I have not purchased any hardware machines for over 10 years now and it looks like I won’t be purchasing anything this year either. I am just not impressed with any of the latest hardware that is available or for the last 5 years. All I see is strange limitations in design that leave me shaking my head as to why such limitations exist. While I watch the iOS environment grow and move into areas that eclipse hardware in many new ways. It is clear to me that it is a better pathway to purchase a couple of iPads and controllers and build my own unique Live environment for playing music. It is far cheaper this way and also better support as well as innovation.
I have always used hardware synth, samplers and drum machines for creating and playing Techno live on stage. I have always been happy to work around the limitations on hardware equipment and much of these limitations were perhaps mitigated by the perception of playing a bunch of hardware on stage; the “cool” factor I guess. At the moment I find that I would like to upgrade my current music setup and as I look around at what is on offer in terms of hardware I am finding that I am just not that impressed by what is available at the moment. The gear is either made on a cheap price point (Korg Volca) or extremely overpriced (Elektron) but with very questionable limitations and support. I see too many “I wanna be the 909/808 replacement you have been waiting for” or “…I am analog and so I am cool now”. I was really ready to get into the Elektron sand-pit but after reading the horror stories I simply cannot part with that much cash for something that has questionable UI or support.
So I am finding that I keep coming back to the iPad/iOS environment and see that this realm has a much brighter future due to the nature of the operating systems and hardware foundations. If I look at the latest Akai MPC X I see an iPad with a midi controller but with just one app installed. So why don’t I build my own iOS version of the MPC X using an iPad, midi controller, audio sound card and hundreds of potential apps?
This is what I am going to do. I have used an iPad, LaunchControlXL and AUM to create my dream mixer environment that is unique and in constant improvement, so, now I will replace each of my machines with an iPad and create my own Electribe, Octatrack, Rytm or MPC X. I figure that for the cost of just the MPC X I can build two iPad “machines”. Just the thought of using an iPad and Korg Gadget along with a controller would blow away any hardware currently available.
I recently set myself the challenge to work out how I would use the iPad or iOS environment to create and play music Live. I have always used hardware machines to create and play Techno (EDM or whatever you want to call it) after my initial exposure to electronic music back in the late 90s. I was never interested in being a DJ or even using a DAW to create and produce a track. I am really only interested in playing Live and surfing through sound waves, tripping over happy accidents along the way. So how could I use the iOS environment to do a similar process?
I started by trying to replicate what I was already doing with hardware machines. This sort of worked but it did not even get close to having everything always available like you get with dedicated hardware. I have got used to the Korg Electribes and how easy they are to use in a Live situation, I can tweak and adjust any sound very quickly. If I wanted to take a track and strip it down to be more ‘minimal’ I could do this on the fly very easily with hardware. I found that I could not do this as easily when using the iPad environment.
I love the apps that are coming out for iOS that are ‘Drum Machines’ or Synth or even Samplers. Love Patterning, DM2, iSpark and iElectribe along with others. I even tried the Korg iElectribe, but I just can’t accept using the touch screen interface for playing live. It is too hard to make adjustments to knobs or sliders in an accurate way through the touch interface. I even tried to midi-map some controls but this was a major limitation as well. I could not create a setup that allowed me the same ability that real hardware can provide. With midi-mapping controls from one app was fine, if I wanted to map another app at the same time with the same controller then it was not practical at all. So unless I bought a few iPads and dedicated them to just playing one ‘machine’ app at a time and mapped individually to seperate controllers I could not really create a good live environment with just one iPad.
Or could I…??
Although I could buy a seperate iPad and controller for each iOS ‘machine’ and use that as my live setup, was this the best way to go? Was this method really using the strength of what the iPad/iOS environment is really offering? Was replicating hardware the best possible path to go when using iOS? After experimenting with trying to setup an iOS version of my current hardware environment I had to stop and redress my original intent. I was very happy with AUM and how I could route my hardware into the iOS environment and create my own customised mixing environment but if I wanted to move away from my hardware machines, how could I do this?
After a while it became clear that I was probably heading in the wrong direction here. I looked at the apps that I have accumulated on iOS and found that I have plenty of FX apps that I use in AUM, a couple of ‘Drum Machine’ type apps, a few Synth apps and I saw I had heaps of really unusual experimental sample type apps like Sector, Samplr, iDensity and Borderlands and more. Then it dawned on me that perhaps I should look at how I can use these more experimental apps to create a completely new direction in music creativity. A direction that plays to the strengths of iOS and the direction it wants to go in rather than reinventing the wheel and just trying to create crappy virtual hardware.
So this is what I will do in 2017.
I will still always play my hardware machines and I am still going to collect the rest of the Korg Volca range and grab a Korg Monologue as well. But for something new and different I will mess around with the iOS sandpit and see if I can find a new direction or flavour of sound waves to surf.