My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: audio-games

10 Great 2016 iOS + Android Music/Sound Apps

From developers small and large

The list of the main iOS music-making apps I used heavily and followed closely in their development this past year is somewhat boring, in that it largely consists of backend software. A whole suite of third-party tools has come to the fore in recent years in order to provide an ad hoc infrastructure for sharing sounds and computer instructions between apps, and between the iPad and other equipment.

Of these following four only Aum was new in 2016, while the others saw various updates and upgrades. I’ve put Aum first because it’s new, and the remaining three are in alphabetical order.

(1) Aum: As with all the apps in this sub-category, Aum seems like the sort of thing Apple should simply purchase and make part of the iOS backend. The company responsible for it describes it as “a flexible audio mixer, recorder, and connection hub,” but that really doesn’t do justice to how it will immediately become the home base for all your music making on an iPad once you start using it (kymatica.com, itunes.apple.com). Pictured above.

(2) Audiobus: There may not be another piece of software that is more requested for developers of music apps to include as part of their own releases. Audiobus is the de facto sound router for iOS, allowing for an enormous (and growing) library of apps to send sound back and forth (audiob.us, itunes.apple.com).

(3) AudioShare: By the makers of Aum, this is a simple, elegant, and highly effective means to store and share audio files (and MIDI files) between apps. It’s been around since 2012, and its last major upgrade was in late 2015, though in early 2016 slide over and split screen support were added, which is especially helpful with infrastructure apps (kymatica.com, itunes.apple.com).

(4) SilQ: Excellent, narrow-focus (32-band) equalizer that works via Audiobus (see above). I’m especially hopeful for MIDI implementation (tonapp.no, itunes.apple.com).

And these six (well, #10 is sort of a list-making cheat) are performance-oriented iOS apps, the first five listed in alphabetical order, the last a grab bag:

(5) Blocs Wave: Novation already had a success on its hands with its Launchpad app when it launched this fluid, efficient, and pleasurable approach to sample-based sound production (blocs.cc, itunes.apple.com).

(6) FieldScaper: This experimental sound manipulation tool by Igor Vasiliev is far from anything I’ve come close to mastering, but I find myself going back to it again and again to morph sounds and gain competency with its intricate toolset. The app debuted in late 2015, and this year it got even better with the addition of recording and editing features (motion-soundscape.blogspot.com, itunes.apple.com). Pictured above.

(7) H–r: This app is a creative resuscitation and refashioning of one of my favorite apps of all time, the RJDJ app from Reality Jockey. Alone among the apps I’m highlighting this year, H–r is where I always thought apps were headed, which is to say it provides a platform for the casual reimagining of sounds and environments. In fact, most music and sound apps these days have music producers, professional or not, in mind, rather than everyday consumers, but H–r (it’s had some issues with its name since launch) provides hope that audio-games and audio-toys still have a future. (hearapp.io, itunes.apple.com).

(8) Korg Gadget: Korg has virtually reimagined itself as a software company, so rapid fire is its release schedule of iOS apps. This is a massive one, loaded with a variety of, per the name, audio gadgets, and it appears Korg has no plans to slow down its expansion. (korg.com, itunes.apple.com).

(9) LoopyHD: This is arguably the most user-friendly audio looper available. It appealed to me initially because it allowed for easy desynchronization of loops. Many loopers, software and hardware alike, seem to assume the user wants a steady beat, but while Loopy is great for building songs in realtime, it also allows for layering of asynchronous sounds. I use it just as often with outboard sound sources, like Buddha Machines and the squelchy feedback of a no-input mixer, as I do with intra-app audio (loopyapp.com, itunes.apple.com).

(10) Various: When something like Korg Gadget costs upwards of $40, and is supported by a major music-technology company that’s been around for over half a century, it can be unfair to put it up against the wide range of inexpensive little apps out there, so I wanted to reserve space to note things like the free MIDI Wrench, which monitors MIDI communication and can be useful during troubleshooting (itunes.apple.com); the $0.99 Lofionic Duplicat, which simulates tape delay (itunes.apple.com); the whole suite of Timothy Barraclough’s $0.99 mini-apps (especially Dahlia Delay, Saffron Saturator, and Buttercup Bitcrush — more at timothy-j.com); and the free Hexaglyphics noise generator (itunes.apple.com).

