Sounds of music

By Tobias Schormann

The Gorillaz created the album The Fall was created on an iPad.
The Gorillaz created the album The Fall was created on an iPad.

You don't need a drum kit to be a drummer these days. All you need is a mobile phone packed with the right apps to create a portable sound studio.

The question is, is this more than just a high-tech game? After all, Damon Albarn's Gorillaz created the album The Fall on an iPad.

The 20 apps used as instruments on the album are listed on the band's website and available to anyone who fancies himself a musician.

But beginners shouldn't expect to create a masterwork on their first try. Still, it's possible to have a lot of fun with the touchscreen. Plus, the music apps don't cost much.

The good news for beginners: it's child's play to make music with apps. It's not necessary to read music or know much about the technology. All you have to do is just start.

Some apps, like Garageband or FL Mobile Studio, turn iOS devices into complete sound studios. And you still don't need to be a sound engineer to make a decent recording.

That's made possible, partially, with pre-produced samples and functions that automatically generate the proper accompaniment. Just pick a beat, a bassline and a guitar riff, record yourself singing 'yeah, yeah, yeah' and your first song is essentially done.

But there are different approaches. Some apps let a smartphone make the same sounds as an organ or synthesizer if they're connected to a keyboard. While if you can read music, Apps like Tonara, which is free, even turn the page automatically and show at which point you are. Meanwhile, Avid Scorch will patiently play, again and again, how one part in a score should sound - even particularly slowly if desired.

An app like Amplitube means musicians always have a guitar amplifier on hand. Just attach the guitar with an adaptor and rock and roll can fill any room. It's perfect for practising while under way or recording.

Garageband is available for only $6.49. Comparable mini studios like FL Studio Mobile or Music Studio cost about $19. Rhythm machines like Xenon Groove Synthesizer ($6.49) or Korg iKaoossilator ($24.99) are also affordable.

And the selection is huge - although only for Apple's iOS operating system. Android is clearly second fiddle in this field. Nonetheless, apps like Pocket Band, Caustic or Reloop mean it isn't totally excluded either.

Of course, mobile solutions can never replace a PC system with the right software, but they are a good supplement, says Constantin Koehncke of Native Instruments.

That company's app, iMaschine, allows people to create beats and to see how they sound with some accompaniment and vocals. It's practical for testing out musical ideas while on the road and whatever you create can be expanded on a PC, since anything created on the app can be transferred to a PC, or just put straight online.

Hobby musicians can also benefit from using their tablet as a remote control for PC music software. Steinberg offers a free app, Cubase iC, that is perfect for one-man projects, says company spokesman Stefan Trowbridge.

It makes it easier for a musician sitting in front of a microphone in his living room and decides he wants to record a passage on his computer. "This way he doesn't have to jog to the computer first to press record."

But the touchscreen controls on these apps are not so precise. That can be especially true for a music app on a mobile phone or tablet. It can be very tricky, editing individual notes on a small display. Even if it's possible to edit something precisely, it's always easier with a mouse.

So hobbyists still shouldn't expect too much. The app that creates the perfect hit with the push of a button still hasn't been created, says Jurran.

And industry professionals like Trowbridge are still sceptical of examples like that of Gorillaz, especially when people say it's a sign that music will soon be made only via iPad. "That's just dreams of the future," he says.


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