Mobile music creation on Apple's iOS devices

Archive for August, 2014

Another challenge: iSymphonic Orchestra

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Another challenge: iSymphonic Orchestra app…why is it a challenge? Well if you glance down at the last few posts in this blog you shall see that I have a lot of new technology and tools for the making of music. I have a lot to learn in different areas of music tech, and I just added to that by acquiring this app.

This could be the beginnings of my dream app. It’s still early in the life of iOS music and things advance rapidly, so I have a lot of hope now.

So to begin, let me state that the sounds are superior to the other available iPad strings and orchestra apps. This is no Soundfont player, there’s a different technology under the hood, and the difference is quite remarkable. I can’t recreate what it sounds like to me on my monitors when the wav file is processed in iMovie and then uploaded to YouTube — I really have no idea how much fidelity we lose doing that, but it’s significant, I’m sure.

I have created some short demo segments of the various instrument presets and some include cool EFX. I’m uploading the wave files to Soundcloud. I’ll post links here — (see bottom of this post for the links) but as I write this I want to get more example files posted. This will be higher quality, and I hope that one may be better able to judge the sounds via Soundcloud.

Getting started:

Okay so iSymphonic Orchestra is from developer Crudebyte
http://www.crudebyte.com — they also sell the CMP Grand Piano app, which is apparently the best sounding piano app available for iOS. I’ve heard some examples and I agree, though I don’t have that app.

On the main page is the app’s tiny keyboard. Use two fingers to enlarge the keys (like zooming in on a map), and then tap the left arrow above the keys and swipe left or right on that line to change the note keys.

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Three functions can be accessed by icons on the right hand side. The arrow takes you to the recording and midi track page. ┬áKeep in mind this will record midi performance data, not audio. That’s why you need a host app like Auria. The recording is control by a standard enough looking transport control, but below that is a section that appears to have three timers, currently set to 0:00:00. It is probably some obvious thing that I don’t see…but I don’t see it…so…help!

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The next icon up labeled HMT gets us to the tuning page. Hermode Tuning has been described as pure tuning for that extra punch. This technology dynamically tunes (changes frequencies) in real-time. This usually has to do with tuning the 3rd and 5th intervals. I had to listen carefully but I did hear the difference in an example I found on youtube.

In German with subtitles but the organ speaks universal so it’s all good: http://youtu.be/uHIA-DM3Wrs

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Also I am no MIDI expert but there is a note tuning change MIDI message and I guess that gets incorporated within the app? If someone wanted to dive into that well…hey now it’s on the iPad! I should mention that Logic Pro, Cubase, Cakewalk and other similar PC software titles include this tuning technology. Pretty fascinating stuff, but that’s as far as I go with that.

MIDI controls and more:

Back to the main screen…The icon that looks like a stylized V over J allows for adjustments in the key velocity. And this is something that I need to mess with and get straight…It seems overly sensitive for me but I have not explored this with any positive results yet. But I really need to, if you heard the first sound demo a lot of goofs are due to …well not this directly..it is my hands…but I think I’ll need to understand this so I can adjust for my playing.

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Once more Back to the main page: at the top are MIDI settings; it displays the number of connected midi devices, which seems like there is one more than I think there is, so maybe it’s counting the internal MIDI network stuff that sits in iOS? Another question here, with no answer from me.

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To the right of that is the input midi channel selector. From 1 thru 16. and next to that is the Page/part drop-down list, which seems like internal track numbers labeled part 1 thru Part 16. As I scrolled through the part numbers the instruments selection and MIDI channels would change so it has predefined parts….okay…and…..? The Questions are piling up.

At the top right on the screen is a latency display and to its right is a counter for polyphony — the number of voices in use. Some of the complex programs use many voices per note and the iPad hardware will impose the limits, there is actual documentation covering this.

Below that are the two knobs with drop-downs next to them. On the left is the volume knob, along with a dropdown list for selecting the program, (or sounds) from 1 to 10. And to the right of that are the available reverb and delay effects with a knob to adjust the effects send level; there are 18 EFX presets.