Listing 10 (or so) iOS apps here is just the tip of the iOSberg. The high priority assigned to Aum and Audiobus is that I use them to connect so many other apps, including delays and noise sources, effects and sequencers, too many to list here. For solid retrospective insights on iOS music-making, I recommend the year-end articles on two great dedicated music-app sites: musicappblog.com, from John Walden, and palmsounds.net, from Ashley Elsdon.

And 10 Notable Android Music/Sound Apps:

In addition to my iPad Mini 2 (which I expect to upgrade in the coming year, as the old CPU is getting laggy, and I’d like something larger, especially for the modular-synth apps I’ve been fiddling with — and because I need more memory; Korg Gadget alone is over 600MB in size), I have an Android phone, currently the Nexus 5X. While Android is quite behind iOS in music-making software, there is a growing library of useful tools. This year I’ve made a lot of use of these 10 in particular, none of them necessarily new (though Caustic 3 got some great upgrades this year), mostly on the bus and while waiting for movies to begin, and as short-notice inputs for my modular synthesizer and looper. These are listed in alphabetical order.

(1) Caustic 3: A powerful and ubiquitous cross-platform music construction kit, packed with synthesizers, drum machines, a sequencer, and effects (play.google.com singlecellsoftware.com).

(2) Circle Synth: A simple sound generator from Two Big Ears, which earlier this year joined Facebook’s VR and AR development group. This appears to be unique to Android (play.google.com).

(3) Common FM: A simple synthesizer employing frequency modulation, and it comes packed with presets. This appears to be unique to Android (play.google.com).

(4) DRC: A polyphonic synthesizer with a great user interface. Admirably, it’s also available for Windows, iOS, and Mac OSX. I use more powerful tools on my iPad, but on a phone-size screen it’s perfect (play.google.com imaginando.pt).

(5) Function Generator: From the prolific keuwl.com app foundry, this is a nifty stereo waveform generator. This is unique to Android (play.google.com keuwl.com). Pictured above.

(6) MikroWave: A colorful little groovebox. This appears to be unique to Android (play.google.com, igorski.nl). (They also make Kosm, a visual sequencer, which I’ve yet to spend much time with.)

(7) Noise Maschine: An excellent noise generator. This appears to be unique to Android (play.google.com). Pictured above.

(8) Saucillator: A loop-oriented tactile synth by Matt Feury. This appears to be unique to Android (play.google.com).

(9) S.A.M.M.I.: A great little sound-experimentation app with a sequencer, drone machine, and theremin. Also available on iOS (play.google.com, futronica.com).

(10) SphereTones: A touch instrument with excellent random/counterpoint opportunities. Also available on iOS (play.google.com, binaura.net).

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The Ever Portable Ukulele Meets Mobile Digital Audio Processing

In three experiments by Ashley Elsdon

There are many types of music apps — that is, apps employed in the making of music. In terms of the intent packed into those apps, through both features and branding, they can been seen, very broadly, to fall into two categories: first, apps that miniaturize for our phone/tablet age tools that existed in the past; second, apps that go new places.

As a longtime follower of digital music-making tools intended for use on the go, PalmSounds.net blogger Ashley Elsdon falls firmly in the latter camp — a subject explored in depth in an interview I did with him late last year (“Immediacy + Accessibility = Joy”). When I did the interview, I was very familiar with Elsdon’s fixation on mobile music making, from its early-ish fledgling flourishing on the defunct Palm platform, on through the golden age of iOS apps.

What I wasn’t familiar with was Elsdon’s own music. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, to hear these recent experiments of his for digitally processed ukulele. All three employ different apps (as detailed in a short post at palmsounds.net) to both halo and process the ukulele’s unique, casual, often gestural tonalities. They’re quite distinct recordings from each other, but they also hold together as a set. “Ukulele Exploration 1” in particular rewards repeat listening, with its dubby echoes of gentle plucking and strums.

