The day I met Nelson Mandela

The sad news today of the great Nelson Mandela’s passing brought back vivid memories of when I had a chance encounter with him back in 1998.

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Nelson in Cardiff 1999

Nelson was a huge figure in my life since the first proper concert that I ever attended was the Mandela 70th birthday tribute concert in Wembley stadium in 1988 when I was a mere 16 years old.  The impact of seeing some of my then favourite bands and comedians making tributes and the various films that were shown interspersed amongst the 12 hours of music had made lasting impression on me and had introduced the awful notion of apartheid to my naive young self.  Nelson seemed to stand for true freedom more than anyone else and the joy I felt at his subsequent release from prison in 1990 after 27 years was immense. It was astonishing to see him then become the president of that very same country that had incarcerated for so long. His speeches around that time were beautiful, full of wisdom and positivity with a remarkable lack of vitriol or anger aimed at his former captors. He gave true definition to the word hero.

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A t shirt from the 1988 concert I attended as a fresh faced 16 year old.

Fast forward 8 years or so and I found myself having to attend a pesky back to work course that benefit claimants (as I was back then) were forced to do to keep receiving payments.  These courses were generally to antagonise long term doleys into getting off their arses and into a mind numbing succession of CV writing and interview techniques for non existent jobs.  I had been at a music festival all weekend but had to attend if I wanted to eat that week.  I blearily wandered in at 9 am and sat through the tedium and blather of the course introduction and disengaged from the waffle spouting out from the advisors who frankly didn’t want to be there either.   Finally at about 3pm, I was a free man, I could leave and hurried down the stairs only to run in to a bunch of other course attendees who were idly chatting near the entrance, everyone bade their farewells and headed off in different directions leaving me with the social dilemma of walking with someone from the course who I’d rather not socialise with or walk in a different direction from my house until safely out of sight then making my return.  Being British of course I had to do the honourable thing and walk in that different direction, this was something that made me chuckle as I realised I was walking completely the wrong way than I needed to go!

How strange the gods of fate operate though, as I wondered down Cardiff’s Queen Street I saw a large gathering by Park Lane.  Being naturally inquisitive, I squeezed through the throng whereby I saw a limousine pulling up outside a hotel.  Someone exclaimed “It’s Nelson Mandela!” which I found hilarious as I saw an elderly African man clearly not Nelson step out of the car but then immediately behind him there he was!  I had no idea he was visiting Cardiff and to make matters even more bizarre he had seemingly singled me out and was walking straight towards me hand out stretched and an enormous smile on his face.  He moved with an elegance I’d never seen before, bolt upright and supremely dignified, there was an aura around him that felt genuinely spiritual.  The next few moments seemed like a fairy tale or wonderful dream as he clasped my hand.  He had beautiful soft hands and as I enthusiastically shook them he steadied me with his other hand as I blurted out “Nelson, so wonderful to meet you!  On behalf of my fellow Welshmen, welcome to Wales!” He laughed so sweetly and jokingly pointed at my face and said “Thank you, thank you, by the way I like your nose ring!” Ha, my controversial nose ring that my family hated just had Madiba’s seal of approval!  I was in shock, the whole episode so surreal, unexpected and infuriatingly without fellow friends to witness until I spotted Cardiff’s baffingly great and odd urban poet/bin drummer Ninjah who had been trying in vain to offer Nelson one of his cucumber sandwiches!

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This is very close to the moment although I am not in this shot, grrr.  Ninjah can be seen though on the left near the middle.

Nelson Mandela 1918 – 2013, you wonderful humanitarian, inspiration to so many, rest in your well earned peace.

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Cubase 7.5 – the latest version of this vintage DAW

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Cubase has received a new update today so I thought I’d write up some notes whilst waiting for it to download.  I think Steinberg’s servers are under heavy demand!

