synth, and Wave Synth and the result is the ALP release “Touch”.