Tracks originally posted at soundcloud.com/palmsounds.

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Immediacy + Accessibility = Joy

The past and future of mobile music — a conversation with with PalmSounds.net founder Ashley Elsdon

Finger Painting: A hand interacts with the innovative Borderlands Granular iPad app

Finger Painting: A hand interacts with the innovative Borderlands Granular iPad app

One of the great resources for mobile music — from iPad apps to small new gadgets — is the website palmsounds.net. For almost a decade, Ashley Elsdon has tracked, and participated in, the development of mobile audio, from full-blown digital workstations to casual entertainment, what here on Disquiet.com is often referred to as “audio-games.”

Elsdon graciously submitted to an interview, which we did over a few weeks as a collaborative Google Drive document. The discussion ranges from the early sonic hacking of the now ancient PalmPilot to the museum-approved devices from Teenage Engineering. In between we touch on old-school manufacturers such as Korg and Roland adapting their hardware for use as software, Elsdon’s own efforts to use mobile tech to aid those with learning disabilities, as well as his and my mutual disappointment that — so far, at least — mobile music has not yet become a general-public form of entertainment, even as it has become a massive force in professional and home-based music production.

Marc Weidenbaum: I want to start with the name of your site, palmsounds.net. The word “palm” is in it because it started in relation to the making of music on the Palm Pilot, right — what later became “Palm OS”?

Ashley Elsdon: You’re right there. It did start as a result of making music on Palm OS devices. This came about because I started using a Palm III a long time ago, mostly for getting myself organised. But as I started to get used to the device I realised just how much these little computers could do and what a vast community there was for them (which is sadly all but gone). Eventually I stumbled into looking into the musical capabilities of the Palm OS. Back in the late 1990s it was, to say the least, minimal, but it was there. A site called “minimusic.com” had started developing some notation and sequencing apps for the Palm OS (although back then we didn’t call them apps) and I started playing with these. But even then this was quite a while before Palm Sounds started. As Palm OS evolved, a new app arrived called Bhajis Loops, which was, and in fact still is, one of the best mobile music making apps ever, in my opinion. I spent a lot of time with that app.

The Palm III , introduced in 1998

Memento Mori: The Palm III , introduced in 1998

It wasn’t long after that I started to write Palm Sounds. I was experimenting with blogging about a bunch of different subjects, and making music on mobile devices was the one that really stuck for me. I was actually quite surprised that people were interested in such a niche subject. But they were, and people started to contact me about mobile music, and things have just continued from there. The rest is history as they say.

Substance Over Stylus: Screen interfaces for the Palm software Bhaji Loops, the work of Olivier Gillet

Substance Over Stylus: Screen interfaces for the Palm software Bhaji Loops, the work of Olivier Gillet, later of Mutable Instruments

Weidenbaum: What year was that around? Could you provide a general timeline for major milestones for the site’s development?

Elsdon: Hmm, actually, that’s quite difficult. The site started off in 2006, but as for milestones I can’t remember much I’m afraid.

Weidenbaum: I feel like the word “palm” right now works as a good synonym for “mobile,” because we have some distance from Palm OS’s onetime ubiquity. Was there a time when you considered changing the name?

Elsdon: In fact I did, and a lot of people talked to me about changing the name. Some people were quite vocal as well. In the end I decided against it as I just didn’t think it was worth it. Palm Sounds grew out of the Palm OS and the musical apps that were around back then. However, it did occur to me that Palm was also a good way to describe handheld music making, so I stuck with it, and in hindsight I’m glad that I did. So much of mobile music has become about iOS that it’s sort of become the only thing that people talk about and I’ve always wanted Palm Sounds to be about more than just one operating system, or one technology. So I think that Palm Sounds is still a good name and is more about mobile music in its most general sense, rather than just iOS. Read more »

