Sunday, 20 December 2009

Soldering non talent...

I bought myself one of these iSpin mixers for 15 quid:

At first glance, and watching the videos you'd be right in thinking, "gimicky, silly scratch sound, very limited with only 4 proper effects."

At first glance I thought, "cool, a cheap way to charge my two iDevices (also has 3.5mm line in), a way to cross-fade between the two of them (both running some DJ software) and possibly hackable."

So it arrived, I briefly plugged it in and tried it out. The fader works, the microphone is a nice to have (sits in the fx path if you want) and the headphones can be either master out or cue, which is great. Yes, the "scratch" effect is awful. The other 4 effects though are rather good (reverb, flange, hi-pass filter, lo-pass filter in two switchable "banks" each with two fx). After a few minutes I got out my screwdriver.

First to go were the little "wheel" things, now replaced with some knobs I had lying around. Sadly the central "scratch spinner" is a rotary encoder, so that'll be replaced with a rotary pot soon.

Ok, onto the meaty bit. The fx chip is called the FV-1 by Spin Semiconductor. It turns out it is a much more capable chip than it seems from the built in two patches of fx. You see, it has 8 internal fx patches (with 2-3 fx on each patch) and an external sound bank, where the iSpin's own fx are housed. After a trip to Spin's website I found that you can switch between the internal bank and the external bank if you solder in a switch. You can also choose any of the 8 patches if you solder in 3 more switches (or an 8-position rotary switch, which I thought would be easier).

So some dremmeling and soldering later I've got the 8-position switch mounted into the case (top right corner, next to the right side iPod) and re-hacked the prog1/prog2 switch to select internal/external banks instead. The 8-position switch isn't quite working yet - it can select the first two patches, but nothing else...

A couple of observations thus far:
  1. Soldering onto the legs of a chip is a nightmare!
  2. My soldering iron is rubbish.
  3. My soldering skills are non-existent.
  4. I don't think my circuit skills are up to scratch! I thought I could hook "ground" up to the 8-way switch instead of 3.3v but something seems to be creating a short-circuit I think. I don't really know what I'm doing :o)
Next steps are to re-do the switch (a big job) and then somehow replace the rotary encoder with a linear potentiometer. Why, you might ask? Because the FV-1 allows analog control over 3 different parameters for each sound patch. Hence the 3 dials on the front of the device. They are not jog-dials, they control the fx!

Hopefully I won't fry anything, then I'll end up with a whole bunch of new fx, essentially becoming an extremely cheap fx unit that mixes and charges my two iDevices or any of my other devices with 3.5mm outputs.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

B Good :o)

Spot the E.T. reference there? Anyway, back in May one of my wishes was to have a Hammond B3 app for my iDevice. C3B3 videos emerged a few months back and my appetite was well and truly whetted.

Well now it's launched, and it is absolutely brilliant! Of course, it looks the part but more importantly it sounds fantastic too.

Everything you'd expect is there:
  • Configurable scrollable split keyboards
  • Overdrive
  • Reverb
  • Key click
  • Fantastic presets
  • Rotary speaker
As soon as you fire it up, you'll be hammering in those classic pieces from rock gods gone by. You just can't help it.

Seriously, I am very, very impressed indeed.

One thing sure to raise a few moans is the use of in-app purchase, which is popping up everywhere these days. On the one hand I hate the idea of constantly coughing up for something I've already bought, but on the other hand this is a B3, for less than 2 quid! Having to pay 59p to be able to save my own presets is a bit cheeky though, but 59p per new sound bank seems fair enough if I knew what they sounded like first. Afterall, the developer has spent the time making those presets so why not get paid for it?

I'd love to have recording built-in (many apps do this very well now) along with using these recordings elsewhere (ioLibrary?). Not only for productivity reasons, but because, well, my talent runs dry very quickly so playing two parts at once is something of a challenge for me. Also my fingers have never felt so over-sized before. This inspires you to want to play big chords, but without configurable key-widths (that I can see anyway) my efforts need to be toned down somewhat!

