PolyChord Vs. SoundPrism: Battle for the Bassist!

While playing with the new Virtual MIDI implementations in Sunrizer and NLog Synth Pro, I got to thinking about how people unfamiliar with music theory would do with PolyChord and SondPrism. How would a musician, like a Bassist or Drummer, that understands rhythm (but not much else) do with one of these? Fortunately I happen to have a Bassist and a Drummer available for experimentation! My husband, Allen, plays both but couldn't fight his way through a chord progression if his life depended on it. Thus I present to you:

PolyChord Vs. Sound Prism: Battle for the Bassist!

PolyChord vs SoundPrism

NLog Synth Pro

Let's get ready to get ready!

To focus strictly on how these two apps play, and not on how they sound, I set them up to control NLog Synth Pro. I routed the audio through my monitors so that I could hear what he came up with. In NLog I put together a Pianoish patch, with some evolving pad sounds. When I got it sounding inspiring and interesting to Allen, I showed him some of what it can sound like when played with a keyboard, for reference. Once I had the patch I set up the individual apps to behave as similarly as possible, with the strum on both in the same octave and the audio engines turned off. I then gave him a brief introduction to each of the apps, to simulate what he would see if he were to watch about 5-10 minutes of each on YouTube videos.

PolyChord

PolyChord

PolyChord presents the user with a series of buttons, labeled with chords, which can be assigned to a specific Major or Minor scale. This is a great to-the-point layout for quickly playing any of the possible chords in a given scale. We started off with this one first and Allen experimented with random button presses. Eventually he tried to find a melody, bouncing around between a few chords he was liking. When he started to play on the strum, a series of small keys off to the right assigned to a bass octave, he had a lot of confusion about the way it was sounding. Without my intervention he discovered that PolyChord was attempting to simulate velocity from his presses. He then went back to the chords and explored this on the chord buttons. Unfortunately he did not seem to be enjoying this and was put-off by the sensitivity of his presses affecting volume. At one point in the test a key got stuck and we had to hit a lot of random stuff to get it to stop sounding. I've had this occur a few times with PolyChord in both NLog and Sunrizer.

SoundPrism Pro

SoundPrism

A glowing panel of keys greets users in SoundPrism. The Pro version gives you the option to shut off the sound engine and send MIDI, just like PolyChord. Also like in PolyChord, there is a "strum" section for bass notes on the side. PolyChord's layout has keys in different chord groups, which can be altered to different scales. Allen quickly got to grips with this through experimentation. He did not avail himself of the accelerometer MIDI, which was tied to the Mod Wheel in NLog.

We have a winner!

After some time to play with both I asked him for his thoughts, to which he had this to share, "SoundPrism has a fun interface to play around with if you don't know what you're doing, where as PolyChord seems to want you to know what you're doing." I asked if he'd like to reevaluate PolyChord after playing with SoundPrism, but he declined saying, "I didn't like that one at all... I can see if you were following along with sheet music, but otherwise it was not fun for improv."

SoundPrism is definitely the winner in this contest, proving to be more inviting to musicians without a lot of music theory!

Review: iDensity for iPad

Is it a new way to explore granular synthesis or an amazing new tool for communicating with the netherworld? Find out in this review!
Correction: In the review I say that the sample size is limited to 10 seconds. It can be set to 60!

Buy iDensity on iTunes: $8.99
Recommended for:

This is great for drones. With the built in resampling you can get very elaborate with them.

Korg iMS-20 is on sale! Get it now for the next ECPM lessons!

SALE IS OVER!

I don't want to be in the business of keeping track of when Apps are on sale, but I'm making an exception for iMS-20! For anyone who follows my Everyone Can Play Music series this is a great time to grab it! I'll be using it in the next the set of lessons, and it is usually $33. Get it now while it is on sale for $16! Sale ends September 28th.

Buy Korg iMS-20 on iTunes: $32.99
Recommended for:

This is my favorite Synth studio! Synthesis everywhere!

Bonus: Here's the very first tutorial video I did for the iPad. Over-the-shoulder, explaining sound design in iMS-20.

Review: Sunrizer for iPad (Bonus - Bathroom Synth Jam!)

I have been ignoring Sunrizer for the last couple of months as yet another virtual analog. I needed to request a review copy for a feature I'm working on and I'm glad BeepStreet obliged. They do some very clever things to bring a huge spectrum of sonic possibilities to the subtractive equasion! I was so inspired by it I immediatly produced a song and wanted to do a review for those of you, like me, that dismissed this.

Mod Wheeeee!

Sunrizer immediatly distinguishes itself from the pack with what it calls Morph Groups. With groups A and B you get to define all of your knob parameters. These can be everything from pulse width to oscilator mix and LFO tweaks. Pretty much everything that is a knob or slider and not a button, so you can't change osillator waves, for example. Once these are defined just start playing on your keyboard and rock on the Mod Wheel! A whole new world of possibilities opens up as you move from one subtractive patch with all of it's filter and LFO settings, to a second patch with entirely different settings. 

