Monthly archives: September, 2012

Babysitting music

So… the Pantsofdeath musical endeavour has rules:

The first rule is that I have to finish projects (unfinished projects were the bane of my music producing past) because the only way to work through a creative block is to finish what you are doing, you cannot pass the next turd until you have finished the one you are on. This strategy is very effective incidentally.

The second rule is I have to post what I produce. This one is quite important, because you can never tell what your listeners will like. Some of the tracks I was initially lukewarm about have turned out to be my most popular.

This weekend I was babysitting alone for three nights in a row – that is a lot of time, so I finished a blocking project (babysitting music part one) and started a new project (part two). I quite like them both but they have a different vibe from my usual bus music – see what you think.
Incidentally this first track, which was blocking me for quite some time, no longer contains a single scrap of the original – all the original work got edited out or replaced in in the course of the process, so really this is a completely new track. Weird huh…


I was featured on iosmusicandyou last week, which was awesome and made me feel like Bono* for a few moments…

Interview here

* actually feeling like Bono turned out to be a bit sweaty and leathery so I was quite glad to be back feeling like me.

In dun a review on a website with actual readers!

Link here to my impaktor review.


I am quite pleased with it, not least because I got a copy of impaktor, which rocks.

I will do anything for free apps… so long as they are good.

Bus Music – 29 and 30

AppRegret Drums

Yes – I know, I go on about AppRegret a lot, yet all the apps I have bought have cumulatively cost me less than a cheap guitar, and now have the kind of studio that would have cost me thousands a few years ago, ON AN iPAD I can carry around with me wherever I go. How completely fantastic is that?! And all this means I have vomited out 28 completed tracks since March.. which is pretty good I think considering I probably finished about a dozen tracks between tha ages of 18 and 22 when I used to spend every weekend hunched over a 4-track surrounded by guitars, junkshop synths and outdated drum machines.

Talking of drum machines I promised a drum machine episode of AppRegret so here it is….

Of all music technology I am probably most familiar with drum machines, I got my first along with my first truly awful vesta-fire MR-30 4-track, was a BOSS DR-220E machine, upgraded shortly after that to a roland TR-505, I also had a Roland Drumatix TR-606 for a bit. Eventually I got hold of a Yamaha QY10 which I then upgraded to a Yamaha QY20, and then I kind of stopped making music.. point is I programmed a lot of drums, and I was very very bad at it to start with, and I took a long time figuring out what made a good drum track, and then I spent a lot of time coming up with a bunch of tricks featuring silent choking, cheap FX pedals, doubling up certain sounds etc just to make the tat I had to work with sound OK, so while I still stand in awed confusion gawping at the functionality of the better synths on iOS I am in my comfort zone when it comes to the drum apps… compared with the amazing synths available on iOS the rhythm machines are a little lacking. There are some good ones though.

to the Apps:

DM1. Really solid interface, intuitive. You can set pan, length, pitch and volume for every step of every drum. Whole bunch of effects, you can set two at a time and each is configurable via an xy pad. Serious number of kits and I like the sample quality. BUT, doesn’t appear to have choke groups which makes coding hats a real pain in the bum, you can simulate a open hi hat choke with the note length but that is a bit of a faff.

Stochastik. Probably my favourite drum app. It is a probability based drum machine. 16 steps x 15 parts. Each step is represented as a probability that the part will sound on that step, full green bar means 100% and then you can reduce the height of the bar through yellow to red to represent decreasing probability. Each part has a global volume, and you can set a toggle to vary volumes by chance. Lends itself to busy and frantic rhythms because more minimal patterns can become jarringly gappy if the probabilities turn off to many sounds. No choke groups means a poor choice for high hats. Export up to 16 generated bars at a time to Audiocopy. Large number or high quality drum sounds to choose from. Not particularly pretty, but an excellent and seriously useful tool!

Werkbench. OK, not strictly a drum machine, but you could use it that way. More of a groove box. A sequencer with two 16 step grids. Each step can be allocated a different sound recorded through your iPad mic. Pitch, volume, panning, filter etc can be changed for each step. 4 patterns on each grid mean you can create bigger more complex grooves. Watch any of the demo videos the developers make and you will want this app. Serious fun and with real creative possibilities. I haven’t played with the newly updated version yet but there is a load of extra configurability built in..