This update takes Cubase up to v7.5 but beware it is a paid upgrade (49€/49$).  If you happened to have upgraded to version 7 since October 15th then you can get this update for free but for other users of v7 there is that fee.  Although I always look forward to a Cubase .5 release, some people complain bitterly about these halfway house paid upgrades – i.e It is expected that you’d pay for a major v6 to v7 type upgrade but to pay for an intermediate step?  I think this is Steinberg’s business model now as evinced by the same strategy when v6. came out with a similar fee.  It could be argued that this is a way to ensure that Steinberg manages to get a yearly revenue from it’s customers with a major version dropping every two to three years and a half version in between.  Well, what does this update offer and is it worth paying for or should users just simply hold out for the next big update which will include all these intermediate features anyway?

Well I guess the headline features  are:

  • TrackVersions: Playlists for creating, renaming and managing parallel variations of tracks

This looks highly interesting to me for a bunch of reasons.  I think sometimes its nice to come back to a song and have a fresh crack at say the vocals but rather than creating a new track, you can simply create a new track version which flows through all the same processing and automation.  You can then simply toggle between your two versions.  Both versions of which could contain lots of comping.  The great thing with track versions is that it applies to most of the track types and this is especially interesting with the chord track.  If you have your midi tracks (and monophonic audio tracks) set to follow the chord track, changing a chord will mean that all the tracks will change their note contents to follow suit.  This could mean that if you wrote a song within a minor key you could create a track version in a major key and then toggle the version and have the whole song change.  This has huge repercussions for composers who want to try out different keys for singers, different moods for film makers etc

  • Track visibility: Shows only the tracks you want to see in the Project window

This is another very nice and a “why didn’t they think of that before?” feature.  This lets you select any tracks on the arrangement page and make them the only visible ones.  You have been able to do this with the mixer as of v7 so it’s nice to see it be part of the arrangement page. You can also link the arrangement page and the mixer now so they both look the same.  Examples of this could be just showing the drums tracks.  You can conveniently save track view presets so viewing and editing large and complex projects will become significantly easier.

  • Instrument (t)rack 2.0: Supports multi-outputs and multi-inputs, and merges instrument tracks with the Instrument Rack

Again a sensible streamlining of workflow.  Prior to the invention of instrument tracks, to host a VST plugin, one had to put the plugin in the rack, and then create a midi track and assign it to that.  Instrument tracks sped up the process by just creating an instrument track and midi track combined but lost the ability to have a single VST instrument output multiple audio outputs, this new combining of both approaches is definitely welcome.  Put an instrument in the rack and it instantly creates a midi track routed to it or create an instrument track like before and the instrument appears in the rack automatically.

  • HALion Sonic SE 2: Giving you tons of fresh new sounds plus a totally new synth

Since Steinberg was bought by Yamaha some years ago, the Halion synths have benefitted from Yamaha’s considerable experience and feature sounds from some of their synths (Motif range I believe).  It will be interesting to see what these sounds are like (a separate download from 7.5)

  • Groove Agent SE 4: With over 120 drum kits and smart user interface for creating beats and hits in no time

This looks like a radical overhaul of the rather simplistic version of Groove Agent in v7.  They have obviously taken a good look at Native Instruments Maschine (see my feature here) and also Akai’s long running MPC range and have tried to incorporate some of those workflow ideas.  It has a huge slew of new features on board including pattern editor and a suite of dedicated effects.  There are also new drum kits to play with.

  • New construction kits: Adding flavor to your productions and giving you new song ideas

Could be interesting to some.  They are essentially 30 complete songs made up of midi files that are assigned to the various synths and drum machines within Cubase.  The idea is that they give you starting blocks to inspire.  I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing I’d use but maybe good to build tracks in a hurry and then fiddle with the content later.

  • LoopMash FX: For real-time modern-style breaks, tape-stops, stutters and more

Ah this looks fun.  Fans of Izotope’s innovative stutter edit will like this as you can apply those peculiar twists and turns and beat repeats on any material now not just the loops within the previous Loop Mash plug in.  Assign a midi tracks output to the track with Loop Mash FX inserted on and then have some serious fun making your audio jump through hoops!

