Listening to electronic musicians talk about their favorite methods for producing music can be boring, intimidating, or worse to outsiders -- and to some insiders as well.
I've sat through gearheads waxing poetic on everything from the perfect software for dubstep wobbles to how no digital compressor will ever sound as good as a classic LA-2A, and participated in these discussions, too.
That sort of thing is exactly what we set out to avoid with the following round-up of iOS apps, all of which toe the line between hardcore musical geekery and mainstream, wide-audience appeal. These iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad apps attempt (mostly with great success) to pair an interface simple enough to engage neophytes with controls detailed enough to satisfy "real" musicians.
Each presents a different non-traditional way to make music, with baked-in intelligence so that you don't need to sweat each note unless you want to. In fact, all but one of the following apps will make music even without user input.
These are exciting times, when music technology this sophisticated can be packaged in such fun, simple apps, and we feel that this approach will only gain more traction as mobile devices come into their own as instruments.
Bebot: A little animated robot with a big sound and heaps of personality, this full-featured, polyphonic synthesizer disguises itself as a cartoon character so well, that we suspect even keyboardists will have as much fun watching it sing as they will playing it.
Pulsate: From the makers of Audiotool and ToneMatrix comes this elegantly simple app, which utilizes pulsing orange bubbles as an aesthetic mechanism that immerses the user in an audiovisual experience that has to be seen and heard (ideally with good headphones) to be believed.
NodeBeat: Impressed by Björk's use of Reactable, but unwilling to throw down 13 grand for your own unit? NodeBeat might be your best bet. It uses a series of nodes floating around a 2D environment to make music based on the distance between each node. It's complicated to explain but simple to use.
Balls: With an interface that reminds us of a certain classic PC game, Balls lets you throw multicolored balls around to produce a soothing tone upon each collision. Tilting the device adds a fun simulated gravity effect turn, but watch out for the complicated options menu.