Drumtrack HD. This app pains me, because if it worked like it should it would be my ideal drum application. At first glance it looks a bit like DM1 with a sequence grid with 16 parts and 16 steps, however each of those parts can be split into multiple sounds based on velocity or chance. What does this mean? Well, you can set a hard sound for velocity over 90%, something softer from 80%-90% and so on so you can get a really nice bit of realism into your tracks, velocity for each step can be set as a sliding scale. You can also configure the sounds to vary using probability, so a given voice will use sample 1 10% of the time, sample 2 35% of the time, sample 3 10% of the time, and will remain silent the remaining 45% of the time. This can’t be set at a step level like Stochastic, but globally for each part. Comes with a nice set of kits. Great effect can be made drawing velocity/pan etc in the “bar chart” type view for each piece. You can import your own samples (tip – if you do this use iFunBox as you can load a bunch of samples very quickly and the app appears to support folders in the user sample directory) and make custom kits. All this should make Drumtrack HD a world beater, however I have had trouble with crashes, with patterns not saving and being lost and there are a number of annoying bugs when changing screens, especially when changing from the kit customization screen back to the sequencer. DAMN YOU Drumtrack HD – WHY do you have to be so buggy – I love you but I can’t rely on you, at any moment you might turn round and lose my data!!

S4-Icomposer and S4-Rcomposer. if you are just starting out get these immediately! Effectively the same app with a different skin and a different sample set loaded, so I will refer to this as one app. 10 voice x 16 step grid, patterns can be up to 4 pages (64) steps long each step can be set with one of three volumes. Patterns can be saved in one of 8X8 slots (A1-8 to H1-8). There are effects with an x/y pad to control them, and a cutoff x/y pad too, a ‘slicer’ and ‘roller’ to add colour to live performances. The only things these apps are really missing is a song mode and the ability to load other kits. You can even save your patterns and audiocopy them for loading into other apps. Did I mention these are FREE?? The I composer is loaded with ‘industrial’ sounds and the R composer is loaded with a pretty punchy late ’80s sounding electric kit. Oh, and the hats choke each other (amazingly missing in other apps) so all in all a couple of excellent apps.

NanoStudio – is worth mentioning here because the TRG/drum pad instrument is a really good rhythm composer. If you like to compose using a grid then probably not for you as the grid editor, while excellent in most ways, is a bit fiddly for drum composition in my opinion. You can load all of your samples into Nanostudio using Nanosync and can create custom kits from any of them. every strp in every voice can be edited for pan/volume/velocity etc. Probably best suited to those (like me) who prefer to compose by tapping along rather than filling a grid.

SampleLab – I got this one when it was on sale, either free or a dollar or two, I forget. I haven’t used it much but it is another groove machine rather than a bespoke drum app. Effectively and 8 voice 16 step grid. Drum sounds can be allocated to any of the voices so could be used as a drum machine, samples can be recorded or pasted into the app and you can select all or part of those samples and allocate the resulting sound, or slice of a sound, to a voice. Each step can be edited for pitch, volume etc. Pitch shifting the samples takes a little time (for the app to calculate the new sound) – in general the quality of the pitch shift is excellent and avoids the usual pitch-shifted sound that other apps get when using samples. In a way this makes this app a more serious version of WerkBench, but what WerkBench loses in terms of voices and sample manipulation is makes up for in ease of use and spontenaity, so maybe the comparison is unfair and superficial.

Molten. For an app I have never EVER used in a track I have a massive soft spot for this drum machine. Generally on most machines/apps each beat is split into 4 parts, swing can be added to make the divisions more like 3rds, but with Molten each beat, of EACH INSTRUMENT, can be split into 1-9 divisions, which is mad, and very cool. Each pattern can be made of 1-4 pages each containing 1-4 beats, which means you can create any time signiture you like, with tuplets and paradidles and all sorts of other drumming craziness. the volume on every step you create can be edited too. Also each sound can be messed around with because they are all synthesized and not sampled, this means you can hack around with th pitch and speed and duration and ADSR and EQ and make all sorts of insane beaps and growls and howls. This is kinda what iElectribe can do… but WAY better. One Red Dog almost pulled Molten (or at least pulled Molten support) a couple of months ago because of time constraints, and it was free for a while, thankfully the iOS community persuaded them to keep it going and updates are still flowing. Great app…

Looks nice, but Jesus I am going to stop buying Korg apps. Everyone makes a big fuss about Electribes so when the half price sale came along (as they do regularly) I shelled out for iElectribe. For those of you who do not know (and to be honest it is hard to tell this from the information online and on youtube) it is a really basic drum machine that synthesizes it’s sounds and provides some ability to tweak those sounds to make synthy bleeps and bloops. I have to go with Discchord’s analysis here and say that Molten does it better (not least because it has so much MORE). Obviously where the Electribe/iElectrobe excells is live performance as everything is on the same screen/box and it is geared towards realtime tweakery. If you are a recording iOS musician I wouldn’t bother.


Rebirth – hardware emulation of an 808 and a 909 (with two 303s), but you can get that loads of other places at a fraction of the cost
Rhythm Studio – more emulations of and 808 and a 909 (with a bunch of synths) for about a third of the cost of rebirth.
technobox – 808, 909 and 606


So much happens so fast in the life of a sad iOS music app addict.

Since writing the stuff above a couple of things have happened.

