Korg created a real surprise today when they launched their new iOS music app Gadget at the Namm 2014 winter show. It is a music production suite of 15 “gadgets’ within a sequencing environment. I had just returned from a late night rehearsal when I read about the new launch. I immediately downloaded it and thought it would be great fun to film a first impression of it without any preparation. Below is the first part of my first look:
And here is the second part:
In order to make this little film, I downloaded a piece of software for my Mac called Reflector. It allows you to use your Mac as an Airplay client for your iPad, therefore able to record the screen. I hadn’t used it before so I apologise for the audio glitching which I think was due to that.
I had written a full review following my first impression but sadly due to incompetence on my part, I lost it all 😦 If I can be bothered I’ll get around to writing it again.
*Update* I decided to do a follow up video after I’d had a further investigation of the app. Here it is:
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.
My old bass amp amp now in Logic Pro X – Mesa Boogie 400+
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.
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!
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!
(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.
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 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.
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.
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.
This exciting news for iPhone users kind of slipped out relatively unnoticed during the various hubbub surrounding the recent launch of iOS7. What it means is that you can attach a camera connection kit (CCK) to an iPhone and use it as a USB input for connecting midi keyboards and/or an audio interface. This is something that iPads have been able to do for a while but not iPhones until now. I think this is quite big news as it means you can now attach a class compliant device to your diminutive phone. Class compliant means that the device doesn’t need any drivers and will just simply work. Units that require drivers sadly won’t work as iOS doesn’t allow installing hardware specific drivers. A decent list of class compliant audio interfaces can be found here. Whilst here is a list of compatible midi interfaces.
Below is a quick video I made to illustrate this using Animoog for iPhone:
I have a CCK connected to an iPhone 5. Plugged in to that I have a newly released CME Xkey midi keyboard. This keyboard is quite special as not only does it feature (kind of) full size keys, it also supports polyphonic aftertouch.
A holy grail of sorts to keyboard players, polyphonic aftertouch allows for each key after being pressed to modulate the sound independently from other keys, for instance differing vibrato rates or filter cutoff. Better quality keyboards have featured aftertouch for years but this is usually monophonic aftertouch meaning that if you applied aftertouch to one key, it would affect all notes played equally. A guitarist essentially does this when they apply finger vibrato during chordal playing. When applied to a keyboard, it really makes the instrument feel more organic, more alive.
Mobile music making nirvana!
In many ways this really does open up the world of micro studios. I thought that iPad studios were quite minuscule but compare that to an iPhone running say Garageband with audiobus with a whole bunch of synths like Animoog, Modular, Alchemy, Cassini or Magellan Jr plugged into one of the tiny midi keyboards (QuNexus, CME X Keys) and you really have the most portable but very powerful synth rigs around!
Aah, the Teenage Engineering OP-1. What a thing of wonder! It is the most peculiar little electronic music device I have ever encountered bar none! I have been the proud owner of one for a few months now and I’d like to share a few stories about it with you if you don’t mind?
This Swedish device first came on the global radar back in 2009 or 2010 and we discussed it on Sonic Talk (on Sonicstate.com), the weekly podcast I usually partake in, keeping track of the developments and even wondering if it would remain ‘vapourware’ as in never existing as a consumer product. But in August 2011, Nick at Sonicstate managed to get an early one in for review and I was fortunate to get a bit of a hands on. I was fascinated but felt that since I’d recently bought an iPad ostensibly for the same job – mobile music making, I’d give it a miss plus it’s extremely high price was a a turn off. €799 seemed like a ridiculous sum for a tiny little music toy. Fast forward to April this year and during a stop over at Cologne on the Karl Hyde European tour, we popped into the massive Music Store. Sure enough in their music tech department they had one of these tiny miracles in a fancy wall display, I immediately got down to some serious twiddle with it, Karl being bemused but sagely talking me out of the impulse buy. But what had changed? Why was I now ready to shed some serious wedge on one?
Firstly, the iPad, as good as it is just sometimes doesn’t inspire, I simply get too distracted to stay within one piece of software, even grade A titles like Samplr, I just end up going online or switching apps. This is a terrible bourgeois guilt I have but the plethora or riches on the iPad often leads me to a kind of paralytic state of too much choice. The OP -1 just seems to be a little more restricted, focused even.
Secondly, I recently read Jean Michel Jarre’s top ten synths of all time and he included it there. That really hit home, made me think about it differently.
I had decided to spend a bit of my touring spoils on a new synth as there were a bunch of new (analogue) ones released this year that took my fancy. In fact this year has seen some really great new releases:
Moog Sub Phatty – even though still retaining the dated, cringe inducing ‘street’ epithet Phatty, this little gem from synth pioneers Moog looked like just the ticket – a knob laden true analogue synth with interesting filter drive controls, modern connectivity with its USB port plus a whole raft of useful and well thought out ideas. Nick’s Sonicstate review is here.
