iPad as Effects Processor

Bell Sound Waves 1

So far we’ve looked at iOS devices as digital audio workstations, notation readers and scorers, and as musical synthesizers. This time we’re going to take a look at the devices as effects processors.

The phrase “effects processor” is a catch-all term that refers to just about any way that sound is manipulated before its amplified, recorded, etc.  This could be as basic as adding reverberation to make it sound like your in a large auditorium instead of a small recording studio, or as complex as auto-tuning, looping, or otherwise radically altering the sound.

Effects devices typically took two forms.  There were rack-mounted devices that controlled EQ, compression, reverb, delay, etc.  Then there were performance devices.  These were usually geared toward guitarists, and included the Fuzz, WahWah, Flanger, and distortion peddles.  Now a whole range of effects peddles can be found.  Rack-mounted effects are still important in studio work, but most of those effects can now be found on performance devices themselves, such as keyboards, etc.

Effects apps for iOS seem to look more like performance level devices, and this makes sense.  The portability of the device makes it a great alternative if you needs some quick effects and don’t want to lug all your gear with you.  If you’re doing a jam session or just practicing, these are great.  I’m not sure how it would work in a studio setting, though. Continue reading “iPad as Effects Processor”

In-App Agony

Most apps for smart phones, whether iOS or Android, are relatively inexpensive.  They are certainly cheaper than the programs for PCs and Macs over the past decade or so.  As computing power increases and memory gets cheaper, software seems to pick up added bloatation, so it’s also nice to see powerful applications in a streamlined package.

Even though streamlined, powerful apps are fairly cost effective, there is on trend that bothers me – the “In-App Purchase.”  You purchase a cheap application, or perhaps find a free one, only to find that inside the app you have to purchase additional components to get it to do what you want.  I’ve found this to be the case with photography and music-related apps quite frequently.

For example, TC-Helicon’s VocalJam app is $6.99 in the app store.

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By itself it’s a pretty good program. However, if you try to click on the effects buttons on the left side, you get the following message: Continue reading “In-App Agony”

iPad Music Synthesis

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OK, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a synthesizer geek. In high school my favorite bands were synth-heavy bands like Yes, Kansas and Styx, and my hero was Rick Wakeman with his banks of keyboards and flowing robes. I was even privileged to meet and interview Dr. Robert Moog when I was in college, and I tried to learn all I could about music synthesis.

Back in the 1970’s I would drop by Pecknel Music and drool over the Minimoogs and ARP 2600s they occasionally had on display there. And drool was all I could do, for at prices ranging from $2000-$3000, these were far beyond my reach. When I finally got a teaching job and could purchase my own synthesizers, we were well into the Digital FM Synthesis days of the 1980’s. Musicians were already reminiscing about the fat analog sounds of the old monophonic synths of the 1970’s, something they still do.

…And that nostalgia seems to be paying off. Many of the old synths, or at least the concepts behind them, have been recreated as VSTis, and now these are being ported over to the iPad and iPhone. Technology that used to cost thousands of dollars is now available as a $4.99 app.  But there’s a trap…with the cheap price you may find yourself wanting ALL of the available synths, and still wind up sinking a ton of money for apps you’ll use a couple of times and forget…still cheaper than a vintage synth, but pricey all the same. Continue reading “iPad Music Synthesis”

iPad Music Notation

Saturday we had a Chorale Chamber Ensemble “retreat,” basically an all-afternoon rehearsal when I would have preferred being out on my kayak. This group is fairly tech-savvy, and there is always a good contingent of smart phones, e-readers, and iPads somewhere in the hall. Usually these are pulled out before rehearsal or during break (or surreptitiously used to take blurry photos, as I did in this post.) However, at this particular rehearsal I glanced over at one of our tenors and saw that he was holding his iPad throughout rehearsal rather than his music. Perry had scanned all of his music into PDF files and was reading from the iPad.

Perry with iPad

This caused quite the stir during break, and several of us pulled out iPads to compare scoring apps. Perry was kind enough to share his scanned PDF files (not illegal in this case since we have legitimate copies in our possession.) The following Monday evening I had the music on my iPad, as did soprano Amy.

Amy with iPad

…Which leads to this post in my series on iPad music. What apps are available for both reading and creating musical scores? Quite a few, as you might imagine. Continue reading “iPad Music Notation”

iPad as DAW

Lpk25

A couple of years ago I purchased a little Akai LPK25 keyboard. I was exploring MIDI sequencing and notation input on mobile devices such like my netbook, and was looking for a quick input device. I was sorely disappointed in what was available inexpensively, and I never seemed to be able to get the keyboard to work with either my netbook or my laptop. The keyboard sat on the edge of my desk for months, unused.