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Life After Nintendo

Shiny chiming jangles made in Nanoloop

20131206-nanoloop

There are several dozen tracks thus far in the “sound diary” credited on SoundCloud to Corruption, who gives as a residence Funabashi, Japan. Many are noisy escapades, tagged simply as “sound diary,” while the one dated “2013.11.19” and given the subtitle “like a moth to a candle” bears a second tag: Nanoloop. That’s the name of a popular piece of electronic music software that originated on the Nintendo Gameboy and has been since ported to iOS and Android. What was, back in 1998, an esoteric dream of handheld music-making has become pop culture, an everyday activity. In Corruption’s hands, Nanoloop makes sequences of shiny chiming jangles that ebb and flow like a low-resolution tide. There’s a glitchy quality to it at times, lending the work a welcome complexity, a dark undercurrent to its slow pace. Corruption does not identify which edition of Nanoloop is employed.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/corrption. More on Nanoloop at nanoloop.com. The above screenshots are from the Android version.

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disquiet.gizmodo.com

On Disquiet.com now participating in the Gizmodo ecosystem

These are two things that I think Geoff Manaugh, editor-in-chief of the technology and design blog Gizmodo.com, didn’t know about me when he asked if I’d consider bringing Disquiet.com beneath his website’s expanding umbrella.

1: My “to re-blog” bookmark file has been packed in recent months with scores of items from pretty much all of the Gizmodo-affiliated sites — not just Gizmodo, but io9.com, Lifehacker, Jalopnik, Gawker, and Kotaku. Probably Jezebel and Deadspin, too, but the file is too thick for me to tell.

2: Pretty much the first thing that I read every morning with my coffee — well, every weekday morning — is the “Morning Spoilers” at io9.com, the great science fiction website that is part of the Gawker network that also contains Gizmodo.

I knew Manaugh’s work from BLDGBLOG and, before that, Dwell Magazine. He’d previously invited me to involve the weekly experimental music/sound project series that I run, the Disquiet Junto, in the course on the architecture of the San Andreas Fault that he taught in spring 2013 at Columbia University’s graduate school of architecture. And I am excited to work with him again.

And so, there is now a cozy disquiet.gizmodo.com subdomain URL where I’ll be syndicating — simulposting — material from Disquiet.com, as well as doing original straight-to-Gizmodo writing. I’m hopeful that members of the Gizmodo readership might further expand the already sizable ranks of the Disquiet Junto music projects (we just completed one based on a post from Kotaku), and I’ll be posting notes from the course I teach on “sound in the media landscape” at the Academy of Art here in San Francisco.

For new readers of Disquiet, the site’s purview is as follows:

* Listening to Art.

* Playing with Audio.

* Sounding Out Technology.

* Composing in Code.

I’ll take a moment to break that down:

Listening to Art: Attention to sound art has expanded significantly this year, thanks in no small part to the exhibit Soundings: A Contemporary Score at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. That exhibit, which ran from August 10 through November 3, featured work by such key figures as Susan Philipsz (whose winning of the Turner Prize inspired an early music compilation I put together), Carsten Nicolai (whom I profiled in the new Red Bull Music Academy book For the Record), and Stephen Vitiello (whom I’ve interviewed about 911 and architectural acoustics, and who has participated in the Disquiet Junto). But if “sound art” is art for which music is both raw material and subject matter, my attention is just as much focused on what might better be described as the role of “sound in art,” of the depictions of audio in various media (the sound effects in manga, for example) and the unintended sonic components of art beyond sound art, like the click and hum of a slide carousel or the overall sonic environment of a museum. Here’s video of Tristan Perich’s “Microtonal Wall” from the MoMA exhibit:

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Playing with Audio: If everything is, indeed, a remix, that is a case most clearly made in music and experimental sound. From the field recordings that infuse much ambient music to the sampling of hip-hop to the rapturous creative reuse that proliferates on YouTube and elsewhere, music as raw material is one of the most exciting developments of our time. Terms like “remix” and “mashup” and “mixtape” can been seen to have originated or otherwise gained cachet in music, and as they expand into other media, we learn more about them, about the role such activities play in culture. And through the rise of audio-game apps, especially in iOS, such “playing with sound” has become all the more common — not just the work of musicians but of audiences, creating a kind of “active listening.” This notion of reuse, of learning about music and sound by how it is employed after the fact, plays a big role in my forthcoming book for the 33 1/3 series. My book is about Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and it will be published on February 13, 2014, just weeks ahead of the record’s 20th anniversary. As part of my research for the book, I spoke with many individuals who had come to appreciate the Aphex Twin album by engaging with it in their own work, from composers who had transcribed it for more “traditional” instruments (such as chamber ensembles and solo guitar), to choreographers and sound designers, to film directors.

