This month we take a trip down memory lane with VFX Host, and visit App land to round up a few of our favourite tools.
The odd preference issue aside, the trouble with making music on a Mac or an iOS device is that these days it's all too easy. How I yearn for the struggle, the endless tweakery that used to be part and parcel of computer‑based music making. To be honest, a good couple of hours spent trying to make something work did usefully fill the gaping holes left in my schedule by my lack of real creativity.
So it was great to find VFX Host (available from www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/audio/vfxhostsoftware.html but not yet on the Mac App Store). This is usually bundled with SM Pro Audio's V‑Machine, but the software is available as a free download, and its party piece is that it allows you to install and run Windows VST plug‑ins on a Mac. It will also run Mac VST plug‑ins, but if you have a yearning to use some of the truly questionable VST instruments and plug‑ins that only exist in Windows VST format, you're now in luck! Routing in and out of your DAW is taken care of by Cycling '74's wonderfully useful SoundFlower, so look forward to losing many hours that you could have used to make money! Now where's that copy of Halion String Edition I've never used...
Not a month goes past without new apps appearing that take a different approach to making music on a handheld device, attempting to overcome their inherent limitations, as well as to take advantage of the amazing possibilities.
NanoStudio (£8.99$14.99 at the App Store) from www.blipinteractive.co.uk is an app that combines up to four analogue patchable synthesizers with a sample‑based looping drum machine, basic sequencer and effects. What sets it apart is the ability to upload your own samples from a PC or Mac using the NanoSync application over WiFi, and the export of mixed WAV files back in the other direction. The latest version adds support for the Akai SynthStation, and you can also download a free copy to run on your Mac as a trial for the mobile version, with the down sides being that you can't use multitouch capability or carry it around in your pocket!
Looptastic by www.soundtrends.com is an imaginative and intuitive take on the loop-mixing approach to music making. With access to over 900 loops, 13 real‑time effects, automatic time-stretching, triple‑zone mixer and scratch strip, Looptastic also allows the importing of your own loops via iTunes Shred Documents. If you have a colleague or friend with an iPad, you can also sync two copies of LoopTastic via WiFi for collaborative mix action! The app is available as a free cut‑down version, or you can get the full Producer version for £5.99$9.99.
FunkBox (as used by Gorillaz) is based on a range of classic analogue drum machines from the '70s and '80s, and lets you export both audio and MIDI patterns for use in your DAW. For more information, go to www.syntheticbits.com. Get retro for only £1.79$2.99!
GarageBand — that normally trouble‑free, surprisingly comprehensive DAW given away with Macs — decided to play up recently. I had decided to spend more time with Tim, the friendly instructor who takes you through GarageBand 11's Learn To Play lessons, for reasons that would be obvious if you have ever heard me try to play the keyboard. Only a couple of lessons are installed by the iLife 11 DVD, so to get the total of 40 lessons for piano and guitar you need to download them from within GarageBand itself. Not a problem if you have high‑speed broadband, as the total file size is 26.27GB! Even with our 10MBit connection (not fast by global standards maybe, but round my way that's quick!), it still took the best part of two days. The problem was that several files refused to complete the download process, and as soon as they did, they requested to be downloaded again. This caused GarageBand to put up warning messages that prevented normal operation. Luckily, the solution is quick and effective, but smacks of the kind of issue that used to keep us up all night with Mac OS 9 (happy days!).
So quit GarageBand, go to System/Users/"Username”/Library/Preferences and remove the file called apple.com.garageband.plist. This preference file will be rebuilt when you relaunch GarageBand, the downloads should report completion, and you can go back to spending more quality time with Tim.