Firstly I bought a copy of DrumJam

I love DrumJam, it is the perfect tool for adding all those congas, bongos, and other ethnic drums I can never remember the name of, to your mix. There is a lot in this app but essentially you have a pattern/loop builder and you have a performance pad which you can use to add ‘live’drums over the top of your pattern. The pattern builder borrows a fair amount from the Smart Drums in GarageBand, there is a square area into which you drop the drums you want, in GarageBand volume is controlled by the Y Axis and Complexity (of rhythm) on the X Axis. With DrumJam volume is also controlled by the Y Axis and the panning is controlled by the X Axis. a second tab gives you the different patterns for each drum, there are 20 variants of each, a third tab gives you filtering on each drum. There are a load of drums to choose from, each one can appear multiple times so there is a massive number of patterns possible. It would be nice, in future releases, to allow some kind of roll-your-own pattern editor for user defined patterns for each sound, but there is plenty to be going on with for now, I am sure someone clever could work out the numbers of possible combinations…. but not me.
The performance pad at the bottom is a wide window into which is dropped a drum or kit. essentially when you touch the pad and move your finger about it plays 16ths (or 8ths or 4ths or whatever you choose, 16ths by default) with volume controlled on the Y axis and an array of samples for that drum/kit on the X axis, the effect is really very good and moving your finger between the samples and dipping up into volume and back to near silence makes for some really fun sounds.
You can record parts and audiocopy them out, there is an excellent 25 minute tutorial on Youtube. Worth every penny I paid.

On a whim, and because I saw the updated review on Discchord’s blog, I bought SynthStation by Akai for 2 Dollars. I mean $2, that’s nothing… so anyway, here’s what I wrote about it:

“One 20 minute bus journey later here are my impressions:

with the 2 mono synths, 1 poly synth, 3 oscillators apiece, and drums, sequencer etc the app this most closely resembles is iSynPoly… in fact it is just like iSynPoly

the presets are pretty good, not ground breaking, but pretty good and definitely useful.
the step editor is really good, well, easy to use anyway, whack a blob where you want the note, stretch it out to a length you like. some pinch zooming should be built in but this is way friendlier then iSP’s crappy editor
The setting the bouncing blob pinging around the xy pad at a speed and trajectory of your choosing is really pretty cool! I want that elsewhere.
three times the drum kits of iSynPoly
horrible horrible little keyboard.
no audiocopy??? WTF?

Not sure how the workflow would be on this to make a whole track but I managed to put together a pretty good 4 part loop within 10 minutes of starting the thing up, which is not a bad learning curve. I am not sure of the target market for this or iSynPoly, both provide similar functionality, both end up sounding a little ‘flat’ because of limited mixing ability and global effects”

Yes – it has no audiocopy, which makes it about as useful as a concrete lifejacket, if SynthStation had audiocopy I can actually see me using it because the sequencer and sounds are quite good, so I would probably make loops to paste into NanoStudio, but no, it is useless.. (and no, it may have export-to-somewhere-else functionality but if it involves me having to use a second machine it doesn’t count as any functionality at all – I write music on THE BUS!!) which serious audio app developer misses out audiocopy?? that’s like marketing a new subtractive synth but forgetting to include any oscillators.. oh, silly us, we didn’t think anyone would need them, maybe in a future release, anyway…

..point is I had splurged two whole dollars. The feature I did like about this app, and the only non-sucking part of iSynPoly, are the drum sections, both apps have multiple kits (15 for iSP and 50 for SS) with some nice samples in. I did think of including them here as drum apps, along with Beatpad, but the lack of audiocopy made that a bit pointless, so on a whim I plugged my ipad in and cranked up iFunBox and found that the kits for both these apps are easily found in their respective samples directories, a little cutting and pasting later and I had 65 new kits for Stochastik and Nanostudio to play with. Yay. Sadly not the case with BeatPad samples as they are in a bespoke format.

While playing about I also found out that you the free S4 apps I spoke about the other day keep all their samples in the main app directory usefully labelled “kick.wav” and “snare.wav” etc. So if you have one, or both of these EXCELLENT free apps (with audiocopy!) and a free copy of iFunbox, and a few drum samples kicking about, you can hand craft your own samples (by simply renaming them) and drop them into the right directory to make your own bespoke S4 machine. How cool is that??

I got BeatPad for free in a recent sale, it looks kinda fun but I haven’t played with it yet so it will have to make the next episode of AppRegret.

Updates to the last Synth Appregret Post:

1. Magellan update came out adding LFO Sync and a whole bunch of other stuff, which just makes Magellan even more awesome than it was already – and STILL only $5… seriously people!

2. Cassini also updated and, so far, it seems they have fixed the bug I was complaining about with the Arp Editor (They did offer to refund me my $3 when I complained to them previously, which makes them lovely app developers… not like SOME (ahem, Drumtrack!).