I can see me spending literally hours with this, jamming along (pathetically) to Deep Purple (apologies to Jon Lord in advance) and all manner of stuff.

What a great way to start a Saturday morning!

Check out their videos here to hear/see for yourself.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Hey Mr DJ put two records on...

Finally the DJ apps that have been held back by Apple are starting to flood in. And what a varied bunch they are!

The one that's been out for a while, and is truly a magnificent turntable simulation is Flare. I've had this since launch and I absolutely adore it. I'd love pitch control, uploading my own background loops and an FX engine, but as it currently stands nothing comes close for those used to spinning the wheels of steel. Even works beautifully with time-code recordings for desktop apps like Virtual DJ. But there's something else I'd like to see added (see later on...)

The most publicly held back DJ app was Touch DJ by Amidio, creator of the uber-synth, As my coffers are stretched at the moment, courtesy of buying an iPhone 3GS, I'm not quite ready to try this out at $19.99 but that's not to say the price is too high - it really looks like a premium product and $19.99 doesn't buy you much else in the world of the desktop DJ! It uses an interesting visual-mixing technique, where you see the key beats on each waveform and line-them up before hitting the x-fader. A nice idea for getting around the obvious problem of the iPhone only having a single stereo output. But there's something else I'd like to see added (see later on...)

The interestingly named Sonorasaurus also arrived this week, with a gorgeous looking interface. I haven't seen much in the way of video demos of this (only one on youtube that I could see) and I'm not sure if it allows looping like Touch DJ appears to. It is, however, half the price of Touch DJ. But there's something else I'd like to see added (see later on...)

Also allowed out to play are abcDJ ($3.99) and "and Scratch" both by Sanken System. I think "and Scratch" is a single-deck version of abcDJ, with a price ($1.99) to match. Both apps look similar to Flare, but with extra functionality. Unfortunately the demo videos on Youtube have quite poor audio quality so it is hard to say how they truly compare. But there's something else I'd like to see added (see later on...)

Finally, from what I've seen, is DJ Player Blue Edition at the top end of premium at $24.99 for what appears to be a single-deck application. I imagine that price may be revisited fairly swiftly in light of the competition. It appears to have a Kaoss pad inspired FX section, which is nice. But there's something else I'd like to see added...

Ok, so what is it I'd like to see added to all of these? Is it the ability to use tracks straight from your iPod library instead of having to upload an additional copy of the track per app? Well, that would be nice, but I think that's an Apple restriction so you can't ask the developers to do something beyond Apple's limits! No, what I'd really like to see is this:

Use local wifi to sync and stream a "deck" on two iDevices (e.g. iPod and iPhone) and crossfade between them! So one device could output the crossfader mix (i.e. what the audience hears) and the other device could output a headphone mix for the DJ's use. How awesome would that be? No more worries about single audio output, "visual mixing", guessing the mix etc. I'm sure a few people now have a couple of iDevices thanks to upgrades etc, plus second-hand 1G iPod Touches are now really cheap.

Anyway, it's something I'd like to see :o) Any devs wanting to give it a try let me know!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

I've got the power

Just watched Synth Britannia on the BBC, all about the rise of synth music in the UK from the 70s onwards. Some awesome stuff on there, including a few snippets and interviews from Kraftwerk. After watching Vince Clark talk about the DM performance on Top of the Pops and how they lugged their synths on the train to get to the TOTP studio I realised just how much synth and recording power now resides in my coat pocket when I wander around.

I need to spend more time playing and less time looking for new apps I reckon!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Is Apple losing its edge?

First the iPhone 3GS was a major disappointment, with very little in the way of exciting updates from the 3G. I was poised to buy the 3GS if the camera was any good, but it turned out not to be. For that reason I stuck with my 1G iPod Touch and bought a fantastic Sony camera that does HD video. I felt that maybe the next generation of iPod Touch would be basically the iPhone 3GS minus the phone part, i.e added compass, GPS, camera and microphone. Like many others I patiently awaited the launch event.

What did we get? A faster processor and some more storage. And that's it. So underwhelming that Apple's share price seems to have taken a hit, and I have yet to see a good word written about this "new" model.