  • REVelation: Super-smooth and silky-sounding algorithmic reverb that brings back the memories of those old fancy hardware units

We are getting a bit spoilt now with this sumptuous collection of new stuff.  A good quality algorithmic reverb would have cost at least double the update price so this alone makes the €49 cost seem a bit like a bargain.  This reverb is a bit overdue mind as the previous algorithmic reverb Roomworks (and Roomworks SE) have been sounding (!) a bit long in the tooth and compared to the shinier, newer convolution based reverb, Reverence, it has seemed a bit lacking.  I am looking forward to pitting this against my current favourite algorithmic reverb Aether

  • Magneto 2: Adding warmth to your tracks

Aha Magneto returns!  Long time Cubase users will remember the original Magneto, a tape emulation plugin, from way back.  It’s nice to see it return in hopefully an even better sounding incarnation.  Interestingly it appears in two formats within Cubase 7.5, as a vst plugin or as a component within the channel strip which makes a lot of sense for those who want to run it on every track to emulate a tape based project.

  • VST Connect SE 2 (available in Cubase 7.5 only): Unique remote recording plug-in now with MIDI data transmission

I am still yet to try this which came out with v7 and allows musicians all over the world to essentially become plugins within an input track ! The new version allows not just audio but midi to be recorded from your connected contributors.

  • Transient navigation: Tab to transients on audio events in the Project window thanks to the new instant hitpoint navigation

This has been in Cubase for a long time but now takes place automatically without you having to go into the audio editor and set it manually. Also being able to do this within the arrange page will speed up editing significantly.

 

If you are a user of the score editor, you may be pleased to learn that you now have a whole wealth of midi editing facilities within the score editor now rather than having to tediously swap to the key editor every time you want to say quantize or other such midi edit operation.

I will return to this post once I have completed this download.

 

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Asteroid Deluxe

a short extract from the Cube performance by Asteroid Deluxe

I played a cool gig last Friday night with Asteroid Deluxe, the free form kraut rock inspired space rock band that I setup with my great friends and musical collaborators Andy Taylor and James Phillips. Dani Landau and Mat ‘DJ Dinnermoney’ Wigley are also sometime members but this gig was just the three of us initially. I was using my Roland GR55 midi bass for all sorts of odd brass, detuned flutes and distorted cellos as heard in the video extract. Dani was up at the back of the auditorium mixing the whole shaboodle when he sneakily started playing along out of sight on his bass clarinet. Andy the guitarist naturally assumed it was me on my midi bass!

We played this non stop 45 minute warpathon to a small but dedicatedly frazzled crowd at Bristol’s venerable Cube Cinema. This is a real jewel of a venue as it is run by an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers and has an always inspiring combination of films, music and art events happening.  There is an attempt to buy the freehold for the building which would be great of Bristol ensuring that it will keep running the way it is not cowed by commercial concerns. Read about that here. The performance was part of an evening called ¡hen~do which was a multimedia event of much mayhem curated by Dani Landau and Mr Hopkinson. The XYZ Saw Ensemble, Attacked by Wolves and The Da Da Workout were just some of the performers taking part in this good natured and completely batty event.

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The XYZ Saw Ensemble

Asteroid Deluxe’s mission statement is to play the most mindbending, psychedelic and freaky music this side of Alpha Centauri!  We recently recorded a suite of tunes called The Moons of Jupiter at The Manic Street Preachers’ Cardiff based recording studio. This will hopefully be ready for release early next year.
Here is an excerpt from Callisto.

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Sonic Touch 27 – Bias

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Another new episode of our iPad/touch devices show Sonic Touch has just been released, episode 27 no less. In this show we look at Positive Grid‘s new amp modeller Bias which I think is rather nifty. I enjoyed making this show as I got to twang away on a guitar for a change!

http://www.sonicstate.com/news/2013/11/29/sonic-touch-27-bias-amp-modeller-inter-app-audio/

We also looked into a new feature of iOS7 called inter-app audio which allows for the routing of the sound of one app into another. This is similar to the third party Audio Bus which has been with us for a year or so but is built in at an OS level and thus is more practical. Currently there are not too many apps which support this but I think that will change drastically over the next few months.

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Maschine Studio with Logic Pro X using iPad Air as remote controller

More music tech goodness to chew on folks! I decided to make a short film showing the integration of a bunch of new things, Logic Pro X, the iPad Air plus the Native Instruments Maschine Studio running the V2.0 software. They play really well together!

