Monthly archives: September, 2013

Looptical

Looptical Review

I was kindly given a Promo code for Looptical, so there’s no chance of me doing an AppRegret article here! From the outset I would say that Looptical is big and I am unlikely to do it justice if I try and run through all of it’s features so I will try to keep this article to more of a ‘Buyer’s Guide’ type thing.

So, Looptical.

Every now and again an App comes out and everything about it screams out good design, attention to detail, care and love. Looptical is such an app, Mark over at MooCowMusic has spent three years putting this app together and it is a lovely piece of work. I often carp on about UI design as even the best apps can be rendered useless by a poor UI, but Mark has really thought this thing through. Properly.

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This is an iPhone app and the UI is designed around the smaller screen although I was using an iPad4 to run it on. Because it is an iPhone app there are obviously more screens to choose from than an average iPad app but this is not really noticeable in the workflow, in fact I was woken up, slightly hungover, early Sunday morning by marathon running wife and insomniac children and dazed and confused as I was I managed lay down all the stems for a track on Looptical within an hour.

The workflow is simple, everything just makes sense.

So what is it? The name would suggest some sort of looper, like loopy, but this isn’t the case at all. Loops are the building blocks you use to make a track, similar to the pattern/song interface used by drum apps, Rebirth, Tabletop etc. You create loops of multiple parts/instruments, and then sequence them into a song.

Each loop can have from 1 to 999 bars in it and the number of tracks/instruments you have in each loop is limited only by the memory capacity of your device.

There is one track per instrument and the instruments are sample based. The samples included in the app are excellent, I regularly complain about shoddy samples being shipped with sample based products (yes, Beatmaker, I AM talking about you) but all the samples I have listened to have been great quality. There are a mass of drumkits available . You may import your own samples to create instruments also.

You can create your track using a variety of interfaces: drumpads, keyboard/double keyboard/scale keyboard, a chord guitar and a granulizer. The chord guitar lets you set up/select a range of chords that you can then strum/pluck, the granulizer lets you sweep your finger through the sample in a way similar to samplr/samplewiz. There is also an Audio Recorder so you can record audio directly into a loop.

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Granulizer input

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Chord Guitar

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Audio Input screen

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Mixer screen – note the CPU usage

Once you have your tracks recorded there is a mixer screen that will look pretty familiar, there are three global (send) effects, a limiter, compressor and reverb. In addition each track can have up to 5 input effects – Gain, Overdrive, BitCrush, Compressor, EQ, Filter, Chorus, Phaser, Trance Gate and Delay. All of the effects are excellent, and you pay the CPU price for that. My favorites have to be the filter (with lowpass, lowpass 24db, highpass, bandpass, notch, and a bunch of formant vowels, all of which are controlled by my absolute favorite LFO controller ever) and the Trance Gate which is so much fun.

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(Filter screen – click the setup on the right for the most awesome of LFO editors anywhere)

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(trance gate awesomeness)

As I mentioned, all of this quality will cost you – I had 6 tracks playing with 3-5 FX on each and that had me at about 60% CPU usage on my iPad4. Looptical also guards it’s resources very jealously, if there is anything else that uses low latency running Looptical will complain about it when you start the app up, the only other app I know that does this is impaktor. Best close everything down in the background first.

In summary then this is a high quality app from a very committed developer, if you don’t usually install iPhone apps on your iPad I wouldn’t worry about it because the UI is so intuitive and the workflow so natural that you probably won’t even notice. This is a sample based app and working with it made me realize how much synthesis I actually do in my work, using samples was quite uncomfortable for me, having said that the FX are so good that the sound you end up with may have little or nothing to do with the sample you started with. Looptical is a great tool for sketching out a riff/song idea quickly, but it is also more than capable of producing polished tracks. Exactly what you need in your pocket!

If I had anything on my wish list it would be for a Midi Editor so that I can go in and correct my mistakes after recording a track, while the quantization is excellent my playing is not and I like to do a bit of editing afterwards.

A final word – the built in manual is a work of art, detailed enough (at 80 pages) to cover everything you need to know, but well written with good screen shots so that you can actually read and understand it easily. You can also (as I did) open it in iBooks and save it there so you can have it open in the background as you get to know your way around..

There are some excellent videos for this app already available so if you are on the fence about buying it check them out… then buy it.


Pod and the app demon…

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Save IOS MARS Album

http://iosmars.bandcamp.com/

This Album was organized by Martin Neuhold to help raise funds to save www.iosmars.com. A great compilation of iOS music from various musicians.

All tracks were donated by their creators!

All proceeds go to help save iOS MARS!

I have submitted a track but it will probably be in Vol 3…


PoD’s guide to Drum programming, the PoD way, on iOS… part 2

OK, so where were we.. ah yes, PoD drums…

Right well, last time I was saying PoD drums usually have the following layers:

  •  Basic Kit Layer
  • Percussion Layer
  • Big Drum Layer
  • Clicks, pops and sounds Layer
and I covered the Basic Kit Layer.

Percussion Layer. 

This is usually a layer containing either a bunch of general percussion (congas, bongos, various eastern drums, etc) or is a second ‘Basic Kit’ drum line recorded from a different app, I quite often record two drum lines, for example one from Drum Studio and one from Stochastik, and then plant them on top of each other. This can make my drums very busy, which is obviously how I prefer them, but usually the snare and main kick will come from one source and the hats, rimshots, ghost kicks etc will come from another. This is a convenient way to make up for limited dynamics in many iOS drum apps.

