I’ve been spending the day loading my iPad up with samples and loops I used on my new record. I’m getting a group of folks together to play some of these songs live locally and perhaps 1 or 2 places elsewhere this summer, and 2 of us are gonna practice tomorrow. While live playing will be the majority of the volume, there will be loops mixed in as well because they play a big role on the new tunes.
I did a lot of the production for the project on my iMac at home and wasn’t sure at first what to use to bring those electronic sounds into a live performance. I looked into getting a macbook as I don’t have a laptop, but ended up deciding that was too expensive. I already had an iPad, which I got before starting this project because I wanted the tactile control over software it can offer. (See my earlier post in this series on TouchOsc as a way to do this.) So I ended up deciding to go that route instead of a laptop.
I like the iPad for music, but it kind of reminds me of Mr. Potato Head stripped of any appendages. What you have when you get one is a very powerful torso that needs to have it’s limbs sewed back onto it. The iPad’s main shortcoming for audio is that it only has two in/out jacks – one for a lightning adapter, and one for a 1/8″ headphone port. That’s it. Mixing board, it ain’t.
It took me awhile to fiddle around with a Rubik’s Cube of connectivity problems before I could start to really put it to use. I started by getting an iConnect 2+ long before I began working on the record last year. It’s great for using it play parts on the iPad into a desktop DAW in real time. But it only feeds audio out into another computer, so it didn’t fit my needs once I decided to avoid the laptop route. It would make it possible to use the AKAI MPK 49 I’d been using as a MIDI keyboard with my desktop, (the MPK can’t feed into an iPad directly.) But the iPad can’t feed the iCM2+ with bus power like a laptop or desktop can, and I didn’t want to spend $30 on the dedicated optional power cord. So I kept twisting the mutli-colored rows I never mastered back in 5th grade, early ’80s…
I ended up getting a CME X Key 25 to get MIDI in for playing soft synths on the tablet because it was small, light, and didn’t need bus power or an interface to play iPad synths. Then I got a 1/8″ – stereo TRS cable to take the audio out of the audio jack. I feed that into a Radial ProAv2 direct box that helps a headphone jack play ball with a PA or mixing board. I had been advised by some to avoid using the 1/8″ headphone jack as an output because the soundcard is allegedly too weak for playing out. But then divine inspiration struck. I ran across a blog post on a site called “Behind the Mixer: Teaching Church Audio Artistry” that recommended the ProAv2 as a way to boost the signal coming out of the headphone jack to proper line level without surface noise. Woe to those who ignore the Word From On High: I deleted the audio interfaces saved on my ebay “Watching” list and closed the case of the ins and the outs.
Sort of. Besides line in/out problems, there’s the problem of how to get the actual loops and samples I wanted to use into the apps I wanted to use to trigger them. You might think you could do this directly with an app like Loopy – but you can’t. While there are more glamorous apps, I want to call attention to the plumber of the the iPad – Audioshare. It’s a fantastic tool for bringing audio clips into the iPad. I download loops from Dropbox and then use the app to trim and cross fade them. Then it allows you to drop them into apps like Loopy as easily as a mailman delivering a birthday card in your mailbox. Neat.
The company that makes Audishare, Kymatica, also makes a suite of effects apps called AUFX that are one step up in glamour from Audioshare, but several steps below the marquee iPad synthesizers that get the lions share of the iPad limelight. The suite consists of bread and butter production tools like EQ, (PeakQ,) reverb, (Space), compression, (Push,) and delay, (Dub.) While you can’t make music with these effects on their own, you can use that other plumber of the iPad – the Audiobus app – to feed virtual instruments like Nave through them and then out through the system output with out using a DAW as an intermediary.
To top it off, Kymatica offer a free app called Oscillator that you can use as a “simple and elegant tone generator.” I like it because it reminds me of an old analog oscillator we used to reinforce the bass on the Kids soundtrack 20 years ago. Tim O’Heir pulled it out of the closet at Fort Apache studio and I triggered it with an electronic drum pad to double the kick drum on Simean Groove. (Thanks Tim!) We also used it to make the chord change glide coming into the chorus of Crash.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those old oscillators, but they look kind of like a mini space heater that you’d never suspect was a musical instrument. We’d sampled the Silver Apples on some of those songs, who used a Rube Goldberg like contraption of oscillators to make those 2 underground classic albums back in the 1960’s. The Oscillator app doesn’t look that cool, but it is appropriately minimalist in it’s graphic look, fitting an instrument that makes manual typewriters look modern.
Kymatica can do more than just get retro or nuts and bolts, however. I also really enjoy their Sector app, which allows you to do all kinds of crazy manipulation of loops using a truly original and surprising set of controls and features.
I found the results I got with it too eye-grabbing to blend in with the live playing on this particular record, but I had fun playing it on the couch in the studio to entertain Scott and myself during breaks in tracking, and plan to use it for recording in the future. Thanks Kymatica for building a great house of products – from the plumbing in the basement to the fancy gables around the rooftops.