Logic Pro X

I have made no attempt to hide my distaste of the music software Logic in the past, perhaps because I am a long time Cubase user it is ingrained in me but also I just think that for years it has really lagged behind other DAW’s too. Well, I have changed my mind, slightly! I had to buy Logic due to a collaboration with an artist I am working with. It just made sense to do this rathe than both of us lose time with trying to convert the projects back and forth between our systems. Besides this artist, there is another that I will be working with soon who is also on Logic X too. I had previously bought (against my wishes!) Logic 9 which I hated with a passion so I wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of spending more time in Logic land. We’ll I need not of worried too much as Logic X is a huge improvement over its predecessor. The much needed facelift has finally banished those tiny menus and the relocation of things like the transport bar to the top has made the workflow more intuitive. Track stacks bring a Reaper like function when you group a bunch of tracks into a folder, that folder gains a dedicated fader – are you listening Cubase? There is now a bass amp emulation called Bass Amp Designer and low and behold when I first instantiated (correct term!) the plug in I was faced with a graphical reproduction of my classic old bass amp a Mesa boogie 400+ and my old cab too, the quirky 1516. I have never seen these emulated before and I was really impressed with how it sounded. There is the much talked about Drummer plug in which lets you choose drummer by personality (?) and also you now have a basic Melodyne like functionality called Flex pitch which I have yet to try amongst countless other improvements.

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My old bass amp amp now in Logic Pro X – Mesa Boogie 400+

Logic Remote

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Logic Remote showing mixer

The show stopper for me though is the clever Logic Remote app for iPad. Borrowing heavily from the iPad version of GarageBand, this controller allows you to mix, edit and perform using a very intuitive control surface. Interestingly they have taken the Smart instruments idea and made them in to controllers for the Logic instruments. I marvelled at the design of these a few years back when they debuted on the iPad GarageBand so they are welcome here. These essentially let you turn the iPad into various types of midi controller, a guitar simulator, drum pads and chord strips on top of a regular piano keyboard that can also have notes stripped away to display only in key notes. Cleverly these follow whatever the region’s key is which is set in the main info panel at the top of Logic X. I have been banging on for nearly a year now about the wonderful chord track in Cubase, well Logic gets a halfway house now with the arrangement track combined with being able to set keys for regions. In practice I have found the Logic Remote to be the most robust and reliable of all the different iPad based control surfaces I have tried. Probably to do with some secret voodoo that Apple have going on that is closed to all and sundry however it works very well and maintains connection quickly after bringing the iPad out of sleep. This was the killer in the past for other controllers as it would often mean that you would have to jump through a few hoops to get things synchronised again. One feature I particularly like (which the Cubase Equivalent, IC also has) is the ability to create shortcuts and macros and give them dedicated buttons.

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Logic Remote showing shortcuts page


Maschine Studio Intergration

You may have read my Maschine Studio and software review or saw my Sonic State review. If not you can find them here so I won’t go over old ground as to what it is needless to say though that you can run Maschine software as an Audio Unit (AU) within Logic X. The cool thing with doing this is that the Smart Instrument controllers operate on the Maschine too via Logic’s own routing. I didn’t have to set anything up, they just worked. This is very cool as it allows for Ableton Live Push like functionality which was left out of Maschine v2.0. This means you can use the aforementioned preset scales on the sounds within Maschine. I try and demonstrate this in my video so I recommend watching that to see it in practice although the tune I make is quite meh!

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Karl Hyde

This year I was fortunate to perform a world tour with Karl Hyde, front man of Underworld.

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Karl Hyde

Karl released his first solo album, Edgeland and I was recruited to play bass for the resulting tour.  Karl had been searching for someone who was a bassist but also adept at music technology.  Our mutual friend, the fabulous Dave Spiers from GForce software, recommended me to Karl and we instantly clicked.  Karl had spent his formative music years in Cardiff and to our great surprise we had numerous old friends in common. Karl put together a great small band for the tour including Angie Pollock (Goldfrapp/Peter Gabriel) and Peter Chilvers (Brian Eno).

