Improvising With The iHolophone

I’m in love with Amidio‘s new iPhone app, iHolophone. You play this virtual instrument by dragging your thumbs around two circular controllers that resemble an analog cassette and video game virtual controllers or life counters. You can tap for short sounds or leave your thumb on for sustain. It feels totally fresh, a new way of making music. The app comes with a limited sequencer, hundreds of samples, 160 patterns, etc. Although the accompanying beds are OK, the app really comes to life when you jam with the two controllers. With iHolophone, Amidio, makers of Noise.io and JR Hexatone, confirms its place amongst the leaders in touch-screen music apps.

You can read a good review of iHolophone on the excellent promusicapps site.

Favourite iPhone/iPod Touch Music Apps

As a user of an iPod Touch, I’ve been trying a bunch of different music creation apps. Here are a few of my faves:

Sonic Wire is so strange, it could only have come out in 2010! A fantastic synthesized-sound generator, it allows me to create a long, looped trace of finger gestures that can then be manipulated in 3D space, with various scales. You can see a video demonstration of it on Zach Gages’ website.This app is based on a real-life interactive installation by Amit Pitaru, exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide.

Backline Calc is like the Swiss-army knife of audio-related calculations. If I need to figure out time in samples, tempo or bars or beats in seconds, minutes, etc, compare tempi in percentage change – it’s all a breeze, and it even includes a very useful file-size calculator.

I’m also enjoying Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers’ Trope, making ambient soundscapes with a few gestures that automatically loop, and jamming over them with my Korg MS2000 (not an app!). There are a dozen moods to choose from which correspond to various musical keys and modes. Like his other apps, Bloom and Air, the experience is as beautiful to look at as it is to hear.

Changing patches in Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere is now made even easier with their app, Omni Live. I sometimes will load 8 different Rhodes patches and switch between them in real-time while noodling, to quickly assess which is the best sound for the cue I’m trying to nail.

And for a little old-school fun while waiting in line somewhere, I break out technoBox, complete with an 808/900 drum machine, a 303 bass-synth clone, and some useful effects. There’s chaining of sequences and saving/loading of sessions (songs). After playing with it for a few minutes, it’s hard for me not to dance!

Deconstructing Arcade Fire’s Black Mirror

You’ve probably heard by now of Radiohead’s single Nude Remix project, and Trent Reznor has offered up several of his tracks for remixing by his fans. Even the Barenaked Ladies are in on the act. What this means is that individual stems or parts of a song can be downloaded, re-arranged, added to, and shared via the web. I am very curious about how this new idea will develop, which artists will embrace it next. This morning, I stumbled onto Arcade Fire’s beautiful interactive video for their song Black Mirror. Aside from the silent-film techniques used, what sets it apart from other clips is that you can deconstruct the song by turning on or off 6 tracks. You can make yourself an instrumental version by muting the vocals, a drum-free version by cutting out the drums, or listen to Win Butler singing a capella.

Lovely Melancholic Noise

2 new releases are on constant repeat when I carry my iPod these days: Burial‘s Untrue and Apparat’s Walls. Both these releases feature plenty of beautiful noise, synthesizer lines, enveloping soundscapes, smart beats. They also both generate instant melancholy in yours truly. Apparat’s music is, IMO, the perfect blend of modern melodies sang and played on electric and acoustic instruments (like Stars, Radiohead), virtuostic rhythm programming, and glitchy synths/soundscapes. Gorgeous and timeless, this will be in my top 5 for this year. Burial, OTOH, is dirtier, grimier, like the music that might be playing in a hip bar in Blade Runner. It’s clearly low-tech, filled with dub-step drums, pitched vocals, and dense layers of radio-wave noise, all bathed in large space reverb. Truly urban, it’s the soundtrack to our messy city streets and alleys. You can read an interview with the reclusive Burial here.

Burial Untrue
Apparat Walls