Saturday, November 29, 2014

Black Friday update

So I was doing pretty well with iPad Black Friday sales until I caved and bought another sample library - iSymphonic Orchestra. I was looking hard at Korg Module but ran into another issue - my 64 GB iPad Air was full! This leads to a pet peeve of mine which is how music apps store their files on the iPad. At some point, almost every app stores large uncompressed WAV files.

On my desktop, my DAW of choice is Logic X and I do almost all of my work with MIDI files - tiny encoded numbers, rather than raw WAV or AIFF files. Since I don't record my voice, nor plug in a guitar, nor use older "gear", everything in my song files is usually simple MIDI files that are played by the plug-ins. Occasionally I resort to jazz loops for drums but otherwise, I almost never need to resort to raw audio files. Even my trumpets and sax files are MIDI tracks played via the Akai EWI and played through the excellent SampleModeling plugins.

MIDI is in all ways...better! Easy to transpose - simple to edit, change the time in and almost anything else. I can cover up a lack of performing talent with constructive post-production editing! Audio files, on the other hand are difficult to loop - hard to cut up and edit - sound weird when transposed or sped up or slowed down. Not only is most of my music MIDI, but its mainly virtual inside the computer or via USB cables. I don't have a single MIDI cable. 

Conversely, on my iPad, I often use Auria or MultiTrack DAW which work on only audio files. Lots of very large, uncompressed audio. On top of that, Auria will periodically store "snapshots" with copies of those large uncompressed audio files! This eats up space quickly and its a pain to manage/migrate and move these files to dropbox or to delete unused ones. 

MIDI on the iPad is still in its infancy it seems. In self-contained apps like Garageband or Gadget, tracks are stored internally as MIDI but its hard to get them out. The gold standard for MIDI is currently Cubasis, but even there, if you are using many IAA instruments, the memory quickly fills or bogs down until you have to freeze tracks - which, again, leads to more audio files. 

Back to iSymphonic - I haven't played with it yet but the advantage will be having one app that can handle 16 MIDI connections (I hope!). I plan on trying it with Cubasis and driving the MIDI via Noatikl. I anticipate lots of crashes, but we'll see!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Classical iPad options

Anyone who listens to my electronic music pieces quickly finds that I am  a bit eclectic in my musical styles and creations. The same is true for my listening. Most iPad created music falls into EDM, Ambient or somewhat electronic styles since they are really the natural domain of synthesizers.

However, I also grew up listening and playing a lot of jazz and classical music (on trumpet in those dark days) and I often long to make similar creations electronically. On the desktop I have some great samplers (Kontakt, Logic and and old version of Sampletank). Jazz-wise I've invested (heavily!) in SampleModelings Saxes and Trumpets but classical-wise, I have been more restrained. I do have the full version of Sampletank's Miroslav orchestra on the desktop which is a huge set of sampled orchestral instruments done around 1998 by the famous Miroslav Vitous (of Weather Report fame).

On the iPad, the choices are somewhat more limiting and for classical music there aren't as many options. Garageband on the iPad has some excellent string instruments. Sampletank has a cut-down version of Miroslav that I purchased and Thumbjam has some excellent orchestral samples. There does exist the Crudebyte iSymphonic Orchestra as well, but I don't have that one.

I may spring for the Crudebyte someday but its a bit pricey. Since I do many of my classical pieces with MIDI sequencing and generative tools such as Noatikl, my favorite tools for classical sounds are the Sampletank Miroslav orchestra and Thumbjam. Garageband, while excellent, does not really let you feed it MIDI without significant work arounds.

As a test, I tried putting together a small string orchestral piece in Noatikl with 4 parts (Cellos, Violas, 1st Violins and 2nd Violins) which I then fed into both Sampletank Miroslav and Thumbjam. I recorded the results into Auria and added some nice convolution reverb there for a performance hall. The results were (at least to me) interesting!

