Music’s Future with Mobile Apps
Iphone and Ipad apps, of course, are steadily growing. Since its launch in July 2008, the App Store has experienced a steady increase in the number of new releases, averaging just a thousand per month at inception to its current projected peak of about 40 thousand. With more than a million total applications and nearly a quarter of a million active publishers, the proliferation of apps is, by any standard, remarkable. Apps have now become part of a well-established consumer culture, shaping users’ every-day lives and driving new market entrants.
Music applications for mobile devices have encompassed all aspects of the trade, particularly affecting its methods of delivery and consumption. Itunes, Pandora, and Spotify, for instance, have made the idea of purchasing music at retail or streaming as comfortable as buying albums in a store. Moreover, “Album Apps”, i.e. applications whose only content is a self-contained music product delivered directly from the artist/label to the consumer, are gaining ground. Rap superstar Jay-Z launched his last studio wok, Magna Carta Holy Grail, on July 4th in the form of a downloadable app by Samsung. Bjork was there before in 2011, with her Biophilia for iPad.
Presently, the use of mobile devices as tools of music creation and performance is not well established. Nonetheless, overall there is progress, and both amateurs and professionals are being lured into this new experimental field. Examples here are the works of the Stanford MoPhO or Mobile Phone Orchestra, iBand and the British pop singer Gary Go, and the iPad lighthearted performance by pianist Lang Lang of The Flight of the Bumbleblee.
It is nevertheless notable that all of the steps involved from creation to performance could migrate to mobile devices. Even though a lack of general standards might make an endeavor of this kind impractical in the short-run, the promise is there for those that will wish to circumvent a high-end professional production. Indeed, the musical solutions offered by mobile devices appear unprecedented. The impact could be felt on the sequencing and recording of music, the making of synthesized sounds, the state of music notation and composition, and the widespread use of electronic controllers on stage.
Mobile devices can now be used as Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) to record, edit, mix and export creations of any genre and kind. With MIDI controllers becoming smaller and smaller, it is possible to simply turn an iPad into a mini-studio. Cubasis, by German-based music tech company Steinberg, Apple’s Garage Band, and Auria by Wavemachine Labs offer the possibility of creating impressively complex ‘mixes’, from scratch to delivery. A drawback, compared to a desktop, is that the computing power is more limited, but this too could change.
Mobile devices can also be used as ‘virtual instruments’ for either sampled and acoustically-generated sounds, as in WI Orchestra by Wallander Instruments and Thumbjamb by Sonosaurus, or of synthesized ones, employing a variety of different synthesis techniques, as in ReBirth by Propellerhead, Animoog by Moog Music and Addictive Synth by VirSyn.
When considering music notation and controllers, fields in which the possibility of having a direct an immediate response to a manual gesture can become an integral part of an artistic work, apps can gain a further competitive edge. Avid’s Scorch and Finale’s Songbook, are applications that function more as ‘interactive music stands’ for previously notated material. But with Notion, by the Notion Music group, the user can input notes hands-on graphically on the screen and position pre-selected durations in the appropriate pitch location. Think Music Technology, a startup company, has announced the release, in the fall, of an application with full handwriting recognition capabilities. As with the other apps, it is expected that it will be compatible with the software of giants like Finale and Sibelius.
The apps that are arguably the most practical and innovative for music makers are controllers of specific audio set-ups. Here are three that might make quite a splash in years to come.
Touchable by AppBC offers a way to control Ableton’s Live wirelessly via an iPad. Live is a desktop application functioning both as DAW and as a live performance tool (hence its name), and it gained, since its launch in 2001, a great deal of popularity in electronic music genres. Touchable, then, would uncover paths for various possible ‘hardware-free’ performances.
Traktor DJ, released in February by German music tech giant Native Instruments, is the implementation for mobile devices of their widely used laptop application of the same name. It has a self-contained iPad application and provides the end user all the tools necessary to run a DJ set.
Mira for iPad, an app that enables wireless control of MaxMSP patches and standalone applications, was just released in San Francisco. MaxMSP is a visual ‘programming language’ that empowers the user to design and implement his own software devices for music synthesis and processing. It is done graphically, without writing a single line of code. Many artists already make use of it, both from popular genres, such as Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead, and in less mainstream music, such as in contemporary classical. Mira offers artists the ability to design both their own instruments and processors, stimulate their creativity, and give them an edge, through their special touch-device technology, in performance.
In the years to come, with the incessant increase of computing and storage capabilities, it will be possible for music professionals to use mobile devices as musical instruments, recording platforms, and new performance tools. When the Mark II synthesizer was released in 1957, it was reported that orchestra musicians were worried their job could be overtaken by the new machines, now able to replicate the sound of their instruments and, ideally, to provide mistake-free performances. Yet classical musicians have not stopped performing and new talent came forth as never before, producing a golden age of music making. Creativity, of course, is timeless, but the instruments of musicians change the paradigm of how music is made. Apps are quickly becoming a tool, and the future of music will likely be played, and conceived, with mobile devices.
By Alfonso Peduto