Monthly archives: May, 2013

Gestrument review


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!

on an ipad? oh no, no no no no , no, dear me … no

Smitematter just posted a facebook comment to the effect that he has peers in the music community who apparently believe that proper electronic music cannot be made with ipads and iphones. They professed to love his music while believing it was made on a computer, but would apparently not feel the same if they knew it was made on an ipad.

I have written before on the nonsense of this music snobbery. It is self evidently silly because:

1. PC/Mac or ipad the music is all digital, and so sounds exactly the same, because it is the same. Just a series of numbers interpreted by the DAC in your device (Digital Audio Converter, the thing that converts all the 0s and 1s into a signal your speaker/headphones can pump out).

2. I started producing music on a computer in about 1994/5, back then the popular wisdom was that you would need > 300mhz to make music seriously. An ipad first generation runs at about 1ghz and has 500mb of ram in a hightly optimized package. In fact an ipad can probably hold its own against desktop PCs and Laptops from about 6 years ago and produce comparable results. Even if the comparison was against machines 10 years old the fact remains that really good music was routinely being produced on computers 20 years ago, and unless the computer snobs wish to imply that really nothing before 2004 is worth listening to, then their “computer better than ipad” argument doesn’t add up, especially when you consider than many people making computer music are doing it on old hardware anyway.

All the same arguments were leveled against making music on computers when that was new, and against soft synths, and against digital recording, and on and on, the arguments are old, and shrill and hollow.

So why are we hearing them still?

Well, when you have eliminated the pseudo-technical arguments, which is pretty straightforward, what is left? Fear of competition, or of being swamped, or of being found out.

When I first got on the internet back in the early ’90s, before the world wide web, when usenet ruled, many people suddenly became aware that, for the first time in history, they could publish their thoughts to the world without the need for editors and publishers and money. There was a lot of stuff thrown up on the net, still is, loads of it, but we all learned a valuable lesson back then.

Prior to the ‘democtratization’ of publishing through the internet it was a common saying that “everybody has a novel in them”. What we learned is that that isn’t true, everyone does not have a novel in them, or even a short story, actually most of us can’t write a thing. What we learned by putting the means of production into the hands of everyone is that people with talent are still quite rare. Fast forward to now, until very recently the means of production of electronic music has been in the hands of the few. The software has been expensive, the learning curve has been precipitous, the price of entry has been high. Suddenly the price of entry is affordable and you can guarantee that the people complaining about it are the ones with the least confidence in their talent. At the end of the day it is talent that will matter. If anyone who wants to make electronic music can do so then the talented ones will rise to the top and the rest will not.

And that is really what it is all about isn’t it? Music is about the enjoyment the listener gets from the listening, and while a tiny number of music snobs and pseudo intellectuals may rub their chins and claim that they can hear the differences in the music made on one platform to the next the listening population will like it, or not. And really, if anyone is listening THAT closely, they probably aren’t enjoying the music anyway. – Appregret and then AppForgiven and maybe AppLove

I have been using a fair amount this last week. Anyone watching my twitter feed a couple of weeks back will know that I uninstalled it (having never used it), along with a load of other apps I wasn’t using. Amidio got in touch immediately to know if there was anything I would rather would do. This sort of ultra responsiveness from a dev is very impressive and I felt a bit guilty as I hadn’t really given a chance, I had opened it, not liked the interface, and shut it again. The feedback I am getting back from the community is that many of you had done exactly the same thing. In fact I think ALL of you had done the same thing!

Anyway – a couple of evenings playing about and i came to the following conclusions, is an app with great potential, but needs to decide where it’s market lies.

Let me explain.

In there are effectively 4 (or 5) instruments: drums (16 kits, 8 voices), bass synth (20 presets but editable in terms of wave/enelope etc), a chord synth (16 sounds) and a vibes section, that is split into two halves and allows to you play one of 32 preset sounds on each half on a sort of kaoss pad type thing.