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Nothing is perfect

There are a few problems that I ran into and hope then devs can get fixed. The main problem for me is that the default volume is set to maximum whenever the sounds are changed using the main voice change drop-down. Now, when I changed the part in the Page drop-down, and the voices changed, the volume remained at the same level, so there’s that.

The MIDI sensitivity settings function — I am thinking that I don’t want to mess around with that for who knows how long before I get what it is. There are no instructions given so…oh well, I am sure I will figure it out eventually but the dev could give me some help here, ya know?

The last thing is please, please Crudebyte, don’t force me to use iTunes file sharing to get MIDI files in and out of the app. Like most iOS music makers, I don’t want to mess with a PC connection…please allow the “open in…” function. Remember we are MOBILE and don’t tend to carry the PCs around with us.

Otherwise, this is a brilliant sounding app and it will take some time to fully explore and understand the nuisances of the various sounds. It seems like the tuning and sensitivity will be key items in mastering this app.

The users performance is more sensitive in this app than others that I have used and with the way the instruments are structured within each sound preset, how one approaches playing the sounds will be the key to successfully using this app.

Orchestration is it own subject matter so a better understanding there will help immeasurably with this app.

As for the high price — though set higher than the two biggies of iOS music, Auria and Cubasis, tis apple and oranges. It is so subjective but it will be worth the price for me because I have been writing/creating an orchestral piece, mostly using Music Studio; iSymphonic Orchestra will enhance my ability to interpret what is inside of me into what I am making with sound.

As with all other enhancements that I use and have I’ve written about, my head is still on firmly and I know this is a tool that will help me do better things, but none of it means that I will make it better music. The effort is still in creating and executing; the tools are there to help — and man, are we getting some neat tools or what?

Demo sound links:

Main link for all of my songs:

 

Be seeing you
— Toz Bourne 12Aug14

 

Hybridizing music creation platforms

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IPad and PC — side by side

 

I have expanded my music creation capabilities in an unexpected direction. The picture above could have been a test of “which object does not belong with the others.” Just last week, one could have pointed at the Windows PC and stated that it did not belong in Toz’s music creation process. But that has changed…by accident.

I shall explain because many people know how much I dislike Windows, plus I have little experience with PC DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstation), so this is somewhat uncharted territory.

I spent a good bit of time and effort doing research and online shopping for mini keyboards. From the various brands that work with iPad, I chose one and went to Guitar Center and bought it. This looks to be a larger decision then I realized as it turns out.

The Novation LaunchKey Mini was the choice. Novation has two (free) iOS apps that work directly with the keyboard; the knobs and buttons do specific things inside the apps and they light up–oh boy. The function of the knobs and pads is what sold me…and yes having it light up is very cool. On iPad2 and the iPad4 everything worked right from the get go. That is nothing special, it’s an iOS device, these things tend to work!

Novation has been around for a while now, a good company. Besides making hardware synths, they also make software synths and various plugins for some of the big-ass$$ music production PC software. It’s been normal for many years to include software with a hardware product. I still have some lite and demo versions on a CD I bet. These demo/lite versions ended up being worth less than most freeware, for me.

Well things have changed; the LaunchKey Mini came with download codes (no more cd’s, yeah) for free PC music software. The big one is Abelton Live 9 Lite. Okay, another lite piece of crap I wondered? Well no, it is a real deal. It’s reduced from the other version (the number of music tracks is limited and many higher end functions are not included), but instead of being crippled as seemed to be the case, this software is fully capable of producing music from end to end. From composing to playing all of the parts to mixing and mastering. I think I can have four audio tracks and four MIDI tracks? Not sure, but I do know I have a lot to learn.

But wait, there’s more…

The Ableton software can host plugins, which are software instruments, like a synth, or drums, or special effects like reverb. Also included in the freebie package were downloads for two Novation synth plugins, and a download for a huge set of samples and loops (zip file was near 900MB).

