Monthly archives: March, 2013

Auria Appregret special report

<WARNING – FOUL TEMPERED RANTINGS – AURIA LOVERS PROBABLY OUGHT TO BACK OUT NOW>

 

<HONESTLY, I REALLY GO ON IN THIS ONE>

 

<OK THEN, DON’T SAY I DIDN”T WARN YOU>

 

Auria Appregret special report

I have been on a bit of an app binge the last few weeks. The reason is simple, I got a bonus and once my debts and the tax man had eaten most of it I had enough left for some pocket money. This is a bit of a novelty for me as I usually give myself a $10 a month allowance for apps, or thereabouts, which I agonize over spending. I also upgraded my beloved ipad2 to an ipad4 because I have noticed the extra load since audiobus came out and I started using loopy for more than 6 tracks..

Something I had promised myself for a while was Auria, mostly because it’s billed as a “Proper” DAW and I want to improve the mastering on my tracks. I knew it would creak on an ipad2 but promised myself I would buy it once I had an ipad4.

Well, “the pricier the App the bigger the AppRegret” they say.

Actually nobody says that but if I have my way they will one day.

It seems to me that one of the big problems with Auria, or it’s perception in the iOS music community, is that it is taken seriously by non-iOS musicians, and that gives it a load more respect than it deserves. Auria looks like a traditional DAW, so people who are familiar with that interface are impressed with it. Certainly it is billed as a “Proper” DAW for iOS, articles talk of iOS music coming of age etc. Sadly Auria is not a “Proper” DAW for iOS, it is a desktop DAW inexpertly shoehorned onto iOS, and it really shows.

Non iOS musicians have a tendency to look down on iOS musicians, the web is full of articles about iOS music apps being “toys”, and there is an overall snobbery that iOS music isn’t “serious”.

This is, of course, complete crap. Those of us old and warty enough to remember the 80’s and 90’s will remember many similar arguments. Electronic music isn’t ‘proper’ music, you can’t put an album together inside a computer, digital can never capture music the way analog can, software synths are not proper synths, hardware is always superior, analog is better, big desktop computers are OK for music but you can’t make an album on a laptop, and on and on and on. Every generation of innovators becomes the next generation of nay sayers.

The side effect of this snobbery however is that when an application like Auria comes along, that attracts the approval of non-iOS musicians, it gets taken very seriously indeed.

The sound data you are working with on an iPad is digital. No app is going to record your data any better than any other app.  This is the beauty of digital sound recording. If I ACP/Audiobus a sound from a synth it will be identical in ANY piece of software I put it in. My 8 bar loop from Addictive Synth will be the same whether I paste it into Loopy, or Nanostudio, or BM2.

So what is it that an iDAW brings to the table? Two things, workflow and post processing. Workflow is how you get the sound into the app, how you can move it about, trim it, cut it, arrange it, duplicate and delete it. Post Processing is the adaptation of that sound: mix, master, compression, EQ levels, FX etc

While Auria allows you to record in directly with Audiobus (resource permitting) and you can record multiple tracks simultaneously from external sources, it fails where workflow is concerned. I have not heard anyone say anyone positive about workflow in Auria, the best I have heard from anyone is that ‘it is a pain but you get used to it’, most people seem to feel that it is awkward and laborious. Personally I think it is dreadful, everything in Auria works like a desktop application, the endless highlight>click menu>select process makes it miserable to work with on an ipad. Seriously, if you work in loops and you need to highlight>edit menu>duplicate just to copy/paste that loop ONCE there is a lot of tapping. At least on a desktop you would have a right click option, but on iOS its all menu/select. Bad bad bad.

photoMENU

So that leaves the post processing, and to be fair this is where most people agree that this is where Auria shines. I don’t. It may be that my club-destroyed ears are incapable of hearing the subtleties but I was very unimpressed with the basic out-of-the-box offerings. The Reverb is good, I can’t deny that, and it should be given that applying reverb to a couple of tracks appears to eat up the whole memory of the ipad. Chorus and delay were poor, to my ears both sounded awful. I was ambivalent to the compression, in fact i either didn’t notice it at all or it stepped on the sound so hard it made it sound lousy. The EQ was difficult to understand (thanks to the “this is how it looks in a proper studio, tweak my Hz!” interface) and I wasn’t at all impressed with the results. I am told that for a mere extra $30 there is an excellent EQ plugin that actually uses a visual/touch interface that you would expect from an iOS application in the first place, and also sounds great. This leads me to believe that the crappy interface and unimpressive results of the built in post processing is deliberate. It would be impossible to market a DAW without these built in FX, however as a business model there is no incentive to make them anything other than adequate, otherwise why would people buy the plugins? This is surely the weakness of the IAP model, dissatisfaction with the product is built in.