Now, for your serious iOS musician the single page interface, relatively cramped realestate, and limited number of sounds for the chords/vibes section mean that this app looks and feels like a toy.
The feedback I have had from a dozen or so iOS musicians seems unanimous that the neon UI and one screen interface is enough to turn them off before they try. I believe the vibe/chord section will turn away all but the most determined iOS musician. This looks like a beginner app for a casual user, which is fair enough, there is a big market for those apps and I am really not it. But they had added audiobus support, there must be more to it… so I dug a bit further.
On the left of the screen is the drum and bass synth. These are a different story. 16 drumkits is as many or more than a lot of drum machines ship with. The kits themselves sound good and are useful. The interface to program the drums allows you to select 3 levels of volume and a mute (which comletely deadens any sound from a previous beat) for every step – this means you can build really funky and useful beats very fast. The bass synth has 2 levels of volume and the same mute functionality, a good number of bass presets and the ability to edit the sound extensively.

For an iOS musician the left of the screen is a really handy drum/bass synth and sequencer that can be used to create a groove at breakneck speed.

So if, like me, you tend to build your tracks from a drum/bass groove could be really useful for you and I would recommend it!

This is why I am excited by the news that Amidio are going to make a drum app soon.

Amidio, if you are reading, if you took, ditched the chord/vibe section, extended the drum/bass sections across the screen to 32 steps, and added a few more kits and sound editing options I will be first in the queue, with $10-15 in hand, to buy the Amidio Drum/Bass synth!!

Break the rules, get blocked.

Break the rules, get blocked.

I know, I know – it is the cliche to end all cliches, writing about having writers block, the last ditch topic for every hack columnist and blogger in the world. Well I am no better than they! I do have an excuse though because I wrote a blog post previously about my creative process and my Rules that I use to keep me creating music. Well I broke those rules and now I must pay.

So the rules, for any of you who don’t know them are:

1. Finish what you have started.

2. Publish what you have finished.


3. do not try to be cool or relevant, do not censor your own work to that end.There is obviously a bit more to it than that or my previous blog post would have been a bit pithy, terse even.

So anyway, what happened?

Like all good raconteurs I have distilled the issue into three reasons, there may be more but that doesn’t work so well so three will have to do.

2. My growing body of work
3. Aspirations and ambitions.


In February I flung out an album’s worth of tracks for the February Album Writing Month challenge. I know a lot of you did the RPM challenge, FAWM is like that, but 14 tracks.

14 tracks in 28 days is a lot (unless you are Clif Johnston, @iClifDotMe, and then it is a doddle!). I managed to do them all in about 20 days. I could only do this by sticking closely to my rules. This means that there are a lot of tracks in my FAWM album that are OK, but only OK. Some are good, but not all. It also means that I used up every half baked idea I had kicking about my head to get the work done. When FAWM was finished I was creatively drained. I did manage to get a few tracks out in March and while I am pleased with the production none of them stand out for me. April saw only a couple of tracks, these are better but I feel like I am in a bit of a rut. I does not help that I have been grimly depressed. Sometimes being depressed can be great (creatively speaking) as it makes you produce large bodies of work, albeit somber, dark and angsty work. But sometimes, and this has been one of those times, it makes everything sound like crap in your ears.

My Growing Body of Work:

Rule 2 has always been about quality control, or rather not imposing quality control on yourself. I am supposed to do whatever comes into my head and post it regardless and let my audience decide. The point is it is up to your audience to say what is your good work or less good work. If you try to second guess what your audience will say you will get stuck. Because I have done some 90+ tracks in the last year as PantsofDeath and as Sokpupit I increasingly find I am comparing new work to previous work and finding it lacking.



Proof of this came this week when I produced a track on a completely new pseudonym and did the whole thing in a matter of hours. Nobody knew the track was mine, and frankly nobody was likely to listen to it, so I had it up on soundcloud the same day. Listening back it is a pretty good track too.

I now have, for better or for worse, a “sound”, varied as that may be, and I want to fit in with that. More importantly I have a number of tracks that have proven to be quite popular with my listeners and now I am trying to recreate them because I am addicted to positive feedback. Sad, but true. Sadly this does not work. At All.