This is surprisingly easy to get started on, and even easier to play. If you're not sure where to start just select group A and design a basic patch. Hit the B button to flip over to your second group. Now get a little wild and dirty with your patch. Go crazy if you want, the morph blend is seamless! Since the morph between groups is controlled by your Mod Wheel you can easily control when and how much morph you want. This is very handy when playing; you want to keep your hands away from knobs and on the keys. With just the Mod Wheel you can send a dozen or more parameters moving. Note that the screen doesn't update to reflect these changes, until you cross the 50% threshold to switch groups, but you will instantly hear the results with just a minor change on your Wheel. 

2 Osc 2 Fewious

In addition to your standard Saw, Square and Triangle waveforms of yore, BeepStreet adds a modern dimension to the classic analog sound with a Supersaw. You get essentially 7 Saws, detuned per the width knob, on one oscillator. This is a good addition, but I found it a little boring and over-used in their demo presets. It sounds good, but not as gritty and fun as other Supersaws you've heard. This will become a very familiar sound very quickly.

A lot of what is offered would have been dramatically improved with the inclusion of a dedicated Sub Oscilator. You can achieve a similar effect with the second oscillator detuned -12 semi-tones, but that greatly reduces your possibilities with the remaining one. I can understand the desire to keep things simple in what could quickly become a chaotic mess of morphs. In what is, otherwise, a modern take on a vintage design this is a notable omission.

An element of warmth is also absent in the sound design. Warmth is possible, but you've got to really reach for it. Sunrizer wants to be cold, and in this way it sets itself apart from a lot of virtual analog efforts that just add distortion and noise. There is a dedicated noise oscilator if you'd like to explore that.

AAaaaaAAAaaaaaaaaaAAAARP!

I am really excited by the inclusion of sophisticated Arpeggiators within iOS synths. This adds a lot to the playability of any given synth and Sunrizer is no exception, offering one of the best editors available. Although not quite as intuitive as the Arp in Virsyn's Addictive, it is feature rich. The only thing missing here is a randomizer. There is a global Random function, but it does not seem to include the Arp sequence. 

Essential Effects

The onboard effects are your basic distortion, EQ, and chorus. Delay is a separate, dedicated, FX unit. This works out great, and I'm glad BeepStreet separated the delay, to squeeze in more effects juice to play with at any one time. The effects knobs are also subject to the Morph Groups, so you can have different Dry/Wet and depth settings for your Morph A and B.

The filters also bring a little extra to the mix. Notch, comb, and even formant are included in addition to your standard LP/BP/HP filters. I've seen a lot of people playing with "talking bass" lately,  if that is something you'd like to achieve, the formant filter will pull off the trick. You get two filters to work, each with assinable Envelope Amounts.

There are also a couple of LFOs with lots of assignable routings. They have a tempo sync, but it does not display the tempo time (1/4, 1/16, etc....) for rate adjustments, so this may be puzzling for some. 

MIDI! MIDI Everywhere!

A recent addition to Sunrizer is the ability to "MIDI Learn", like you find on computer soft-synths. Assigning your hardware knobs is not only possible, but easy! Just hit the thing you want to assign and then move your MIDI hardware. Done. This is an interesting inclusion that goes above and beyond the call of duty. You can already perform so dynamically with the Morph Groups, but this adds an extra layer for fine control. 

Cold, Expansive and Fun

In just a couple of days I've already developed some wild sounds, many enjoying the morph functionality to go from vast pad to dark basement. This is not the typical dirty/fuzzy analog sound you may expect, but it is compelling in its own way, reminding us all of Gary Numan and a time before DubStep.

That is not to say you can't get down and dirty if you try. I got some very mean sounds out of the morphs. Here is a song I performed and recorded in a single instance of Sunrizer, while on the toilet. No additional instruments were added.

Constipation Inspiration

Buy Sunrizer on iTunes: $9.99
Recommended for:

Anyone who has heard a Gary Numan song or watched Blade Runner.

Review: BeatMaker 2 for iOS (Universal)

BeatMaker 2 is an elaborate studio with loads of effects and hundreds of samples. I ignore both of those facts completely as I go on a wild tear to put it through its paces. Included are tips on Hokusai and all kinds of sample chopping fun. Buy it now on iTunes!

For Jailbreak users that want to eliminate the factory samples (Like a Boss):
In Terminal (or SSH): rm -rf /var/mobile/Applications/B07D0261-A778-4737-8808-C389DD967F0F/BeatMaker2.app/lib­rary/Keyboard Sampler/ 

Do not expect any technical support from Intua or me! If something goes wrong just delete the App and reinstall from iTunes. Hell, you probably shouldn't even do this in the first place... but if you do remember to go to your iOS Settings - BeatMaker2 and tell it to update the database so it will only show your samples and none of the missing ones.

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