Arturia MiniBrute – although launched 2012, it really became widely available this year. Like the Sub Phatty, the MiniBrute is an all analogue mono synth with sub oscillators for beefyness. Unlike the Phatty however is the almost agricultural return to a preset less structure, what you see is what you get, no memories just plain and simple synthesis. Eyebrows were raised by the somewhat peculiar Steiner Parker filter which sonically quite different from the Moog ladder filter that one might expect to be included on a product like this. Bravo Arturia for creating something a bit different. Again, here is Nick’s review.
Korg mini MS20 – This one took us all by surprise somewhat when it was launched at Winter NAMM this year. A 3/4 scale replica of the venerable 70’s Korg legend. True analogue but also like the aforementioned Moog and Arturia synths, replete with a midi USB socket. Patch leads and mini keys are a funny match but Korg managed to make this little gem sound virtually identical to its classic forebearer. Nick’s review is here.
Novation Bass Station 2 – The British synth gurus new all analogue monosynth with its switchable filter from classic to acid! I was fortunate to have a go on an early one of these at Barcelona’s Sonar festival back in June. A very nice synth that I reckon will do well for Novation.
Apart from these four mentioned there were other class acts released this year for my consideration. The unexpected (and still very tempting) Stylophone S2, the newly released Waldorf analogue module the Pulse 2 and the exciting Dave Smith Prophet 12. So with all these quality instruments, why oh why did the two year old tiny digital OP-1 make the grade? Oh and what the blooming hell is it anyway?
The Teenage Engineering OP-1
In a nutshell, the OP-1 is a self contained synth workstation/groovebox. It has a multitude of different synth engines and also can function as a drum machine. It has a sampler built in and can sample from its line in, it’s surprisingly good built in mic, resample itself or from a built in fm radio! It has cute graphics for the different modes ranging from a pair of apes, a 3D view from a racing car, a boxer and a psychedelic cow! These little touches lend the OP-1 a toy like appearance but that is slightly misleading as it can be a very powerful professional instrument. One of its most compelling features is a four track (simulated) reel to reel recorder which can also be put to use as a looper (although can be glitchy). The OP-1 is resolutely a mono timbral affair though so utilising the four track is the only way to get layers out of it. It does have midi functionality through its USB connection and I have had much fun connecting it to my iPad and using it both as a midi controller and as a sound module. This can be fun as one of the downsides of this little wünderkind is the lack of velocity sensitivity or pressure on its keyboard. Using the iPad I have been able to access the sounds of the OP-1 with some expressive midi control apps like Soundprism Pro and Thumbjam.
The OP-1 is a design classic, make no mistake. It has been heavily influenced by a peculiar mix – Casio VL Tone mini keyboards of the early 80’s, Nintendo Game and Watches (graphically), Apple Macbook’s Unibody construction and various Roland drum machines and grooveboxes. It is really small ( 282x102x13.5mm) very light (580 grams) and has a built in lithium battery that gives it something like 16 hours use on a single charge. I recently put this to the test during a long haul flight from the UK to Australia and after using it extensively, I still had over half the battery remaining. Since it’s 2011 release, there have been several significant OS releases for it too adding new synths and FX’s plus some operational tweaks too. Nick’s Sonic State review typically was one of the first to surface so therefore is a bit dated as it has come on quite a bit.
Probably the thing that is most striking about using the OP-1 is that you make music you simply wouldn’t have created on any thing else. The peculiar workflow means that due to NO undo, you have to plan and be a bit more careful, approach it with a bit more reverence than you would computer based music software. The virtual reel to reel is six minutes long and you can make mix downs onto a virtual album, side A and side B. You have to be careful though and not do what I did, finish a six minute mix, make an album mix, delete the multitrack so I can start a new piece but then blooming well press record on the mix down page instead of play and wipe the whole thing instantly! I tell the tale here on a Sonic talk podcast.
One of the glorious things about the internet is discovering new talents and interesting people. Cuckoo is one such find and he is the greatest proponent of the OP-1 I have yet discovered. He has made a load of useful you tube videos like this one here showcasing how to create drumkits on the OP-1.
He also makes great presets which he gives away for free. He is a regular contributor to the fan site OhPeeWon.com. This forum is a great place to discover more about the OP-1 and is a friendly place populated by real nutters.
My father sadly passed away a few weeks back which was a devastating thing for our family. A few days after his passing, my mother and me were glumly on the sofa as the midnight hour approached. We were both feeling thoroughly depressed and lacking motivation. I then said to my mum “umm there is something you could help me with…” and proceeded to explain my Op-1 travel dilemma. You see, I have a nice leather bag which I use as my carry on luggage when I fly and other such things and the Op-1 fits quite nicely in there but without sufficient protection. I had been wrapping it up in bubble wrap which is hardly a dignified way to transport my mini marvel. So then after an hour of frantic sewing machine action, she made me a custom bag for my OP-1 which is just perfect!
Well there comes a time when it’s time to retire an old website. I created this one sometime last year using Wix which I initially thought was a good idea but soon grew to dislike it somewhat due to some crafty techniques to get you to pay for your supposedly free site! Anyway here is a link to my old songsurgeon site. Below are the fabulous images created for me by Johnny O.