photoEQ

Auria struggles for resource on even the most up to date iPad. In my first foray with Auria I started getting “Freeze tracks” messages coming up only half a dozen tracks in. I was shocked, I had 6 parts pasted in (each only 8 bars long), and had only some EQ/Chorus/Reverb set on those, and Auria was running out of memory. An ipad, for all it can do, does not have extra RAM slots and is not expandable, if you are building an ipad application is would seem to make sense to build that application with some reference to the available resources on the hardware, once again this feels like a port from a desktop application. Even the Auria documentation when discussing track freezing mentions resource constraints on desktop, laptop and tablet…

After using Auria for a couple of tracks I am back using Nanostudio for the bulk of my work. Always unsure of my assessment, and aware of my grumpiness around apps I don’t get on with,  I asked around to see if anyone else had had the same sort of experience with Auria. My sample size is not huge, probably too small to be significant really, but I did find a few people who are happy with it. It does sound like investing the extra money in the plugins improve the user experience considerably. I also heard from a number of people who, like me, have used it a couple of times and have uninstalled it or never used it again.

I would like to believe that a superior sound can be achieved using Auria, after all it cost me more than Nanostudio and BM2 together, however I am not prepared to throw good money after bad to find out. More importantly though I cannot work with that UI, when I am making music I work fast, very fast. If I am ‘in the zone’ I can get a whole track together and completed in a couple of hours, and for that to be possible I need a UI that doesn’t get in my way, and for that reason alone I am unlikely to be using Auria much in the future.

 


Musings on FAWM

InFAWMation – testing “The Rules”

Most of you will be familiar by now with my rules for creativity, last month I decided to go in for FAWM (February Album Writing Month) which meant I would be hacking out 14 tracks in a month. As it turned out I was traveling last month which meant my usual 25 minute commute would become a couple of 24 hour journeys (20 hours in the air and about 4 hours in various airport business lounges) and also 2 weeks staying in a hotel. No Kids + no kids = plenty of time. In the end the 14 tracks took me 18 days. However that is not to say the process was easy, there was no waiting for inspiration to strike, I had to get on and produce.
(link to the album at the bottom of the post)
(hee hee I said “bottom”)

For those of you new here my rules boil down to:

1. Finish what you have started.
2. Publish what you have finished.

There is obviously a load more to it than that, but you will have to go and read my previous post for that info.

to do FAWM I had to add an extra sub-rule:

3. Settle for “good enough”. This is already an existing rule really, I have droned on at length about perfectionism being the enemy of creativity, generally perfectionism is a method people unconsciously employ to prevent them producing anything, typically because they lack confidence in their abilities, or fear criticism of their output. FAWM was not going to work if I spent 3 days polishing and remastering a track, or a week re-recording a string section to make it sound just so. Arrange it, add the FX, tweak the levels and go.

Here is the final track list and some thoughts:

1. The Beginning 05:14
I am not sure about this track. I collaborated with my good friend Sokpupit on this because he uses Figure and iKaossilator a lot and can get a whole track out a lot faster than me as a result. So my original thoughts on starting FAWM were that the Sokpupit approach would let me get the tracks out a lot faster. I used Loopy to arrange all the strands into a track, this was about the point I realized that Loopy could be really useful to my workflow. I got the track done and out very fast but to be honest I am not overly fond of it.

2. Introspection 04:44

Mostly came from an experiment with PPG Wavemapper which I had just bought, and a couple royalty free samples. Drums feature my usual array of itchy top end sounds. As I had not liked the workflow in track 1 particularly I was experimenting with going more minimal – less parts means quicker work right? This is also my first serious use of Audiobus, recording to Audioshare, and then Loopy to background Audio the various parts while I jam along over the top.

3. What’s wrong with being sexy? 04:32

I really like iPolySix, but seldom use it – this came from me playing about with ipolysix sequencer and kaoss Pads. PPG wavemapper still fresh and new so a bit of that too. Generic bass samples in Nanostudio TRG pads. Again trying (for me) to keep this minimal. Most of the work here came from re-speeding and pitch shifting the vocal sample. The spinal tap sample was added at the last minute, just because…

4. Decomposition Blues 04:58
Love how this one ended up, largely wavemapper and DM1 again but addictive synth got a look-in because I fear I have been ignoring it recently. The sample from iZombie fitted perfectly and I was really pleased with the way it sounded.