Insult to injury? Apple once again brags about the vast number of games on the App store (over 20,000) but fails to mention that you can't even install 200 of them and have them visible on your device. Ths is despite the new 3.1 operating system. What we can do is move the icons around in iTunes instead. R-i-i-i-g-g-h-h-h-h-t....

Someone please innovate in this space, because Apple has forgotten how to.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Trouble in (app) store

In addition to the limited number of categories in the Appstore making it very bothersome to find the music apps you are looking for amongst a thousand "official band" and radio station apps, the biggest thorn in the side seems to be pricing. Not just as in, "that app is too expensive," but also in terms of the volatility of app pricing. I've sometimes benefitted quite nicely from waiting a bit until an app dropped in price (Rectools 08 for example) but also been stung heavily by jumping in straight away.

Anyway, whilst perusing my favourite app-list website I came across this beauty. I mean, when do you jump in and buy this thing?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Ports I'm awaiting

Porting an app always sounds like such a simple idea, after all you've got the assets already right? Ok, sure you may have to change the resolution of some images, or change the sound format and quality of a few samples, and obviously there may be extra features of one platform, such as accelerometer and touch screen, or no buttons, and of course a finger-touch device needs a different interface to a stylus-touch device to a mouse-driven device to a keyboard-driven device, and it goes without saying that the RAM and storage will be different, and who would expect binary compatability with an entirely different OS and CPU, and .... oh, maybe it's not such a simple job. But anyway, those trivial things aside, I'd love to see the following make an appearance on the iPhone:

  • CellDS
  • GlitchDS
  • Griff
  • Pocket Stompbox
  • MeTeoR
  • DS10 (heh heh)
  • ProteinDS
Anyone know if any of these are pending?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

iPod with OS 3.0 - mixed emotions!

A couple of things to report on since upgrading my iPod Touch to OS 3.0

Firstly I can now have a whole 11 pages of icons. Whoopie do :o( Still got to have loads of my apps uninstalled or hidden from view.

Secondly quite a few of my music apps have issues and updates are not yet out (or even announced in some cases). makes no Wivi Band glitches horribly. MixDex doesn't work. A few other apps have pops and crackles.

Thirdly, and this is a Good Thing (TM), my external microphone (Macally iVoice Pro 3) now has proper volume control when it is in use. Prior to OS 3.0 if the mic was plugged in, the volume control of the iPod (when you double-click the home button) had no effect and the volume was fixed (and too low). Now it works as it should so apps like Wivi Band, Ocarina, Vocoder SV5 etc all have a decent volume that I can control. Yayyyyyy!

Friday, 26 June 2009


Very sad news.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Music for Knee Play - aka my "pocket" studio

Whilst I'd need rather large pockets to carry everything, here is what my "sitting in bed studio" currently looks like.  I'm rather pleased with the board I created to put everything on, as I was getting fed up with balancing things on my knee and noticing they gradually disappeared or rotated to unusable angles!! It's a piece of what I think Americans call "foam core" with some black microfibre glued on using spray mount. I then chopped up some neoprene strips and stuck velcro to the back of them so they can be positioned anywhere on the board to keep the devices in place. It's very comfortable and seems to do a great job.

Here's what's in the picture:

1: Belkin Rockstar. This acts as a passive mixer, allowing for multiple inputs and duplicate outputs. I used to use my hand-made passive mixer, but this is so much more impressive in terms of results, if not aesthetics. The duplicate outputs are useful for apps like MeTeoR that don't allow monitoring of input when recording - I can attach earphones too.

2. Apple iPod Touch. Weapon of choice for "playing" instruments. I've got this thing loaded to the brim (well, as much as Apple's stupid UI will allow) with virtual instruments, sequencers and midi/OSC controllers. I've spent a fortune on them and just can't seem to resist buying more! Highlights have to include iShred, Bebot, Nlog, Vocoder SV-5, Digidrummer,, Beatmaker and Cowbell Plus. Not shown is the Macally iVoicePro 3 microphone/speaker/stereo line in.

