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...