For this experiment, I used IAA tracks into Auria. A few interesting notes....

Miroslave samples in Sampletank are already "positioned" by a typical orchestra. This means that the cellos are off to one side, the violins off to the other even with your "Pan" settings are central. Its important to note this when using Miroslav so you don't try to position your instruments manually and really throw them off.

Thumbjam samples, on the other hand are not panned and you would want to pan them yourself to get a nice stereo mix. Also, since I used Noatikl to generate these pieces, they are NOT identical! Noatikl will use randomization, chordal harmonies and other tricks to create the voices. It is never the same twice. Also, since Thumbjam doesn't have a pizzicato violin, I used staccato for Thumbjam in its place.

So here is what Sampletank's Miroslav samples created with Noatikl:

The Thumbjam version is here:
I think overall, I lean towards the Thumbjam version. The samples provided sound a bit more realistically performed to my ears. If enough of you are interested, I could repeat the experiment with Desktop tools (at least the ones I own).

Overall, I did find the results listenable even though the sample sizes on the iPad are a fraction of what is available on the Desktop.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

iPad Reality Check?

So, I'm working away on the iPad, popping in track after track and decide to sit down at the desk and hook up to the iConnectMIDI2 to finish things off. I start reaching to the iPad in Cubasis and stop and ponder.

Here I am, sitting at the iMac, Logic X on the screen and I'm struggling to fit tracks in Cubasis - what is wrong with this picture? Obviously the best DAW at my disposal is Logic X and I can easily add iPad tracks into my mix over the iConnect MIDI.

In getting the iConnectMIDI2, I was looking to better integrate iPad music with my desktop. But it is important to think of the best tool for the job. At my fingertips is Logic, all of its plug-in synths, Komplete 8, Aalto, Arturia AUs, Korg M1 AU, SampleModeling Trumpet and Saxes and more plugins than I can ever hope to use.

So, why the iPad? Until recently, there were few, if any sounds on the iPad that I couldn't do better on the desktop but that is changing in a few areas. Animoog, for example is completely unique with its modulation possibilities and I can do things on the touch screen that are very hard to "automate in" with traditional desktop plugins. I also have some very unique add-ons such as the Grateful Dead set in Animoog that don't exist on my desktop.

In other areas, my tendency to "cheap bastardhood" weighs in. I have most of the libraries for Alchemy Mobile edition on my iPad but I only have the "free" Alchemy player on the desktop. To buy those libraries on the desktop is an expensive proposition, but I have the best of them on the mobile (I know the bitrate is different and its not the full library, but its still damned useful).

Z3tA - likewise, I don't have the desktop version, same goes for iSem and many other unique items on the iPad. So for all of these synths, I might use them and pass the audio into my pieces.

The other area where the iPad shines is as a MIDI controller. Using StepPolyArp, Gestrument or even Logic Remote is often more intuitive and more fun than using keyboard controllers on the desktop. I can pass the MIDI into my software synths on the desktop and have an extremely responsive controller. Thumbjam too works extremely well as a playing surface and can be used to control much better sample libraries on my desktop.

I get Computer Magazine and often see adds for novel MIDI controllers for the desktop but I'll sacrifice tactile feel for the infinite possibilities of a touch screen in most cases (the Akai EWI is a notable exception that I do have!)

Often when I am working, I am solely on the iPad and I do make heavy use of iPad DAWs in those cases. For those times when I do connect the iPad to the iMac though, I need to take a breath, think and decide what I want to accomplish with what tool.

If I want an iPad only experience, which is quite often, I will use the local DAWs and tools. If I want a polished jazz piece, I might opt for a Desktop only piece in Logic. But I think I should do more "hybrid" pieces and use the best of both. For my "sketch pad" style pieces, my best option is Garageband on the iPad and then moving the project file to Logic X. This brings all MIDI, audio and track information intact onto the desktop where I can replace some instruments, extend things, automate etc. I'll probably be doing much more of this in the future.