Synthesizer App For iPad
Having warmed up with the acclaimed PPG WaveGenerator, industry A-lister Wolfgang Palm recently announced his second iOS synth. WaveMapper serves up sonic complexity via an ingeniously simple front end. I'm referring to the 8x4 Sound Map: 32 root program fields ready to provide instant substitutes for any of the synth's main components.
A WaveMapper patch has three oscillators, a 24dB low-pass filter, four LFOs, 13(!) envelopes and more besides. The twist is that each of eight possible components adopts fresh characteristics depending on where on the map its icon sits. You can restore a module's stored settings by dragging it back to the Base at the top left hand corner of the map. This means experimentation can be as wild as you like but normality is never far away.
Parameters are blended together (as far as is possible) when icons are dragged between sources, thanks to WaveMapper's morphing capabilities. Therefore you can effortlessly find sweet transitions between filter and gain sections, try new oscillator timbres or explore alternate modulations with no need of brow-furrowing, ever. Although you can drill down into every parameter for fine-tuning, it's a guilty pleasure to move objects around on the map and marvel at your apparent programming skills. Even if you've never so much as turned a cutoff knob before, you can create original, useable patches. With this in mind, it would be nice if the app started with the last bank and patch selected rather than defaulting to the factory bank. Hopefully this will change in a future version.
There are rules (map modes) used to set the priority of the behaviour of the modules on the map and, whether, for example, they should force activation of previously inactive parts of root programs. There's even a Random button to toss the icons around the Sound Map, just in case moving them with a finger proves too arduous.
WaveMapper's synthesis is described as a bridge between wavetables and samples. Its oscillators can access the new, improved wavetables (WT) or time-correct samples (TCS) and the app comes ready-loaded with the wavetables from the earlier PPG WaveGenerator as well as synthesized waveforms. It adds up to a pile of useful raw material even before you start making your own. Yes, sample import is supported too, with version 1.01 of the app removing the need to prat about with iTunes by adding the much-requested Audiocopy.
For a sample to be imported it should be neatly trimmed in an external app and in 16-bit, 44.1kHz format. Even then, not all samples convert successfully, but in such cases they're still accessible via conventional sample playback. No wonder this is the most radical-sounding PPG yet. And, I keep reminding myself, all from an iPad!
The synth engine is supported by minimal effects: a delay that can also deliver spring-reverb-ish tones. Spending the resources on synthesis quality seems eminently sensible, and more elaborate effects could in theory be added by another app, since Audiobus is supported.
There's so much good stuff, but the envelopes deserve particular mention for the ease by which each stage's curve can be reshaped with a finger. Modulation and performance control aren't neglected either, one of the neater tricks being to modulate wave position by sources including the position on the keys. Last but not least, there's an arpeggiator with step-sequencer aspirations.
Admittedly there's the usual potential for resource battles, especially on lower-powered iPads, and using more voices increases the chances of nastiness and distortion. There's a maximum of 20 notes to play with, but keeping it between six and eight on my iPad 2 left me more than happy. Further resource juggling can be accessed via the Quality parameter, its Premium (44.1kHz), Production (32kHz) and Consumer (22.05 kHz) settings designed to push the available voices, especially on original iPads.
Amongst the non-synthesis features, there's a basic audio recorder that, although not terribly fancy or editable, can record for up to 10 minutes. My final thought is that the on-screen keyboards are quite a limiting way to play such a groovy instrument, despite options such as larger keys. What is needed to take it to the next level is a keyboard-based iPad docking station with assignable knobs and controllers. I'm not sure why the market isn't flooded with these already, but WaveMapper gets even better under external control. You can even automate the movement of icons around the map using an extensive selection of MIDI CCs.
Wolfgang Palm's opening iOS synth, PPG WaveGenerator was — and is — an impressive instrument. With WaveMapper, the sound is still wicked but somehow the interface feels more natural, more right. It's easy to make huge, radical, interesting tweaks without any kind of detailed analysis, but the depth is there when needed. Thoroughly recommended. Paul Nagle
Music Education App For iPad
What do you get if you take renowned composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonia orchestra, and combine them with the technical and creative wizards at Touch Press? Answer: The Orchestra, an incredible interactive experience for iPads running iOS 6 that delivers the kind of educational multimedia the world was promised throughout the '90s. (Microsoft Multimedia Mozart this is not.) And while it's not the kind of app that SOS typically reviews, in that it doesn't allow you to actually create anything, I think it's something that any musician with an interest in orchestral music will appreciate.
The Orchestra highlights the development of the western orchestral tradition via eight selections of repertoire, ranging from Haydn and Beethoven to Berlioz and Debussy, Mahler and Stravinsky and, finally, Lutoslawski and Salonen himself. The selections are either complete movements or extracts thereof, or, in the case of Debussy, a full performance of Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune.
Each piece has been recorded with multiple camera positions, and up to three of these can be viewed at any given moment: one where Salonen is conducting, and two that switch between different groups of musicians relevant to what's going on in the score. These videos are joined by a written analysis of each work by LA Times music critic Mark Swed, alongside commentaries by Salonen and members of the orchestra. A synchronised score is provided, making it easy to follow along as the music is performed, and, in addition to providing a 'full score' mode, there's the option of a dynamic 'curated score' where only the pertinent staves are shown as appropriate (which is great on the larger romantic and modern pieces). For those who don't read music, a piano-roll-like 'simplified score' is offered to illustrate the length and contours of the individual parts, and this is quite fun to look at even if you do read music.