5. Choices 04:41
This is where things started getting interesting. I didn’t feel like doing another track, I had no ideas, so I thought I would mess about with “random” features and see what happened. Here’s what the SC description said:

” I created the main stems for this on the bus yesterday morning and tinkered with it while waiting for jobs to run at work. Hated it. Absolutely hated it. But this morning I listened with ‘fresh ears’ and after rearranging the first 32 bars I think it’s pretty good. Classic starts small ends huge kind of instrumental.
The Unique Selling Point of this track, and hence the name, is that it is all produced by hitting the Random button in various apps over and over and then making choices as to which things to keep and which to discard.

Rhythm/bass section is:
Random patterns from Drumjam, heavily overlayed
Random bassline from Bassline
2 random sequences from Addictive Synth each using a randomly generated patch

On top of this we have some other lines made up of
2 randomly generated patches from Magellan
1 (or maybe 2) random patches from PPG Wavemapper
one heavily modified Eden voice using (as it’s root sample) a random patch from Wavemapper”

The key thing here is the application of “Rule 1” – This piece was a horrible mess of sound, but going away and coming back with a fresh approach let me pull something I really liked from a steaming compost heap of samples. Annoyingly the massive fuzzy saw that kicks in halfway through, which was randomly generated in magellan, was lost in an ipad restore… I loved that patch…

6. A Quiet Moment of Bliss 06:05

Quick and easy. started off with a little figure Jam, I liked the bass and took it out, added the slowed down 303 sound from Bassline – I wanted it to fade in so I sampled it onto 2 TRG pads, added an bandpass filter to one and then played them both simultaneously, the bpf track faded out while the non bpf track faded in. The Figure bass line burbled along. The lead line was originally figure too, for some reason I couldn’t get it right so I hacked a similar sound in EDEN and played it out there. that strange choir-ey pad was from PPG Wavemapper and (I think) is beautiful. This was not at all like pantsofdeath track and seemed to take a lot of people by surprise. It seems to be very popular on the whole though.

7. The Baron 04:42
and
8. Fitaintbroke 04:46
and
9. Paradox 03:48

I am not keen on any of these tracks, for me they constitute the low point of the album, however Rule 2 comes into force here, publish what you have finished, and I was right to do so because at least one friend has declared that these are their favorite tracks of the album. These tracks are testiment to the fact that it is really bloody difficult to do music in an aeroplane, so much ambient noise makes it really hard to write. Also having 14 consecutive hours to write music is not the same as having an hour a day to write music for two weeks. Ears get tired and inspiration drys up.

(Aside – listening back now I actually like these a lot better than I thought I did, especially The baron – a couple of weeks distance can work wonders! Also The Baron was written in an airline lounge (quite) whereas Paradox and Fitaintbroke though are too dense, too much sound, and that is the aeroplane effect)

10. Dude or Dude not! 05:36

Seriously – I have no memory of writing this at all, I was drunk and jetlagged and must have been messing about in iKaossilator before I went to sleep – woke up to find the track on my ipad, listened to it and didn’t remember it at all – I even had to search through the preset lists of ikaossilator to make sure it wasn’t one of theirs. I liked the groove though so added Yoda, on a whim, and voila. This has happened before when I have been drunk or (when I had surgery) drugged out of my skull. Moral of the story – if it was good enough for ’70s rockstars it is good enough for you, if you are stuck get shitfaced and leave your ipad out, the tune fairies my leave you something you can work with!

11. Passive Aggressive Missive 05:53

I broke my rules for this one. I spent three days working on a track and getting nowhere. I was, admittedly, very jetlagged and so not up to much, but also after 10 tracks in 12 days I was all used up. The track I was working on carried on getting crappier and more cluttered, I added pieces, removed pieces, restructured the thing, all to no avail, it was awful. So come the Friday evening I wiped it clean and fired up impaktor. I hadn’t used impaktor for a long time because it requires silence to use it, and I do music on the bus. In my hotel room I had silence. I love impaktor for many reasons, but mainly it is a very inspiring app to play with. Within an hour I had this track done. The sample from “Portal 2” was suggested by my friend Paul as we had a beer that evening and I added that, finishing the track in record time. Love this one.

Interestingly I couldn’t use Loopy as the central app for this one. By this stage my method had become quite clear. I was creating loops and adding them to loopy, and using loopy to play them in the background as I added more sounds/parts. Impaktor (on an ipad 2) will not start up with loopy running *(at least with 12 tracks enabled) and so I had to create all the impaktor stuff “blind” so to speak.