3. Nintendo DS Lite. So much "homebrew" for this it makes your eyes water. I absolutely love GlitchDS, CellDS, ProteinDS and soon Korg DS-10 will grace its cartridge slot once I find it at a sensible price.

4. Boss Micro BR. Most recent addition, used for analog audio recording and occasional rhythm duties. Adds stunning effects to the audio (live and recorded) and the microphone is pretty decent for vocals. I have an external mic I can plug in but I haven't really bothered yet. Also gets a lot of work acting as my guitar effects box. Cool feature is the ability to plug it in to the Loox (see below) via USB and its recordings become available for copying into MeTeoR.

5. Fujitsu Siemens Pocket Loox 720. Getting on a bit now, but a lovely VGA Pocket PC. Sadly doesn't run WM5/6 so some newer apps are unavailable to it and battery drain would mean a loss of data. However it does have USB host and, as you can see, gets connected to the Micro BR for digital transfers of recordings! Musically it is exclusively used to run the fabulous MeTeoR these days for multi-tracking, although it also runs VNC for controlling my server and occasional full-screen web browsing using VNC. Oh, also does a brilliant job of playing game emulators courtesy of the fast processor and ability to plug in a USB game pad!

6. ETEN Glofiish X500. My current "phone" that also happens to be running Griff (awesome, despite its age and lack of updates!), Pocket StompBox and a few other older bits of Pocket PC sound software (e.g. Clanger!). Used to be my main pocket device for web/email/PDA stuff until the iPod Touch took over. Have a bunch of trackers on there, but I've never fully regained my interest in trackers since the Amiga days when that was pretty much all we had. Some of the newer apps are interesting but the interface feels so clunky and unresponsive now compared to the iPod, and pricing seems unrealistic. I suspect in a couple of years, now turn-by-turn GPS is available, I will replace both with a version of the iPhone. It hurts to type that.

Monday, 8 June 2009

iPhone 3GS

Yay: Faster CPU
Yay: Better battery life
Yay: External hardware through the dock port (midi and USB devices please!)
Yay: TomTom
Yay: Autofocus camera
Erm: Compass!
Erm: Voice control (hello last century)
D'oh: Only 3mp still images
D'oh: Only VGA video
D'oh: No camera flash
D'oh: No removable storage

Bit of a mixed bag. Still a seriously tempting device, but not quite the no-brainer I was hoping for. Will wait to see examples of photos and videos before taking the leap away from my WM phone.

UPDATE: Decided to keep my WM phone and iPod Touch and get a 12 mpix stills camera that does HD video and is tiny, shiny and wonderful - the Sony DSC-T900.

Friday, 29 May 2009


I have this list in my head of music apps I always like to try to have (or wish for). One day I'll turn it into a written list, but generally it includes things like a drum sequencer, Hammond organ, analog synth, vocoder, effects unit, GM sounds, guitar fx, piano, step sequencer etc. What I'm pining for is a virtual Yamaha TX81z. I used to have one and I loved it, but I sold it as I didn't have space for it and I was going fully digital anyway. So I've been looking for a replacement for it on the iPhone. 

One day I encountered the quirky OuiLead, a Japanese synth that has some fantastic sounds, but sadly no patch editing. Definitely worth grabbing, especially as it is free and regularly updated.

Some odd sound toys appeared that let you play with a single FM sound, varying the frequencies etc for some unusual effects, but they weren't really what I was looking for.

The makers of the fabulous Digidrummer have created Destiny, an FM synth, but it looks a tad basic for me.

Then came Pianofly, a truly brilliant little 3-op FM synth with extensive editing and a great user interface. I'm getting closer to my TX81z replacement.

Finally this morning I came across Innocencer, which I wasn't sure what to make of - it looks a bit like OuiLead and was free, so I thought I'd give it a go. It turns out it's a 4-op FM synth with control over the algorithms. The closest yet to my TX81z dream! I haven't tried out its
 innovative midi file playback yet, but it does a great job as a polyphonic FM synth. Clearly this is a developer with the potential to make what I seek. And I'd pay a good price for a proper emulator that could load up my gazillions of SYSEX formatted TX81z (and other Yamaha FM synth) patches.