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When I got the iPad one of the first apps I found was Garage Band. It was cool, but the virtual keyboard on the device just didn’t seem natural for playing. I missed raised black notes.

I had purchased the camera connection kit for the iPad, and found out from several online forums that the USB connector in the camera kit would work connect the LPK to the IPad. This started my first serious delvings into using the iPad as a digital audio workstation, or DAW.  I’ve now had a chance to work with several DAW apps. Here’s a quick rundown with my impressions. Continue reading “iPad as DAW”

Electronic Music Primer

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I figured that before I dive into the musical capabilities of the iPad, it might not hurt to define some of these terms and acronyms that I’m tossing around. As with any field, electronic music has its own jargon that can be quite confusing. These are roughly in order of how frequently I’ll be using the terms over the next several posts. I don’t pretend to be an expert, and will probably get some of this wrong, but here goes…

Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) – MIDI was developed as a communications protocol in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s. It allows musical keyboards to control other keyboards and devices such as computers, etc.

Even though it was developed thirty years ago, MIDI is still very much in use. Back in the day when computers didn’t have much memory, MIDI was also a very efficient way to create complex compositions. A computer or external sequencer only had to record key-on/key-off, pitch, and duration data. The actual sounds were produced by the external keyboards or sound modules. Other capabilities were added to the protocol, such as the ability to detect velocity, or how hard a key is pressed, and the ability to control various settings on instruments such as sustain, and to trigger events such as changing lighting, changing settings, etc. You could also play multiple keyboards from one controller keyboard, creating thick sounds and tonalities from multiple instruments.

MIDI has 16 different channels, and different instruments can be assigned to various channels. On most keyboards you will find a MIDI in, out, and through port. On many modern keyboards the MIDI signal is now transmitted through a USB port. Continue reading “Electronic Music Primer”

iMake Music

It seems timely that the lowly Commodore C64 was introduced 30 years ago this week. The C64 was my introduction to music technology, and my gateway to the larger world of instructional technology. I used the C64 with a MIDI interface and some very basic sequencing software to control a Casio CZ101 keyboard, a Korg … Continue reading iMake Music

iPad After Six Months

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It’s been over six months since I’ve had my iPad (well, nearly seven, actually) and has been about that much time since I first wrote about it. Since then I’ve had a chance to put it through its paces and see what apps I like best.

I’m still frustrated by the lack of Flash. There are just too many online applications that I use on a regular basis that need it, from Aviary.com to Audioboo.fm to Flickr to…, well I think you get the point. Even though some of these sites advertise themselves as iPad compatible, or have apps, the embeddable players for blogs still run on Flash. I hope they are able to fix these.

I’m also still concerned about the “appification” of the web. Rather than making their sites HTML5 compatible, some sites are just creating apps to host their content, then charging for the apps. Content that use to be free on the web is now hidden behind an app fee if you want to read on an iPad. I’ve seen a couple of other editorials in the past month lamenting this practice, so I know it’s not just me.

That being said, I’ve found a whole host of other things that make the iPad an outstanding device, and one that I’ve come to rely on all the time. As one might imagine, I’m finding new uses beyond the traditional laptop/netbook that really make it a game changer. I guess the real clincher was when I recently reached up and tried to touch my laptop screen to select something. Continue reading “iPad After Six Months”

A Day on Samish Island

The view from Mrs. Wright’s living room is constantly changing. The lighting changes with the rising and setting of the sun, clouds and weather roll in, and there is the constant shifting of the tides. Throw in a couple of eagles, herons, and humming birds, along with some boat traffic, and you’ve got a constant … Continue reading A Day on Samish Island

iPad – First Impressions

Our district purchased several iPads for special ed and for our ESOL teachers. I’ve had one for a week to put it through its paces and see how it might work, and how we might design some staff development. I can see the educational benefits of iPads in the classrooms, and I’ve seen some excellent results form kids working with them. However, from a personal standpoint I’m still conflicted as to whether I really like it, and how useful it might be compared to other options. Since I already have a netbook, Kindle, and iPod Touch, the device just seems redundant. Personally, I probably wouldn’t buy one, but if I didn’t already have these things, would it be a good choice? My very first thought was that it was just an overgrown Touch.

New iPad

Coming from a laptop/netbook experience, my first impression was that the shortcomings of the iPad are numerous…

  • No USB connections
  • No easy way to transfer files
  • No real GPS functionality for maps
  • NO FLASH!!

…and lots of other pesky problems that prevent it from doing what I think it should be able to do. The lack of Flash is especially bothersome, because it prevents me from using slide shows on Flickr, and even using the admin screens of this blog effectively. Aviary.com won’t work at all on it, and Google Docs is a real bother. Continue reading “iPad – First Impressions”