Okay all things look great and I have extra stuff…but we’re taking windows software, trouble was lurking, of that I was sure. I installed Ableton easily enough but before I tried anything, I first watched some vids, checked the help functions and have started RTFM (reading the f-ing manual). So when everything was ready I held my breath and plugged in the mini keyboard to PC via USB. I clicked through some menus — what the guy in the video had instructed and oh my…it freakin’ worked.

And it worked beautifully, not only that, but the sounds; the built in synths and drums…sound really good. Never had anything sounded this good that was generated on my PC, but the amazing thing for me is that it worked from the get go!!! Hot damn!!

With Ableton acting as host for plugins it was time to try to incorporate the free Alchemy Player and sound packs that I had downloaded a long time ago. I am not sure why I downloaded that stuff since at the time I had no software in which to use it. I had nothing but disc space to loose I suppose, but I really didn’t have a plan for PC music.

Well, it was big smile time again because it all worked. Installing several plugins in Ableton was mostly painless. Alchemy Mobile synth from Camel Audio is my all time favorite iOS music making app, so now with the desktop player up and running there is a way that I can transfer preset sounds from desktop Alchemy down to the iPad version. That’s the next hurdle in this process.

At this point things are, so far, very good. It all worked so well and easy because Ableton, Novation and Camel Audio are all masters of their game. Unlike a lot of software that I have used, or attempted to use over the years in Windows, these are practical tools, well engineered with artists in mind.

In just glancing over Ableton Live I can see what the fuss is all about. It’s a DAW but it is quite different from others and is geared more toward Live performance (it’s the name….duh), and modern electronic music production. I see delving deeper into this since I am sure it will lead me to new creative avenues. And the education factor is large as well; I will learn more about DAWs and sound processing, and mixing, etc.

Enhancing iOS music

None of this advanced PC software takes away from my music making on iPads, it will only enhance it. So far I have glossed over what got me here in the first place; the LaunchKey Mini keyboard. The thing is small, but feels pretty solid for a modern age plastic device. It is small enough to fit in a backpack, which was the main objective. It looks cool (with lit buttons and pads) when running the Novation Launchpad and Launchkey apps. Those apps work well together and there is a button on the keyboard that allows for fast switching between the apps. Plus the keyboard’s knobs and pad buttons can be mapped within Ableton, and various synth apps to perform selected functions. This is a great addition for performance in that one wouldn’t have to lean over and touch the pad (or PC keyboard/mouse) to change a setting, just twist the appropriate knob on the mini.

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Having a portable keyboard may be the single largest factor in all of this, and gee that was my point for buying it. But I’ve been a bit distracted by the PC stuff which is all well and good. The mini keyboard itself has synth style keys, meaning they are not full sized keys, but they have a good feel and are pressure sensitive. The knobs and buttons are extras, very nice extras indeed. But having a keyboard when I travel should allow me to fully expand on ideas that I come up with. At times I have waited until returning to the Bourne Studios to lay down some parts using my big keyboards that I could not quite get right by just using an iPad app touch keyboard. The touch interface is great for a lot of music creation but sometimes, I need the touch of those physical keys.

Everyone has their own ideas on what they consider valuable; for me acquiring the LaunchKey Mini has been a huge bargain. For the price I paid, which was okay to begin with, I got more than that back in extras. I think if one were to purchase a lite version of Ableton it would retail at about the same price as the mini keyboard (hypothetically I mean). Add in two soft synths and over 1GB (uncompressed) of loops and samples and I feel like an expert bargain hunter.

Where this leads musically, I don’t know yet especially since I have been branching out more already in terms of new types of music. However there are other positive factors that have influenced me already and may change everything soon.

Not mentioned in today’s article, and shall be the subject of its own, is my recent purchase of a great old app. Yes, old in terms of iOS music apps, and it’s: Nanostudio, and she’s a beauty. I’ve only been using it for a couple of weeks yet it has fast become one of my favorite apps. More on that soon.

There is another potential huge event — an app really — on the horizon…a real true to life orchestral strings app. More on that as soon as I know more.

Be seeing you
— Bourne 08Aug14