So far so happy.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The iSYN on the cake!

Terrible pun, but great app just got better. iSYN is a fantastic app, and very close to matching Korg DS-10 on the Nintendo DS. Anyway the latest version features an arpeggiator that makes live play even better. Has a few options such as up/down/number of octaves and a useful "hold" mode. Set it running and hit the XY pad for some awesome results.

I had a great session with it yesterday and wished there was a simple way to export a loop from each unit (2 synths and 1 drum) that could then be imported into Looptastic or Beatmaker. Please please PLEASE Apple let us have a shared area for media files that apps can access!

Monday, 4 May 2009

In search of the perfect App keyboard

Mobile music is cool, but you've got to be able to get what's in your head into your device. Whilst there are loads of "funky" new paradigms courtesy of the iPhone's touch screen and accelerometer, in the main we're looking at piano keys or guitar strings. For this post I'm looking at piano keys. 

When the iPhone was announced I was excited at the prospect of multi-touch for one reason - chords! Although I love my Glofiish's pinpoint stylus accuracy, and my DS's ability to detect touch pressure, neither of them allowed me to play chords on a virtual keyboard. 

There have been many different approaches to the virtual keyboard on the iPhone, so I'm going to go through some of the good practice and pitfalls I have encountered along the way, in search of the best possible solution (that no-one has as-yet implemented).
1. Noise.IO uses a split row design, giving good width keys and access to two octaves. Key length obviously suffers here, but that's unavoidable. Changing octaves requires a trip to a separate screen, which isn't ideal but it does work. There's also a very handy modulation slider area to the side, along with a volume slider. Horizontal slides along the keyboard trigger the next note (I think that is technically called a Glissando). Initial vertical key position affects (I think) "key pressure" and can be modified afterwards with a vertical slide. Overall an excellent solution. In addition Noise.IO
 makes good use of the accelerometer for configurable modulation of just about every parameter when you move the device around.

2. Nlog Synth has a single row of keys with configurable key width, giving from 13 to 22 keys on screen (not sure why they stopped short of two full octaves). Configuration is a key (ho ho) requirement I think - everyone plays in a different way, and I personally have broad fingers. Nlog could easily fit in a second row of keys though, for a performance mode, giving access to 44 keys. To get around the octave issue, Nlog allows you to smoothly slide the keyboard left/right as you play it. Very impressive, but means you cannot slide up and down the keys, as the keyboard moves with you. So close to
 perfection! Nlog also has vertical key position mapped to key pressure, and allows a vertical key slide to control a configurable modulation. This is incredibly expressive. It is "sort of" polyphonic when modulating, but triggering a new key seems to reset the modulation for the held key.

3. Vocoder SV5 takes an interesting approach to the octave issue. In normal play, a horiontal
 slide triggers the next note. If you hold down the octave button though, the horizontal slides scroll the keyboard. Very useful. Also well worth a note is the sprung pitch wheel. I love it! There are other UI innovations I've writen about in a previous post, such as "sticky" rotary controllers. No controllable modulation is a minus, but there is a full-screen dual row keyboard option, which has some useful spare space for, for example, a future mod wheel.

4. iSyn offers a highly playable full-screen
 two-octave keyboard with switchable Legato and multiple scales. Changing octaves is via octave up/down buttons, which I'm not a big fan of. Vertical key modulation works brilliantly although it's tied to the same modulation as the Y axis of the XY pad - I'd like to see an independent option. Interestingly, sliding up and down the keyboard doesn't retrigger the next note, it slides the pitch smoothly even across the width of a single key, which is great for leads and "finger wobble" pitch modulation, and reminds me a lot of Bebot. It would be good to have this optional like it is in Bebot (when set to "Snap" mode). The current note display is a nice touch. By default the keyboard has "virtual wide" black keys. This means you cannot trigger a white key from the black key area (scale dependent), which I personally like.  Wavesynth also has this, but it is optional.