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Here is the band (from left to right) me, Angie, Karl and Peter. The photo was taken in Yoyogi park in Tokyo on our first visit. After seeing this photo, we joked that it is my arm resting on Peter’s shoulder!

Karl is an extremely likeable chap.  He is funny, smart and restlessly creative. In fact to accompany his album Edgeland he made a feature length documentary with notable Welsh director Kieran Evans called the Outer Edges which explores the largely unloved areas where a city touches the countryside. These themes of loneliness, isolation, dereliction but ultimately salvation crop in numerous songs on the album lending a cohesive feel to the proceedings. Below is a short clip outlining Karl’s decision to make both the album and the film.

Below is a video from the superb gig we played at London’s Union Chapel.  The song is 8 Ball, an Underworld classic from the Danny Boyle film The Beach.

Karl has had an incredible career which dates back to the late 70’s in said Cardiff. Through the synth pop of Freur to the guitar centric Underworld mk1, Karl went through various musical shifts until him and partner Rick Smith hit on the perfect marriage of techno beats and stream of consciousness lyrics in the early 90’s.

Freur  were an interesting amalgam of influences and although they didn’t have big hits in the UK, they were very popular in Europe especially in Italy where their biggest hit Doot Doot is still often heard. Below is a link to Freur playing Doot Doot live.   for some, this song represents a pinnacle of synth pop as it has become a cult classic over the years.  During this tour with Karl, we resurrected Doot Doot and played it at a few of the venues to much acclaim.  The show in Berlin was especially touching as the noted (and sadly departed) German producer Conny Plank’s son was in the audience and was visibly moved by this performance.  Conny had worked extensively with Freur hence the connection.

I distinctly remember being in a party back in early 1994 when someone put on dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld Mk2’s seminal debut.  It was the first time I had heard dance music work with a proper frontman.  previous attempts at this had resulted in novelty fluff like The Shaman’s Ebeneezer Goode. Underworld were a genre defining, zeitgeist surfing phenomena who’s influence is still apparent in many of today’s top dance and electronica acts.  One of the standout tracks from that album was the sly and seductive Dirty Epic.  We revisited this tune on the tour too which was always extremely well received.  Here is the Underworld version:

And here is a very early version of us playing it live at the tiny warm up show we played in Komedia in Brighton.  This was a terrific gig for us as there was a fabulous atmosphere in the audience with plenty of friends.  Some of the UK’s electronica royalty turned out for this including Orbital, Future Sound of London and The Grid.

2012 saw Karl’s biggest endeavour to date as he and partner Rick Smith were the musical directors for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. Reuniting once again with director Danny Boyle, they set about creating a truly memorable event which blew peoples minds around the globe and defied the British expectation that following on from Beijing’s astonishing ceremony, that ours would be ‘a bit rubbish’. Underworld even composed the music (Caliban’s Dream) for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron!

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A scene from London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony

Karl’s album was the next thing he did after being involved with such a magnificent event.  In fact he wrote it in downtime during the punishing rehearsal schedule for the ceremony.  He collaborated with the London based and supremely talented guitarist Leo Abrahams who produced the album. After the album (which I did not play on) was complete, it was then he set about putting the band together for the tour. Karl had been working with Brian Eno, the legendary producer and inventor of ambient music (amongst other accolades) and through him got to know long term Eno collaborator Peter Chilvers, who became the musical director of the band.  As well as being a terrific musician, Peter has also worked with Brian on the generative music apps Bloom, Trope and most recently Scape.

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Peter at Fuji Rock, Japan. July 2013

The lineup was complete with the addition of myself and the inimitable Miss Angie Pollock. Angie has had an unbelievable career to date.  She started her professional work with ex Specials front man Terry Hall at the tender age of 17 and then went on to play with (amongst many others) Shakespear’s Sister, Lightning Seeds, Suede’s Brett Anderson, Peter Gabriel and Goldfrapp, who she is currently touring with.

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Angie in Tokyo, April 2013. 

The tour took us around the world and we played some amazing gigs such as Sonar in Barcelona and in fact we headlined at Tokyo’s own Sonar festival too.  Australia was particularly exciting with a sold out gig in Sydney Opera House.

