Weird and Wonderful Music-Making Apps and Toys

Tablets and smartphones are making music more fun for musicians and nonmusicians alike. These devices--mainly iPhones and iPads at the moment--have brought about a wave of innovation in tuneful apps. Here are some of the coolest ones out there.

GyroSynth

The iPhone 4 contains a very good gyroscope, which senses the exact position you're holding the phone in. GyroSynth is a tone generator that alters its tone as the user moves the phone around--a little like the way a classic theremin works. And the app creates a unique sound, not one that mimics an already existing synth sound. I could easily see someone playing one of these things in a live setting.

iShred, Guitar, Pocket StompBox, Homegrown Apps

Speaking of shredding, the man in the video below has cobbled together the ultimate DIY digital guitar. His guitar consists of two Android phones, two Windows phones, and an iPod Touch. Two of the devices are running homegrown keyboard and drum sequencers, one is running Pocket StompBox for the real-time effects, and the others are running the iShred and Guitar apps from Frontierdesign. All of the devices are taped together on a wooden “fretboard” connnected to a cheap speaker. The results are impressive.

Akai SynthStation

Some of the best synth apps for phones and tablets come from the companies that have made synths for years. A case in point is Akai, which became huge in the hip hop community for its samplers. Akai’s SynthStation for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch gives you a simple synth with all the basic parameters (LFO envelopes, an arpeggiator, and the like), a sequencer, a drum machine, and a mixer. Best of all, the app makes it easy to create some classic analog synth sounds--complete compositions, in fact--that actually sound good.

Seline HD

I happened upon this video of “The iPad Orchestra,” and began to listen carefully to the instruments (apps) they were playing. Turns out, it's a program called Seline HD (Amidio), and the sounds this thing makes are beautiful. The sounds seem to be based on cellos, oboes, and flutes, but they aren't trying to mimic those instruments exactly. They have their own sound, a unique take on the sounds of classical instruments.

Here's "Sweet Dream" performed live for an audience on August 20, 2010, by "The iPad Orchestra" on four iPads running Seline HD.

Rock Band 3 Fender Squier Strat Pro Guitar and Controller

The problem with Rock Band is that the first-generation guitar and drum instruments were nothing like the real thing. So for anybody remotely familiar with playing a real instrument, the video game was kind of an empty experience--little more than an exercise in hand-eye coordination. Fender fixed that by crafting a real guitar that can work with Rock Band, as well as play though an amp for real. Let's hope that other hybrid gaming/gigging instruments like this are on the way.

Next page: More Musical Apps and Toys

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