5. Speaking of Wavesynth then, it also features a lovely big sprung pitch bend wheel and a whole heap of configurable options (along with the black key mentioned above): pitch bend range, single or double layer keyboard, "shake to modulate" (which I find a little gimmicky), configurable portamento and switchable mono mode. The only missing option here is configurable retrigger/don't retrigger envelope (Legato). A great little synth but a bit overlooked (presumably because it is touted as a general midi rompler).

6. Megasynth. Keyboard is very basic, and lacks a lot of the features mentioned in this article, but it is worth noting the slidable octave display that lets you see and choose your keyboard range.

7. Pianofly. A new App, and a great sound engine, but what I really want to mention here is the keyboard. Switchable to full screen is nothing new, but I absolutely love the novel approach to the octave issue. Playing the keyboard is similar to Nlog - silky smooth scrolling left/right - but you can "hold" the keyboard still with another finger (either on a key or on the black scroll area at the bottom) and now your other fingers are free to slide up and down the notes. Genius.

8. Grand Pro. An honourable mention to this app for offering optional 1, 2 and 4 octaves on screen at once! Also has optional note names on each key, which is a useful feature.

Ok, there's loads of apps I've not mentioned, and I may have made a few mistakes for which I
 apologise but hope you can correct me.

So what would make the perfect keyboard for me then? Hmm let's see:

  • Configurable key width
  • Configurable split/single key row
  • Pianofly's scroll lock
  • Optional note names (Grand Pro and makes a brief appearance on Wavesynth)
  • Initial vertical position configurable to a parameter (would generally choose pressure, but options are nice)
  • Vertical slide configurable to a parameter (Nlog)
  • On screen pitch wheel with configurable range (Wavesynth and Vocoder SV5)
  • On screen mod area (Noise.IO)
  • Optional "virtual wide" black keys (Wavesynth and iSyn)
  • Optional smooth slide portamento (I don't know what to call this as it doesn't exist on a real keyboard, but on a fretless bass or trombone! - iSyn and Bebot). It is different to normal keyboard portamento as it is controlled by the player, not a predefined time.
  • Configurable Legato (iSyn)
  • Configurable scales (iSyn and Bebot!)
  • Optional mono/poly (Wavesynth)
  • Configurable portamento (Wavesynth)
Maybe I'll mock-up a few screenshots of a keyboard and settings screens?

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Time to start a new fund.

For ages now I've been following the netbook trend. I've stood, credit card at the ready, drooling over Asus 8.9" EEEPC netbooks. I stopped just short of buying because I had a nagging feeling I was looking at old tech. Then all the glowing reviews of the Samsung NC10 had me cruising the local electronics shops trying to convince myself that 10" was better, even though it was getting to be almost as big as a laptop. So I decided to wait. Was a higher resolution screen on the way? Faster processor? Cheaper price?

Now a whole raft of new UMPCs seem to be appearing that fit into my original Netbook budget (ish) but with loads of extra features such as 3G, GPS and touchscreens, and a form factor that almost compares to the early palmtops. All this whilst running XP with up to 1Gb RAM, 60Gb hard disk and 1024x600 resolution. So basically a netbook in less than half the space. Or more to the point, all my favourite PC music apps IN MY POCKET. Being PCs, they also support normal USB devices, like (presumably) midi keyboards, my Korg Nanopad, DJ controller, multi-output external soundcards etc. Can you see why I'm excited?

I don't know if the typical Atom processor is up to the job of, say, Virtual DJ or Ableton, but this truly looks revolutionary for mobile music.

Throw-in bluetooth and wifi and all sorts of possiblilities spring to mind such as OSC control from my DS or iPod Touch.

A lack of cash is a slight snag, as is choosing which puppy to go for. The Viliv S5 is definitely a front runner, and the Umid M1 is almost too cute for words (although it needs a lot of external bits for USB etc.)

No doubt by the time they are available in the UK, and my fund has come close to affording them, something else will be on the horizon, but I think I've found the "class" of device I'm looking for.

