Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It Figures

Its been awhile since I posted. I've been working with a few tools including iSequence HD with this tune:

I am enjoying both Sunvox and iSequence tracker interfaces. It sort of fits my lack of keyboarding talent! I can plug notes into time and focus on the construction of the piece rather than on the performance. The two apps share the tracker style interface but are under the hood, very different.

Sunvox is actually a modular synthesizer that you can then control via a tracker interface. ISequence is more iPad like with a better interface but it works solely off samples - either from their rich library or samples that you create yourself. Both are very cool programs and I will be using them extensively in the future.

But the coolest and maybe most controversial tool out recently is Propellerhead's Figure. This tool was very highly hyped and was touted as being "Reason" for iOS. The delivered application is far from that, but at all of one dollar, its a no-brainer to add to your collection.

Some Propellerhead history with iOS

In the early dark days of iOS, Propellerhead saw an opportunity to resurrect their old ReBirth as an iOS application. Since iOS was new to them, they subcontracted a company (Retronyms), to do the programming and they delivered ReBirth for the iPhone/iPod. This was a great proof of concept, but on such a small screen, rather difficult to use. The follow-up for the iPad, however, in my opinion was a home run. On the larger screen, being able to twiddle all the 303, 808 and 909 knobs with a touch interface was better than their circa-2000 PC/Mac app ever was. 

As good as ReBirth was/is, everyone was clamoring for "Reason" for iOS and expecting Figure to be just that. Good news and bad news - Figure does use some of the Reason sounds and has an innovative interface. Bad news - it only records 2 bars and there is no way internally to save them (workaround below). 

If you really want "iOS Reason", there is one alternative. Remember Retronyms? Well, they went on to create their own program, Tabletop that is similar in many ways to Reason though I think the sound quality is way behind. I have finally gotten around to using Tabletop on the new iPad and with sufficient CPU power (beyond the iPad 1), it really is pretty cool. Every knob tweak or movement is recordable and you can make some wild sounds with all of its instruments and effects. They do charge for every add-on as in-app purchases, so the price can get a bit high but overall I like it.

Back to Figure

Since figure does not allow for any kind of native recording, it is often written off as a toy. I think it will evolve and that future releases will make recording much easier. 

In the meantime, there are some cumbersome ways to record:

  1. Use the headphone jack out and into your computer. This usually adds some noise so if you record into your DAW, you should use low levels and maybe a de-esser or noise gate to remove the artifacts. Nonetheless this is easy and it works with no latency.
  2. Use a dock such as the Alesis. I don't have one, but if you have the hardware, you can dock an iPad and go through better cabling again with little or no latency.
  3. Software solution - the one I use!
    1. I happen to have Airfoil from Rogue Amoeba that allows my Mac to act as an "Airplay" device much like the Apple TV. With this software I can play back my Figure or any other sound and route the digital, lossless audio to the computer.
    2. I also have Audio Hijack Pro from Rogue Amoeba which will "capture" audio from any device on the computer and save it as AIFF, WAV, MP3 or whatever. Using this to "audio capture" the Airfoil speakers allows me to record anything digitally that I play on my iPad or iPod.
The downside of the software approach is cost (both are commercial products) and latency. The cost for me is not an issue since I already had the tools - they do much much more than simply record iOS music so they are worth investigating. The latency on the wireless playback is anywhere from 1 second to 1.5 seconds. Not an issue to play back recorded items but if you want to record a performance on the iPad, this doesn't work.

At any rate, Figure is innovative enough that I am going to keep using it and will probably include snippets of its sounds in future compositions. 

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