Aspirations and Ambitions:

I have been tentatively kicking around with the idea of approaching record companies to see if anyone wants to put out any of my stuff. This is possibly pure hubris on my part, but that’s what has been going on. Unfortunately this leaves me with two big issues. Firstly if I am looking to impress I only want to put out my “Best stuff” which is not working at all. Secondly my work, as anyone who has listened to it knows, tends to feature a lot of samples from movies. I doubt anyone cares much about this while I am sitting in the iOS ghetto on soundcloud, but the prospect of negotiating copyright issues is enough to put me off using those samples. As they are so apparently central to what I do (and there was me thinking I was just adding colour) trying to avoid using them has also led me into creative difficulties.

The upshot of all this is that, for the first time in the 18 months I have been doing this, I have unfinished ideas, tracks and songs all over my ipad. This is a disaster.

Combine this with my AppOverload issue (see previous post) and I am having a really shitty time with the music right now.

Ho hum.

Only one thing for it – clear the decks, wipe the archives, cull the apps and return to first principles. Wish me luck.*


*or call me a wanker – this is the internet after all!





AppOverload, it is a thing, and it is a thing the iOS community seems to be suffering from. While I cannot claim to be a zeitgeist pundit I can say that I have seen maybe a dozen conversation threads, comments, tweets and podcasts all expressing the same issue. Namely that people have too many apps.

Now, I swim in waters that contain a large number of certifiable AppAddicts, people who would choose to let their children go hungry to buy the latest synth, drum machine, DAW or FX processor. Obviously the children would only have to go hungry for an hour or so till they got home, apps aren’t that expensive, but committed buyers nonetheless. So it may be that my sample group is hopelessly and desperately skewed… but who gives a fuck! If the Daily Mail or the Guardian can take the opinions of their friends as evidence of society wide trends in thinking so can I goddamnit. One swallow may not make a summer* but a handful of iOS musicians and bloggers constitutes a landslide in popular opinion!

So what is the issue that the whole world (see what I did there!) is complaining about. Seems to fall into three camps:

1. I cannot fit any more apps on my ipad and my partner refuses to work the streets to get me money to buy one with more memory, the selfish twat.

2. I have so many apps on my ipad that I have become wholly unproductive as every time I open the thing I am bombarded by so many possibilities that, like a child in a toy store, I tinker with everything and produce nothing.

3. I have so many apps on my ipad that the whole thing is just bloody confusing and I cannot find anything, and putting apps in folders is just means that you never ever look at them again, which is sad.

There seem to be two reasons for this, firstly iOS music has been around a while now, and there are a lot of apps, and anyone who has been playing this game for more than a year, even with a modest app buying problem, will have acquired a large number of apps, especially if they follow the blogs and pick up all the sales.

Secondly Audiobus. All those apps that you had uninstalled, shelved, archived, put into folders, stuck on the last page to the right, all of them have become sexy and useable again because they have Audiobus. Also all of the apps that a lot of us were ignoring because they didn’t have ACP and so wouldn’t fit in with our workflow (yes Epic synth, I am talking about you, and you too iMini) are suddenly attractive. I know I have developed a Pavlovian response:  any time an app I don’t have gets  Audiobus my fingers click “buy” and type in my password before I have a chance to say “What? Wait, I don’t want a fart app/dj app/horrible useless piece of tat” but by then it is too late.

Now I have a 64 Gig pad and so I have not got space issues… yet… but AppOverload has certainly taken a toll on my creativity of late. It is not helpful or productive to start the writing process with the thought “Since my last track I have installed apps A, B, C, D, E and F, I have to use those!”

So what I want is an autocull app. I am way to sentimental about some of my synths ever to uninstall them, so autocull will quietly keep a track on ever app I use, anything I haven’t used in 60 days will be moved into a folder, and if I haven’t taken it back out in 5 days it will be uninstalled. I have a suspicion I would be down to twenty apps pretty quickly…

*does anyone else remember Vicious British Boyfriend by King of the Slums, I loved that track!