Anyone got experience of using a UMPC for music?

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Leave me breathless!

For many years I've looked longingly at breath controllers, such as the WX range from Yamaha, and dreamed of owning one. I don't truly know why, because I can't play any instruments with any degree of competence, but just the very idea of getting "more of me" into a sound is quite exciting to me. When Yamaha released a software version of their VL physical modelling (Sondius XG or something - SYXG100 rings a bell) the idea became even more appealing. I wondered how I could somehow fudge together something with a microphone and volume analysis to control the midi breath parameter.

Then along came the Nintendo DS, with a built-in mic. Some apps appeared (e.g. toys in Warioware) that used the strength of your blowing to increase the volume of a sound or similar. Thoughts of virtual harmonicas and flutes filled my head, but as yet remain less than fulfilled.

Next up was the iPod Touch/iPhone. Now developers really became interested in using our breath for things other than breathing! Initial gimmicks (blow out the candle, steam up a window) gave way to basic sample-based instruments with volume controlled by blowing into the mic. Bugle, Trumpet and Ocarina spring to mind, the latter being phenomenally successful (and rightly so - it sounds fantastic and is fun to play).  

Then earlier this week an app I had glossed over, due to its description not sounding appealing, leapt back onto my radar courtesy of a video of Jordan Rudess demonstrating it. The app, called Wivi Band uses some form of physical modelling to recreate wind instruments with an amazing sense of realism for a device as simple as the iPhone. The microphone uses your breath to modulate the sound, but I'm not 100% sure what it is doing. It certainly modifies the volume, and may modify other parameters (attack?) but the result is pretty cool as you'll hear from Jordan's demo video. So two boxes (physical modelling, breath control) ticked meant a quick trip to the app store for me, and a few hours of very chilled out flute and clarinet playing!

Hopefully other devs will add breath control to their apps, in addition to using the mic to, you know, record or capture sounds! Breath control into could be quite spectacular.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Apple's iPhone OS 3.0

Palm Sounds is keeping track of what's being announced by Apple for their new iPhone OS in relation to mobile music. So far it looks like my dream of being actually able to use all of the apps I have installed will remain a dream - no announcements about folders yet...

Vocoder SV-5

I'm am extremely excited about this. Over at the App Store you can now pick up Vocoder SV-5 for the iPhone and iPod. I did, and it's great. Really, really, great. Even better, it works just fine with my external microphone on a 1st gen iPod Touch. Yipee!!!

I am a robot.

It's also a fabulous-sounding virtual analog synth with some genuinely innovative interface ideas. Examples are the virtual knobs, which normally cause usability problems for touch-screen apps as you can't see what you are doing. Also if a knob is near the edge of the screen you can't rotate it accurately. In SV-5, however, you can "toggle" a knob to make it "hold" and then any movement on the interface just affects that knob's values. Very clever and very useful. Not perfect (you can only move 1 knob at a time), but then what is? Also the pitch bend wheel is fairly unique, along with a keyboard that can be scrolled sideways if you hold down a button - this latter option allows for sliding your finger across the keys when playing, but still quickly getting up or down a few octaves. Lastly, a quick stab of a (rather hidden) logo takes you into a full screen double keyboard. All very well thought out. Definitely a "keeper".

I'm so happy with all the music apps coming out for my iPod. We really are spoilt for choice, or flat broke if we can't resist buying everything that looks good! Wonder who will be first with a modular synth, complete with virtual patch cables? A Yamaha FM synth emulator (TX81z please!). Virtual VL1? A Minimoog? A fully featured stompbox unit (think iShred with external input)?

What is needed, however, is a central storage location for these apps to write to and read from, so patches, samples, recordings etc. can by synced with other devices and shared between apps.

Anyway, I'm off to play!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

App limit - grrr.

So my iPod touch is my current favourite music toy. I've got dozens of music and sound related apps on it, as well as a whole load of other apps (serious, work, toys, games, networking, communication etc.) In fact, in total I regularly use about 180 apps, which has been trimmed down from many more. 