Other times I  add an actual percussion layer and when I do that there is a strong random element incorporated. For percussion I will usually use DrumJam, which is excellent in every way I can think of. I start with a clear page, then add in the drums I think I need, usually in pairs. Shift them about for panning and volume, and then, if need be, visit that parts screen and try some variations. Mostly this will be my percussion layer right there but if I want to add in breaks for the end of phases I frequently do that here too in the bottom jam panel, add in either a full kit or single drum and add it in at about bar 6 of an 8 bar phrase, moving to the right of the panel in sweeps to give me a growing roll/patter towards the end of the phrase.

Other percussion strategies I use is to load up Stochastik with suitable samples (tablas, congas) , or use something like Nodebeat, Poly or Different Drummer, something where I can add a layer of percussion that is, if not randomly generated, at least partially random, to add colour and drive to the existing rhythms. This will frequently include polyrhythms too. Because of the random generation here I often try a few versions before settling on one I like, or will record 16 bars and trim down to 2 bars that work for me.

<Skipping Big Drum Layer till later>

Clicks, Pops and Sounds.

As well as hihats and rimshots/stick clicks I also like ‘artificial’ sounds in the high registers. This layer usually comes from drum synths, typically ielectribe or molten, although seekbeats and STIX are making an appearance here too. where the basic kit and percussion layers are often quite random this layer is usually fairly static and will consist of three or more fairly high frequency noises. The reason for this is that the ear naturally latches onto higher frequency noises more easily than lower frequency ones, so a pattern that only repeats every 4 bars may sound cool in the snare or kick, but will be very irritating in the clicks layer.

Think crickets, cicadas and tree frogs here, those things can make a great background soundtrack to a warm evening on holiday, but having one starting and stopping just outside your bedroom window will bug the crap out of you all night. keep it subtle, or at least prevent any one sound being conspicuous in the mix, you should notice if they are not there, rather than notice that they are. I use this layer to keep pace in quieter sections and often ditch it when the louder drums take over. I often go overboard with bitcrushing, distortion, BP or HP filters and EQ on this layer reducing it to various flavours of white noise.

Big Drums

Nothing clever about this one at all, the only trick is getting the drums big enough!

So I am 2/3 the way through my track and everything is going well but I need just a bit…. more… er.. welly from my drums.

The hard part is getting drums to sound big enough, many of the shipped samples in iOS drum apps are a little wimpy for this.  Nothing too fancy, just a massive kick and a massive snare. For the sample-inclined just about anything from Vengeance will do as all of their CDs seem to contain a very similar collection of big club kicks and snares. Actually I am not that taken with the snares, but the kicks rock. You can make your own pretty easily, d-pad and DM1 have a few big sounds, DrumTrackHD did too but doesn’t really work on iOS6+ , KraftPad and SeekBeats have enough guts to make something pretty hard too.

We are wanting something floor shaking here so feel free to layer 2 or 3 kicks over the top of each other, add EQ/distortion/reverb, compress, add more fx, compress again and turn up loud. This is a trick I learned from JinxPadlock – to make drums that will punch through any mix compress+ EQ+ compress + EQ should help. Lay down a 4×4 kick with the snare on 2&4 and layer over the existing drums. Simples.

Impacts – I am very corny and I love to add those massive explosion type impact sounds after the drop. Vengeance do a good line in these but again it is easy to make your own now that decent reverb apps are suddenly cheap and commonplace. Fire up the biggest kick (or snare if you like) you have, run it through massive reverb, do things to EQ and compression and you should come up with something massive pretty soon.

 


Drum Synthesis Addendum Addendum

It is almost like the Drum Synth Devs of the world are doing this to annoy me! As soon as I finish my Drum Synth rundown they come out with another one. Sheesh!

So anyway – STIX came out a couple of days back from the comically prolific Twisted-Electrons. Stix – new digital drum synth, boasts two voices per drum, each with a sample wave or a custom drawn wave and noise source to which can be added Saturation (distortion – effectively an overdrive), a basic amp DAR envelope, pitch modulation (similar to iElectribe with the env/speed controls), and a filter panel with cut/res and env/speed controls. FX consist of ring mod and bit crush.

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For those of you reading this far it should be now becoming obvious the kind of sound this app makes. Ignoring the wave/sample section for a second you can add a simple filter envelope (to make filter fade in/out and how fast and how much and with a resonance) and a pitch envelope (so the sound can go up/down, how fast and how long it takes before that happens (delay)). On top of this you have noise (to make noise), Saturation (to make your sound noisier), Bitcrush (to make your sound more noisy) and RingMod(which gives your noisy sound a more clangy/noisy nature). In short this is a bloody noisy machine.

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Most of us were very impressed with SeekBeats, which came out a couple of weeks ago, and also boasts two synths per voice, and it is inevitable that comparisons will be made. While Stix has more wave/sample options, SeekBeats has far more sound shaping options in terms of envelopes, filtering, and of course the ability to change all/any of the parameters for every step using the ‘velocity’ bar. If you are not using the custom wave editor then Stix probably has more in common with Molten than SeekBeats, as you are editing options on one of 40 samples that ship with the product for each voice, if you are using the custom wave then the SeekBeats comparison is fairer.

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Both Molten and SeekBeats seem to have a greater depth and clarity to their sound but I can’t put my finger on why, and in any event the comparison is not fair because this machine does have a sound and character all of it’s own, and that sound is dirty and noisy. You can probably get these noises from Molten, SeekBeats or iElectribe, but by that logic we would all own one synth and one decent drum app.

The interface however is not dirty or noisy. It is a familiar blend of Studio 1111 and SIDpad and it is clean, well laid out and easy to use.

I have had some teething troubles in that I have had some crashes which have required a restart of the app, not sure why but I suspect conflict with other things running as it only happens when switching between this and other drum synths.

Wishlist – I would like to see the ability to import users own samples into the sample bank and the ability to control volume/velocity/filter an a per-step basis for accents etc.