Sounding Out Technology: A briefer version of the Disquiet.com approach is to look at “the intersection of sound, art, and technology.” The term “technology” is essential to that trio, because it was only when I learned to step back from my fascination with electronically produced music and to appreciate “electronic” as a subset of the vastly longer continuum of “technology” that connections became more clear to me — say, between the sonics of raves and the nascent polyphony of early church music, or between creative audio apps like Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers’ Bloom and what is arguably the generative ur-instrument: the aeolian harp. With both Bloom and the aeolian harp, along with its close relative the wind chime, music is less a fixed composition than a system that is enacted. As technology mediates our lives more and more, the role that sound plays in daily life becomes a richer and richer subject — from voice-enabled devices, to the sounds of consumer product design, to the scores created for electric cars:

Composing in Code: Of all the technologies to come to the fore in the past two decades, perhaps none has had an impact greater than computer code. This is no less true in music and sound than it is in publishing, film, politics, health, or myriad other fields. While the connections between mathematics and music have been celebrated for millennia, there is something special to how, now, those fields are combining, notably in graphic systems such as Max/MSP (and Max for Live, in Ableton) and Puredata (aka Pd), just to name two circumstances. Here, for reference, is a live video of the Dutch musician and sound artist Edo Paulus’ computer screen as he constructs and then performs a patch in Max/MSP. Where the construction ends and the performance begins provides a delightful koan:

All of which said, I’m not 100-percent clear what form my disquiet.gizmodo.com activity will take. I’m looking forward to experimenting in the space. I’ll certainly be co-posting material from Disquiet.com, but I’m also planning on engaging with Gizmodo itself, and with its broader network of sites. I’ve already, in advance of this post, begun re-blogging material from Gizmodo and from Gizmodo-affiliated sites: not just “sharing” (in the UI terminology of the Kinja CMS that powers the network) but adding some contextual information, thoughts, tangents, details. I’m enthusiastic about Kinja, in particular how it blurs the lines between author and reader. I like that a reply I make to a post about a newly recreated instrument by Leonardo Da Vinci can then appear in my own feed, leading readers back to the original site, where they themselves might join in the conversation. Kinja seems uniquely focused on multimedia as a form of commentary — like many CMS systems, it allows animated GIFs and short videos to serve as blog comments unto themselves, but it goes the step further of allowing users to delineate rectangular sub-sections of previously posted images and comment on those. I’m intrigued to see how sound can fit into that approach. (It’s no surprise to me that Kinja is innovative in this regard — it’s on Lifehacker that I first learned about the syntax known as “markdown.”) I think that all, cumulatively, makes for a fascinating media apparatus, and I want to explore it.

While I typed this post, it was Tuesday in San Francisco. I live in the Outer Richmond District, just north of Golden Gate Park and a little over a mile from the Pacific Ocean. The season’s first torrential rain has passed, and so the city sounds considerably more quiet than it did just a few days ago. No longer is the noise of passing automobiles amplified and augmented by the rush of water, and the roof above my desk is no longer being pummeled. But where there is the seeming peace of this relative quiet, there is also an increased diversity of listening material. The ear can hear further, as it were — not just to conversations in the street and to passing cars, but to construction blocks away, to leaf blowers, to a seaplane overhead, to the sound of a truck backing up at some considerable distance, and to the many birds that (unlike what I was accustomed to, growing up on the north shore of New York’s Long Island) do not all vacate the area come winter. It is shortly past noon as I hit the button to make this post go live. Church bells have sung a duet with the gurgling in my belly to remind me it is time for lunch. And because it is Tuesday, the city’s civic warning system has rung out. 

Dim sum, anyone?

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