12. The Dark Mood Returns 04:52

This was a chordbot experiment. The melancholy mood exactly what I was feeling waking up 10500 miles from home on a weekend. Interesting experiment copy/pasting .mid files from chordbot into nanostudio, and audiocopy/paste from chordbot into loopy/nanostudio. Recycled the drumline from another track at a different tempo from Stochastik. Lazy boy!

Really proud of this – but not a typical pantsofdeath track.

13. The End 04:56

The Dark Mood Returns was finished by 10.00 am on the Saturday – there was a snowstorm outside, so I hacked together this one in a few hours. This one IS a typical pantsofdeath track. All played into loopy via Audiobus (well, mostly). I lost the patch for the bass (again -dumbass) which is why the bass in the chorus is a spliced sample of the bass in the verse… more royalty free samples of women singing re-pitched through Samplelab and re-timed in loopy.

14. After it has all gone 04:40

I wanted the last track to be like an epilogue, this one is mostly wavemapper, I think the the drums are nodebeat and Molten, which is unusual for me. All of this is Loopy, I only ACPd the parts from there to Nanostudio for arrangement and mastering at the end. This track was very quick – I did the whole thing in bed Sunday morning before going down to breakfast.


AppRegret and AppForgiveness

So when we last met, dear reader, I went through a big list of Apps and, amazingly, only regretted a few of them. In January I went cold turkey and tried not to buy any Apps, I think I managed about 2 weeks then February brought FAWM and the challenge of creating 14 tracks in 28 days.

So I have a backlog of things I want to write about: Apps, FAWM and creativity, programming drums. The third one of them has been in the pipeline for a long time, I get a lot of feedback about my drum programming and it is uniformly positive, a lot of people ask me about drum programming so I said I would write a post about it. That will have to come later though, in this post I am discussing Apps.

Obviously Apps are a bit of an obsession with me, however now that I own pretty much all the significant music apps and seem to have finally learned from my mistakes I buy less than I used to, which means less AppRegret. One thing I have noticed in the last few months is AppForgiveness, this is where I revisit apps that I originally regretted buying and either because of an update, or because of a change in my workflow/understanding, I find that I like them.

So here’s another list, and some thought:

***** UPDATE *****

I forgot to mention

Cassini – yes, Cassini, I know I have been very very rude about Cassini in the past, while I am well aware that it is a real grown up synth with a bucketload of sound generating features I have always complained that it is incredibly dull, especially the badly named shipped presets. It’s a bit like a gorgeous restaurant in an amazing location that only serves mashed potato. However I have found myself using Cassini a load of times recently because it where is really shines is producing big stringy pads in the background with a very slow attack and gentle release. Given the amount of use I am giving the thing I have to declare this app forgiven.

*******************

Loopy HD. Yes, I mentioned Loopy last time, I said it was good for changing loop speeds. That is still true, but now Loopy is central to my whole creative purpose. This is partly because of it’s ease of use and partly because it makes an excellent background Audio Player. In the past I would generally work out what a part needed to be in Eden in Nanostudio, then go to a synth, play/record that part and audiocopy/paste back into Nanostudio. Yes, I know, it sounds mad but until 2 months ago that was the bulk of my workflow. Now I build a groove or drumline or bassline and whack it into Loopy and play it in the background while I fire up another synth and jam along over the top until I get a bit I like, then either ACP/audiobus that part into Loopy and so on. Frequently the bulk of a track is built in Loopy this way and then each part is ACP’d into Nanostudio for mastering. The more fluent I get with Loopy the more I use it. The only exception appears to be jamming over Loopy with Impaktor, which can’t be done on an ipad2 because Loopy eats up a load of resource that impaktor will not start up without.

Audiobus. Say no more. Audiobus, brilliant. I use it all the time now, either into Loopy or into….

AudioShare – yes, AudioShare has come into its own with Audiobus compatability. Recent updates have ironed out a lot of the er… quirks that I found so irritating in this app. The sample trimming is still a bit crappy so I tend to use NanoStudio for my sample editing, but being able to record the output of a performance directly into AudioShare is very very useful. AppForgiven

BS-16i – this is a tale of love and forgiveness. I felt used and violated when I bought BS-16i because it was so bloody hard to get any sounds out of it, the AudioCopy functionality required you to import a .mid file which would then render to a wav for copy/pasting. Sheesh. Useless to me with my one-device-only policy. Then they built in AudioBus compatability, and now I can add quality soundfont sounds to my tracks quickly and easily. From deleted and obscure to a core app in just one update. Excellent work! AppForgiven!

