I’m no expert on the iPad. But I think that may not be such a bad thing.
I started playing around with music tools on the Apple tablet three or four years ago. For the first two or three years, I was trying to create a complete workflow on the ipad. To do what I’d been doing on my desktop mac. Create tracks from start to finish.
Complete tracks is the iPad’s Achilles heel. There’s no good program for it. At least not yet. The reason is simple. While music making apps have been in development on desktop computers since the 80s, the iPad is still pretty young. During the time we’ve been making music on computers, the list of things we want our music making program, or DAW to do has grown ever longer. So people who set out to design and program such an app for iPad, like Steinberg’s Cubasis or Korg’s Gadget, need to match that list as well as possible.
But the desktop follows design conventions that don’t exist on the iPad. Apple notoriously has very strict design guidelines, and while they are not compulsory, users tend to flock to applications that follow them. The reason is that the more a program looks like other programs, the easier it is for you to “hit the ground running”, find your way around without having to look at manuals or tutorials. Even on windows, most actions can be found in the menu bar at the top ofr the screen.
But the iPad has no such design conventions, and nobody dares to just create a text based menu bar. While this is… fine, the problem is that there is no visual design language to replace that menu bar. There’s no fixed position for anything, so if you try out a complex program on the iPad, you’re very likely to get lost very soon.
So my experience has been that the simpler the app is, the more likely I am to have a creative and fun time using it.
Here are the apps I have found myself revisting, and that I’ve made stuff I liked with. Your milage may vary, of course. I’ll be adding to this article, but I’ll start out with these two:
Aum is probably the best “work envronment” on the iPad. It’s not a full DAW. A full DAW has a timeline, for midi recordings, audio recordings, or both.
Aum is a bit like a shell. You can load midi sequencers as plugins. You have a mixer, where you can add channels. The mixer has no built in features, just a volume slider and slots for plugins.
What I do in Aum is that I’ll load up a fun plugin, maybe add an effect, and just jam, and record that jam.
From Aum I take recordings, that I sometimes bring to Ableton on the Mac, and use as raw material. if it’s a simple element like a rhythm, I may cut the audio down to loops, if it’s more like a song, I’ll edit and mix it on the desktop.
I’ve tried different tools to edit and mix on the iPad, and while these things exist, I’ve never found a daw where I can work uninterupted. I’ll hit walls looking for things as simple as undo or copy and paste.
It’s pretty awkward that iOS hasn’t created design standards for these things, but here we are.
Aum is, as far as I know, the only game in town, alone in its category. There are other “open” work environments, but none match the simplicity and clear purpose of AUM.
I don’t know what Ruismaker Noir is. Or, what you would call it, or categorise it. It’s a sound module, that is completely self-contained. It has a very very simple sequencer (of sorts) and a bunch of buttons that change the sound and modulation of the pulses that come from the sequencer.
But… it’s not a drum machine, because drum machines have many different sound sources. Ruismaker just has one central synth. But it’s not really a synth, at least as you’d know them, because it doesn’t use midi notes, just positions on a slider. You can program a melody on it, but usually what I make ends up sounding pretty atonal.
And what I end up making is usually some sort of techno. I have never finished a track out of my ruismaker jams. I have no real plans to create a hard techno moniker, and I don’t really think that anyone is waiting for my interpretations of the 90s sounds of Missile Records.
But I really really lose myself when I use Ruismaker Noir. More, and unlike any other ipad app. It sounds great, but it’s main appeal is the playfulness, if you like looking for a rhythm, and dancing inside your brian while tooling around on the tablet.
It’s my first-buy suggestion for anyone looking to make music on the iPad, as long as you’re musically open-minded.
I’ll keep adding to this list when I have time and an urge.
I’d like to wrap this first version up with a hall-of-shame list.
Sitting atop what is probably the best collection of analog emulation synthesis for the iPad, the Roland Cloud collection of Roland’s historic synth collection, Zenbeats has a very strong promise, but it’s hampered by the ugliest design of any professional app on the iPad, on top of an interface which is a strong contender for the most confusing one. Zenbeats is the app I’m probably quickest to close. And since it’s not some kid’s attempt at grown-up app making, but a major release from one of music history’s giants, a very large and important corporation to this day, the product is very frustrating. It doesn’t meet what expectations you’d have towards Roland’s legendary name.
More to come.