The Bass Geek - Words about Music, Circuitry, and New Orleans
The Bass Geek

Full recording studio on the iPad? Slow Down . . .

It's NAMM time, so a ton of press releases are going around regarding new products and software, including this rather surprising announcement about a 48-track recording program that could host VST plug-ins and recording 24 simultaneous tracks of audio. As noted here, these claims are a little misleading and the software hasn't really arrived yet. It's easy to get caught up in gear announcements and the remaining fall-out, but a little calm would be nice here. The iPad is running hardware roughly comparable to the machines that were running Pro Tools many years ago, so it's not impossible to make these kinds of things happen. It's also true that this app will require the traditional studio equipment around it (an audio interface, good monitors, a good-sounding room, etc.) to make it work. And then there's the question of where all these audio recordings will live. Local copies synced with a cloud storage location?

The main appeal of this app to me is being able to record in a studio and then just grab the iPad and do edits and modifications elsewhere. But it's not a one-stop solution in a box, and the ad materials need to be a little more clear. And, of course, we have to actually get our hands on the app and test it. 🙂


Quick Thoughts on the Animoog

After some weirdness getting the app to run initially (no audio and weird controls) that has since been sorted out, I'm struck by a few things:

  1. Did you ever imagine you could buy ANYTHING functional from Moog for $.99? Ever?
  2. The sound is incredible and quite useful for prominent synth work - no real experience with pads so far.
  3. The interaction with this synth is AMAZING. Volume and aftertouch on the keys, touch knobs and controls, a functional X/Y pad, envelopes with draggable edit points - this really works well with the touchscreen. You will not want to use a MIDI controller with this app, simply because you're losing out on about half the functionality.
  4. I REALLY want apps to interact more now, 'cause I'd love to record this live to the looper. There is a recorder built into the synth that exports in AudioCopy/AudioPaste format, so it can still happen within the box. But live playing would be nice.
  5. That $.99 price only lasts for less than a month now, so act quickly if you're interested.

Where Do We Go with Sheet Music?

NPR tackles the plight of those who write music for a living and distribute it via sheet music. File sharing doesn't apply just to audio recordings - something that's drilled in to me every time I get a Google new alert detailing all the sites torrenting my assorted books. Same thing happens with sheet music, and the NPR story considers how new technology makes the traditional publishing process obsolete. Who needs the publishing companies when you can take Sibelius or Finale (preferably Sibelius, for my money) and sell it via any number of online marketplaces. You don't even have to pay for studio time. The piracy may still exist, but at least you're getting the money directly instead of filtering it through middlemen.

But that also just accounts for the actual sheet music, and not the performance rights. Currently, when I perform in the pit for a musical, the director or theater buys the rights for the performance and awaits the delivery of well-worn paper scores and parts. These things have been abused, and most of the time they're just photocopies of hand-written sheet music (or some crappy handwriting-like font). Then I end up using Sibelius to copy and transpose some of the numbers for the sake of the singers, toss together the whole conglomeration, and hope for the best. Since the performance costs are for the rights to the show and not the books themselves, why not distribute them digitally via computers or other devices (like Kindles, iPads, or other eReaders). The backlit screens mean we could even dispatch with the stand lights!

But wait, it gets better. Since these are digitally distributed, why couldn't they also go into a program that automatically transposes the songs according to the needs of the performers? Or remove measures or sections as needed as well (another common occurrence, at least in the theaters I've worked in)? Even the iPhone can already do the transposition for lead sheets in the Real Book, although I don't think it can handle written parts and the removal of measures. The initial buy-in for the eReaders of choice might be a little much, but paper copies could also be printed from the computer. Remember, the money is for the performance rights, not the books themselves.

So now we have the electronic sheet music available either in printable form (which, admittedly, is available right now at several different online locations) or to eReaders with additional abilities for modification. Money is saved in the transport and return of the books, and those responsible for the creation of the music still get paid for the performance rights as well. The tools are there, we just have to make it work, write the software, and use the new tools available to us.


Playing What You Can’t Play

The theory of "Don't program it until you can play it" expressed here is an interesting one, and the author certainly took the time to delve into it and consider the issue from different viewpoints. It is not, for instance, the knee-jerk opinion expressed about Vernon Reid's guitar solo by a member of Blind Melon quite a few years ago. Basically, he said the part was terrible because "you can't hum it."

If I wanted to hear it hummed, I listen to somebody hum it. I listen to that part because it's something that the instrument (and likely, that soloist) is singularly capable of performing.

So I go into this theory with a little trepidation, precisely because the tools are capable of doing more than what has been done previously. But at the same time, not everything can or should be boundary-pushing. I want to hear what is possible, but I also want to hear the Hold Steady, too. Comfort listening, if you will.

Drawing notes is boring, time-consuming, and a little lifeless, really. But it's a tool to get to where you need to go, and I'm guessing that you probably tried to play it through once before giving up and drawing it in. If you've got a little skill on an instrument, it's easier to give that a whack and modify it from there.

But before it's set in stone, I think I'd like to play with the envelopes or settings just a bit. Just in case making it an un-hummable part makes it better. We have the tools, after all, and that guy from Blind Melon probably isn't going to ever hear it anyway.