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Here I am on the top of the Harbour bridge surveying the scene before the evening’s gig!

The show in Sydney was part of an annual festival they have there called Vivid Sydney in which the harbour becomes a giant canvas for some spectacular lights and lasers.  The Opera House itself is used as a backdrop for projections and it was remarkable how detailed they were and how well the projections mapped to to the sails of the building.  It was thrilling to know that we were to be playing inside that iconic place especially with those glorious projections going on.

Here is the full 2013 projection onto the Opera House

The tour finally wrapped up at the end of July with the biggest and best show at the venerable Fuji Rock festival in Naiba, Japan.  This is the Japanese equivalent to the UK’s Glastonbury and is set in the stunning mountains of Naiba in the central part of Honshu.  We were the second headliners on the Saturday night on the main stage and had the much coveted sunset slot i.e. starting in the light and climaxing in the dark.

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Playing at Fuji Rock!

We changed the set around a bit for this show too, taking out some of the slower numbers and adding some more uptempo stuff more suitable for a festival crowd.  Something made this  show extra special for me was that it took place at the tail end of my honeymoon and my new wife was sat in front of the mixing desk, clearly visible to me amongst the tens of thousand Japanese music fans!

Here is a video that my wife Fiona took of the finale, 8 Ball.

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Samplr – My favourite iPad app!

My favourite iPad app Samplr has just had a great new update taking it to version 1.3.  This app just keeps on getting better and better!

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(umm this image is of an earlier version but more or less looks like this!)

Here is a video I filmed today to investigate the new mode.  I only used my little Yamaha Guitalele   (six string ukelele tuned like a guitar but a fifth up – bottom string is a B).  You can see in the video that Samplr lets you do many creative things with the samples you make on it.

Marco Alonso is the Spanish developer of Samplr and he has some quite interesting history.  He was largely responsible for the graphics and interface of the Reactable synthesiser.  This is that peculiar system that Björk made famous.  It is a physical table that you move blocks around on, when the blocks come near to others they “react” and generate sound or affect the sound of others. Reactable is now also available as an iPhone/iPad app though I think it has lost quite a bit of its appeal in the transition. I was not surprised to learn about Marco as there had to be someone of significant talent to come up with this beauty.

Modes

Why I particularly like this app is because it really uses the multitouch idiom of the iPad really well.  It is essentially a 6 track sampler that lets you manipulate the samples by touching them directly and utilising one of the 7 different modes.  The different modes are:

1.Slicer – this lets you insert any amount of markers which essentially split the sample into a bunch of triggers. This is great for playing melodies. If you sample a scale played on any instrument and then place the start markers immediately before each note. Chords work extremely well in this mode too.

2.Looper – this lets you set up to three adjustable loops within the same sample.  As I mentioned, the touch interface is amazing, it is so intuitive and fast to get stuff looping. There are these circles which are very easy to manipulate.  They appear in the different modes and I think are a strong design factor.  You are never in any doubt as to what they do, it is so clear to see. There is a sustain button which works in every mode and lets you lock your last touch in place.  You can place three different sustains on at any time and they are represented by three coloured dots next to the recording length indicator.  There is an x next to the dots which serves as a sustain cancel, cleverly allowing each sustain to be taken off in turn.

3.Bow –  The bow lets you touch a portion of your sample and then it loops it very quickly producing quite a smooth textured sound that as you slide around can make for great expressive instrument.  Again works great on chords and scales. The analogy of a violin bow is actually quite useful here in conjuring up ideas of how to approach this mode.  Imagine being able to bow a sample of glass being smashed?

4.Tape and Scratch – previously these existed as separate modes and were easily my least favourite modes although they do have some cool uses so it makes sense that they are now combined into the same mode.  The tape mode lets you set off the sample at different speeds either forwards or backwards. I should mention at this point that whichever mode you are in, the volume of the sample will depend on how high up on the sample you touch.  This makes Samplr a very expressive instrument as you can vary the dynamics easily and logically.  This works with any notes that you have held with the sustain button meaning that any note or loop’s volume can be manipulated by sliding the circle up or down.  Fabulous!  The other sub mode, Scratch (enabled by pressing the record deck icon) lets you wickky wiccky scratch your sample!