Accompanying the playback is the novel BeatMap display, where each orchestral player is represented by a dot, and, as the music plays, the dots enlarge as the corresponding musicians play notes. This is an inventive way to visualise a performance, but what's more impressive is that you can touch a section or instrument to hear just the microphones for that section or instrument. It's not perfect, due to the inevitable spill, but it's a really neat idea. My only comment is that it's a shame you couldn't have the score automatically scroll to the appropriate instrument as it's tapped in the BeatMap display. These individual microphone splits are provided for free with the extract from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but the 'solo audio' for the other pieces is downloaded separately as a 69p$0.99 in-app purchase.
Finally, each instrument in the orchestra gets its own dedicated page, featuring a written explanation, a keyboard where you can play samples of the instrument, and a video of a player from the Philharmonia discussing their chosen instrument.
The Orchestra is available for £9.99$13.99 and is an elegant and brilliantly designed app. The only serious criticism I could possibly suggest is that, as with a pig who just consumed the last truffle, it leaves you wanting more. Mark Wherry
Guitar Amp Effects App For iOS
Guitar amp and effects modelling apps have proved to be very popular for with iOS musicians, and the latest of these to come to our attention is Positive Grid's JamUp Pro. This easy-to-use guitar processor sounds great and offers an excellent assortment of guitar and bass amps and effects.
Anyone using JamUp Pro will spend the majority of their time in the Amp/Fx page. Here you'll find a horizontal row of icons representing signal path and amp and effects choices, with the currently selected item appearing in a control panel below. The interface is very well laid out, easy to navigate and simple to operate. The order of amp and effects can be easily changed by grabbing an icon and moving it to a new position. The stock app comes with six amps and 16 effects. Effects include noise gate, compressors, distortion pedals, graphic EQ, delays, reverbs and various modulation pedals. Currently you have to choose between a compressor or distortion pedal (a promised update will address this). Selecting an amp is as easy as double-tapping the icon and scrolling through the list of available gear. Effects are selected the same way. Once you begin playing around with these you will certainly succumb to the in-app store's assortment of additional amps and effects, either individually or in bundles. In total 26 amps and 34 effects are available.
The Preset page is able to store up to 48 user settings along with the 16 factory presets. With a clever built-in social media component, users can share, search and instantly audition patches and add them to a user bank. It's a great source of new sounds and feedback for some of your own creations using a Facebook-style 'like' function and comments.
The Jam Player page allows users to load a song from their iTunes library to play along to. There are controls to speed up or slow down the song without changing the pitch, change pitch without affecting the speed, and loop a specific section. Finally, an easy-to-use Phrase Sampler lets you record guitar parts and overdub, loop and play along with them. Loops can be saved for later recall.
JamUp Pro works with Positive Grid's own JamUp Plug interface, which connects to the headphone jack on the iPhone/iPad. Similar iOS audio interfaces such as IK Multimedia's iRig will work as well, and JamUp Pro will also work with most USB iOS interfaces (check the web site for compatible devices), as well as the Alesis AmpDock and Griffin Technology Stompbox (the latter two provide footswitch control).
Great guitar amp tone is very subjective, but to my ears JamUp Pro sounds really good. In my tests it sounded best when using a Focusrite Scarlett USB interface, especially when recording into a DAW. Favourite patches include the ENGL Fireball 100 amp and Roland Space Echo, and I particularly like the bass amps. For me this app is definitely a keeper! A free version with limited functionality is available, so I strongly suggest you go ahead and try it. Bill Lacey
Logic Controller App For iOS
IpTouch is a remote control app for Apple's Logic recording software that costs less than a pint down at the local. It features a permanent transport bar at the bottom of the page, and tabs at the top of the screen give access to five different page views. The first of these is the familiar fader view with channel Select, Solo and Mute buttons as well as track names. You also get a Solo reset to turn off any active solos. In addition to a bank of eight channel faders, you can also see the Master fader and the first of any aux channels you may have set up. Arrow buttons near the top right of the screen allow you to navigate between banks of eight faders.
The Pan and Sends page shows exactly what the name implies, this time with the first two aux channels shown to the right. You still get Solo and Mute buttons, but you have to go back to the first page if you want to change a track's volume. Page three gives you a complete channel strip view, with the fader to the right and any sends along the top. If any plug-ins are active, their windows will open and you can see any insert effects you have in place, along with bypass and select buttons for each. When selected, all the plug-in controls come up as rotary knobs in the bottom half of the screen. Track automation modes can be accessed from this page as can Solo, Mute, Record and the Input monitor button. Next up is an EQ page, which opens any the Logic channel EQ plug-in window for the selected track, and also provides slider and rotary control for EQ adjustment. The final page is Instrument, which brings up the controls of any virtual instrument on the selected track as rotaries.
To use IpTouch you need Logic 9.1.6 or later, but there's no need for any additional Wi-Fi software. Setup is dead easy, with a full manual provided within the app. I had it working both on Snow Leopard and Lion operating systems. The software is very stable, visually clear and well organised, though obvious omissions include any form of fast scrolling (other than the fast forward/rewind buttons) and a lack of zoom buttons for the computer display. A dedicated Aux, Bus and Output page would also have been welcome. This app is ideal for basic remote recording and also offers a nice tactile mixing experience with nice, large easy-to-see pages. Almost offensively cheap at £2.99$4.99. Paul White