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!
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 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.
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!
Buy SoundPrism Pro on iTunes: $15.99
The sounds and sound packs are a bit generic, but you can turn them off and use it as a futuristic MIDI controller.