5.Arpeggiator – This is one of the new features of v1.3 and is extremely cool.  Here you can touch various segments of your sample (as defined with the markers) and it will repeat them at the project tempo and based on the musical value ranging from whole notes (semibreves) to 32 nd notes (demisemiquavers).  There are also different arp modes – up, down, up and down, random and note order. Again the sustain (or latching) feature really comes into its own here allowing for note sequences to be played but also manipulated both in volume and note choice. It was upon playing with this mode that I was inspired to make my little video and this blog entry.  Truly inspiring!

6.Keyboard – Just very simply allows you to play the sample in pitches across a graphical representation of a keyboard.  This is not the most interesting mode as we have seen this kind of thing since the Casio SK1 back in the early 80’s but it is handy none the less to have it here.  Each of the modes have a few options that let you tailor the settings.  Here we have attack quantisation and legato mode.   Also each mode has a very simple attack and release envelope which although basic it is great to have and super quick to operate.

7.Loop Player – the final mode has no touch controls and is just a very simple loop player which you can use if you wanted to play over a backing track or existing loop for instance.

Sampling

Sampling is so easy and great fun here.  All you do is choose whether you want to sample from the mic or if you want to resample the mix. Resampling is such a laugh as you can get all sorts of nonsense going on then sample it and turn it into something completely bizarre!  I have found that sampling from the built in mic can give surprisingly good results.  It is quite sensitive and with no gain control you have to position the iPad at a decent enough distance away from what you are sampling to stop it from clipping. I have used it successfully with the my Samson Gomic which is a cool little gizmo that works effectively with a CCK (camera connection kit) but to be honest the built in mic gets good results.  I have been promising myself an Apogee Mic at some point as I think that would be the perfect mono mic for Samplr as it has a clip indicator and an adjustable gain wheel plus crucially a very low noise floor.

Effects

Samplr also contains a truly wonderful effects section which is extremely generous as it gives you not only a multi effect for each of the 6 sample slots but a master effect too.  So each multi effect can be a distortion, filter, modulator, delay or reverb all at the same time if you wish and has possibly the fastest and most immediate implementation of a multi effect I have ever seen.  You simply touch the icon that represents the effect to enable it then use the kaoss pad like touch square for instant results.  The filter for instance can be either a low pass or high pass.  Touch the bottom right and the filter becomes a high pass, drag your finger to the right and it morphs into a low pass, drag upwards for resonance.  Brilliantly simple but highly effective.  All the effect modes have this simple approach and are all the more useful because of it. Seldom with this app are you left wanting more functionality such is its appealing design ethos.

Recording and looping 

Each of the six samples have a dedicated looper and can be set to record any length loops independently of each other.  This is cool if for instance you have a short four bar loop on sample slot 1 and an eight bar pad on slot 2 etc. The master stroke here though is the loopers don’t record the sound but what your fingers are doing.  This means that you can actually change the mode that the sample is operating in and you don’t lose the loop its just does a different thing.  For instance if you were using the Bow to sustain on a small portion of the sample and then switched to the slicer, this would release the sample so it continues to play then jump back to bow mode and returns to the sustaining sound.  This has interesting performance potential. I haven’t really mentioned how good Samplr is at manipulating imported drum beats too but really my interest lies more in looking around me for sounds and exploring melodic possibilities. Also now with v1.3  You can sync Samplr to a midi clock although I have yet to try this.  Samplr also supports Audiobus so you can use it as both an instrument in apps like Cubasis and Garageband but also you can use it in the record position so you can sample compatible apps directly to it. Audioshare and AudioCopy are also supported.

Summary

So as you can see I am extremely fond of this app and it is my current favourite iPad app deposing previous top dog Thumbjam!  I think that it displays a very forward thinking approach to intuitive design and rewarding user experience and just begs you to explore the creative potential it offers.  If you are interested in music making, sound design or just messing around with cool toys, you owe it to yourself to check this app out.  If you have an iPad it is a no brainer at £6.99/$9.99! If you don’t have an iPad then there is a very good argument to get one just for this app it’s that good!  Find it here.

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