Now many of you will know that on the iPod and iPhone you cannot normally organise your apps into folders, just a maximum of 129 (I think) 3rd party apps spread over 9 pages with 16 icons on each page. Talk about unfriendly! Other apps are still there, you just can't launch them until you delete another one.

Bring on Categories. This is an app you an only install if you jailbreak your device. Once installed you can put apps into folders and in fact I managed to get down to just one screen on my iPod, with 6 folders full of nicely organised apps. Categories and SBSettings were the two main reasons I kept my iPod jailbroken.

So now I've updated to OS 2.2.1 and decided not to jailbreak it, as I don't like going through the steps and somehow being made to feel like a criminal by Apple for daring to want to organise my apps. This means I've got to do without over 50 of my apps, just because Apple made an absolute pig's ear of app icon organisation. I'm sure Apple advocates regularly mocked Bill Gates for the "640k" limit of early DOS...

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Microphone/line-in/speaker thing for iPod arrived!

So my Macally iVoicePro arrived, enabling my 1st gen iPod Touch to join in the microphone enabled apps fun. So far pretty good:

  • Speaker is useful, although volume control seems a bit hit and miss (some apps simply don't change the volume despite using the slider!)

  • Mic quality seems very good, but haven't tried line-in yet (it's stereo, which is a bonus) or using it with an external mic (as-in external to the iVoicePro)

  • When they are installed, microphone-aware apps work perfectly


  • Plugging in headphones doesn't always seem to mute the speakers, which can lead to some almighty feedback. Maybe I'm doing something wrong, like plugging in the headphones too soon?

  • Most appstore apps refuse to install because they assume the iPod Touch 1st gen can't possibly have a microphone. Grr. (Aside: some apps that don't even use iPhone/2nd gen features refuse to install, presumably due to laziness/error on the programmer's part). Anyway, buying them through iTunes and then modifying the PLIST soon sorts that out and the installation proceeds as normal. Apple should really sort this out and just whack a disclaimer on there ("If you don't have a microphone, don't even try to install this").

So, bring on some iPxxx versions of Pocket Stompbox and MeTeoR! Actually, if Frontier Designs are reading this, how about making iShred accept audio in to its awesome effects? Now there's an idea...

Friday, 20 February 2009

List of mini projects

This is probably more about reminding me, but in the coming weeks I'll be posting about some fairly simple (well if I can do it...) hardware/software projects I've completed recently:

  • Passive 3 input stereo mixer that was oh so nearly free
  • Split input cable for PDA to allow line in (mono) and stereo out (works with Loox 720 and Glofiish X500 using 4-pole 3.5mm to 2.5mm adapter). I needed this for the awesome Pocket StompBox software I bought as well as being useful for the fabulous 12 track pocket DAW MeTeoR.
  • Using Saitek P8000 with Virtual DJ.
  • Multi-touch input device for the PC using a cardboard box, some paper and a webcam (infintely better than it sounds and dead simple if you follow the instructions on the website I found!)

Now all I need is some time. Who came up with the crazy idea of working for a living?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Excited. Microphone and line-in for my iPOD Touch

Apparently it is easier to get sound into my 1st gen iPOD Touch than I realised. I came across this forum on the iPod touch fans website. So now I've got to get my hands on one of these microphones from Macally. It isn't exactly beautiful, but it will hopefully open up my iPOD Touch to more music apps from the Appstore such as multi-track recorders and sound effects programs like RJDJ.

Look at me Ma, I'm blogging!

Ok, not something I've ever really done before, but let's start my blog! The general theme will be about making music (whatever that means) using technology and gadgets. I'm a gadget freak. I love music. I also lack talent. But hey, that doesn't stop 90% of the bands in the pop charts :o)

So for now I'll be writing about my new sound creating toys, many of which are mobile applications running on one of the following:

  • iPOD touch
  • WM6 mobile phone PDA thing
  • Fujitsu Siemens Loox720 PDA
  • Nintendo DS Lite
  • Boss Micro BR

I also like to hack together controllers for my PC based musical efforts. Too many to list right now but I'll get there.

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