SynthX – this app has all the hallmarks of an AppRegret superstar. Ugly ugly interface, bought when drunk.. but I really enjoy SynthX, this was the app that broke my brief AppFast and I really like it. Yes, it does look like a bad BBC Micro program from 1984. Yes it does have a sound so distinctive as to be considered a one-sound-pony, and yes, the sound editing functionality is unbelieveably crap with the worst UI I have ever seen. But it is incredibly fun to play and if you choose a good scale and patch (!!) you can add some wonderful screaming solos to a track.

Thumbjam, combining the things I love from BS-16i and SynthX – Thumbjam! Love the easy sweepy screen and scale choices, excellent choice of soundfonts. Result – pure gold!

Novation Launchkey – free, so no appregret. Nice clear UI with good use of touchscreen realestate, but also no way of getting sounds out or editing/creating patches, changing tempo, etc. I hope all these things become built in because this thing sounds great. Currently useless. (I know this app is to accompany the novation harware, but it would be a shame to bind them together completely)

Remaster – apparently I installed this and then uninstalled it without ever launching it – I can only assume it was lost when I restored my machine. Looks good… haven’t used it yet…

Chordbot – one of a range of chord choosing apps iTunes Genius started offering me, I bought this in the middle of FAWM because I was stuck – was surprised how good the sounds that come out of it are, I figured I would use it to create a chord progression and then would actually play those chords in other apps, but while playing with it I found some sounds I really liked. If exported as midi files or individually ACP’d out to Nanostudio you can get great results quickly. I will be using this again… and soon.

PPG Wavemapper. I felt like I was staring down the barrel of the AppRegret gun with this one. As you all know I hated PPG Wavegenerator, I hated the UI, the sounds it made, everything. Wavemapper is the opposite of this. All is forgiven Wolfgang, I LOVE Wavemapper. I tend to use it for pads/sound effects/ambient leads, I am also very lazy as I generally pick a patch at random, and then press the Random button over and over until I get a sound I like. Not the most scientific use of a pretty deep app, and one that barely explores its sound making capabilities, but quick, easy, and effective, with new and interesting sounds a few clicks away. I wish the patch saving process was more intuitive because I keep losing patches I would like to keep. My fault, not theirs I fear.

Genome. I have owned this for 2 months now without actually using it. I have plans for it… I will get back to you!

iMini – the first Album I owned was Replicas by Gary Numan (and those Tubeway blokes). Legend has it that they went into the studio to record their second album and someone had left a Minimoog in there, Gary poked about at it, liked the sound, and the synth became central to the whole album and sound. To say that the sounds of the Minimoog are influential in my life is to understate the case quite seriously. 34 years on (*JESUS – How old am I???) I find myself playing the first few bars of Metal, Our Friends Electric, Down in the Park, etc whenever I fire up a synth. In fact Metal, along with the bass intro to ‘Heart and Soul’ by Joy Division, is my default audition for any new synth. iMini sounds amazing, it is everything I want from an Analog Synth… and it looks great, and I love it, but the only way to get sound out is to bung it into Tabletop (where the poly feature is disabled) and Audiocopy from there. The loss of the poly feature is due to resource limitations apparently, that’s OK I guess as in Minimoog was a mono synth anyway. The big problem is having to use Tabletop as it completely wrecks my usual workflow. However…

Tabletop – I had to reinstall this because of iMini. I want to use iMini, and so I need Tabletop. In the past I have been very rude about how tabletop sounds, VERY rude indeed. This is because previously Tabletop sounded like shit. their $10 IAP synth sounds way worse than any number of free synths. The demo songs that they supply sound like a retro salute to the home keyboards of a bygone age… (the ’80s). However, now they have a great synth (iMini) and a good solid beatbox (iMPC) Tabletop can now actually be used to make decent music. I listened to a couple of tracks by Artists whose work I respect the other day and, for the first time, heard tabletop tracks that were (stand back…) good. They sounded good. This is a bit of a surprise for me, and now I have to revisit Tabletop and play with it. All the In App Purchases still make me angry, especially because of the quality of some of them, and I doubt I would finish and master a whole track in tabletop, but I may use it to build loops and export them into something else… I may yet forgive it. However, as I have already coughed up for iMPC and iMini their IAP bundle for $39(?) isn’t looking very attractive… yes, possibly AppForgiven

Talking for forgiving apps I had deleted I also reinstalled Rhythm Studio yesterday. I deleted it in a recent cull and hadn’t used it for months anyway, but the devs have been happily building in new stuff all the while. I have always been fond of Rhythm Studio, but never used it for much, but it really is looking pretty good at the moment… the new 303 sounds great. well worth a revisit.