I wrote this review back in December but it never got posted, just ran across it.. I had seen the app blogs talk about Gestrument and I thought it looked pretty good, but at that time it had no ACP/Recording functionality and so I decided not to buy it because for me no ACP is pretty much a deal breaker. Then Gestrument got ACP/Record, and I got a promo code, and playtime ensued.. obviously now Audiobus enabled too!
The App comes with a series of tutorials that you can load, really just a set of preset projects, each of which illustrate a different feature of the product. I had a play around and was very impressed by the built in sounds and the music that the tutorials produced, and tweeted the world to the effect that “Gestrument is really cool, sounds excellent, no idea how I would ever use it”.
And then I actually used it in a track (Zommiewood , and then more extensively in the instrumental version Nozommiewood) , suddenly I came to a whole new conclusion: Gestrument is not only very very cool, but is a serious addition to any iOS musician’s arsenal of apps!
So what is it and what does it do?
Well, the one sentence description is that it’s a big XY pad that you can use to play music. For example the first tutorial preset has a flute sound, moving your finger up and down in the Y axis changes the note being played, the X axis controls how frequently the notes change. So in this preset if you swipe your finger up and down on the right of the screen the flute plays through a scale, but the same action on the left of the screen (which is changing the note every 2 beats) will likely result in only the first and last notes playing, unless you move your finger very slowly.
So that is the basic idea. There are a bunch of parameters that alter this simple behaviour:
Pitch Fluctuation – this is a slider to the left of the screen, if you set that to its lowest level then swiping a finger up and down will run through the notes in the order they appear on the keyboard, set it to it’s maximum and moving your finger in the Y axis will cause random notes from your scale/chord to play and you can slide somewhere in between those extremes.
Rhythm Randomness – this is a similar slider but controls how closely the pad adheres to the note lengths across the X axis, so when it is at it’s minimum and you swipe through a scale in the quaver section you will play an even flow of quavers, but set to it’s maximum the lengths of the notes will vary considerably.
Pulse density: this slider controls whether notes will change while your finger is stationary.
Scale Morph: you can set 2 scales/chords in the settings, if this bar is to the left you will be playing scale/chord A, to the right you are playing B , in the middle…. well you get the idea.
Only two touches are enabled on this instrument, you can use a pinch gesture to control volume, also there is an angle gesture that can be used to move one of the parameter sliders. You decide which parameter you want to use the angle gesture by clicking the little angle button next to that parameter’s slider.
The chord/scale itself is set on the settings page, the only other screen this app has, where you select a set of notes that the pad will play.
OK, so far so good, but that was just Tutorial 1 with the (excellent) flute sound, but you can play up to 8 voices simultaneously! You can either use the internal synth that has 128 really good quality preset sounds, or you can use the app as a Midi controller and play other instruments instead. (As an experiment I played the 2 synth engines in Magellan with voices 1 and 2 in Gestrument, setting it up was easy, even for me and I never use MIDI for anything! )
For each voice you can set max/min pitches, durations and velocities, pitch fluctuation range, the max amount of rhythm variation and the midi send channel, this is very useful because if you creating a string section or a brass section you do not want instruments to be playing notes out of their range as the results will sound extremely artificial and squeaky/growly.
When you play with multiple voices they do not move in unison but rather play different parts of the scale (depending on your slider settings). This is how I came to use the app as I wanted to add a string section and a brass section to my track, I set up the instruments, the two chords I wanted to play, clicked record, moved my finger about (changing the chord morph bar half way through my 8 bar phrase) and that was it – one or two takes and I was done and was more than happy with the result, I have been running about recommending Gestrument to everyone since.
To set the scales/chords for your instruments to play you simply toggle on/off notes on two little keyboards at the top of the settings page, interestingly there is an optional microtonality toggle which means as well as the 12 semitiones of the octave keyboard you can set/add 12 half semitones (hemi-semi tones? I should have paid attention in music class!) to your scale to give a decidedly non-western feel to the musical output.
In short then:
Very short learning curve
Excellent onboard sounds
Laughably easy Midi configuration
Well thought out, well laid out and well executed with (so far) no bugs that I have found
Great playing experience and only one or two fingers required!
I would give it 5 stars – go and buy it now!