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I’m currently obsessed with the idea that the iPad, and other iOS devices like the iPhone or iPod Touch, represent a serious step forward for music production on a budget. Software synthesizers, touch-friendly DAWs and drum samples from the summer of love are all vastly more affordable than the hardware they aim to replace, and the growing number of available apps makes iOS the world’s most portable production platform.
Apple added CoreMIDI to iOS 4.2 and since then app developers have been implementing MIDI functionality into their apps. This means you can use your iOS device as both a MIDI controller and with MIDI input devices for physical, tactile key response. CoreMIDI can also be used with apps or multiple iOS devices for a studio-like automated setup.
Excited? Here’s what you need to know about how to use CoreMIDI.
Knowing MIDI, Knowing You
MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and was introduced in 1983 when artists like The Human League and Culture Club dominated the charts, armed with Roland drum machines and Casio keyboards. Our musical tastes have come a long way since then but MIDI hasn’t changed an awful lot aside from being more widespread in its application.
MIDI doesn’t carry sound but instead a signal which denotes pitch, note, volume and other parameters. This means you can use the same MIDI patterns on a huge range of instruments, simply by changing the destination device. Apple’s CoreMIDI works in the same way, accepting and sending signals to and from compatible hardware.
This functionality has been in iOS for a long time now, and over the last few years app support has grown tremendously. This goes for apps that support MIDI input (such as keyboards and DJ interfaces) as well as apps designed to drive external MIDI devices which I’ll come to later. When it comes to physical controllers and instruments, there’s only really one thing you need to use MIDI on your iOS device, and that’s an interface.
There are a few interfaces to choose from, with the most basic being Apple’s camera connection kit ($29) which adds a regular USB port to whatever you plug it into. From here you can then use any USB MIDI connection kit like the M-Audio Uno, provided it acts as a generic USB MIDI device. Devices that require drivers – i.e. manufacturer-enhanced MIDI connectors – will not work unless they’re put into generic USB mode.
A potentially more cost-effective option would be to purchase a dedicated MIDI accessory such as the MIDI Mobilizer II from Line 6 (not the original MIDI Mobilizer, which is not CoreMIDI compatible) or the iRig MIDI from IK Multimedia. Which option to go for depends on whether you currently own a USB MIDI interface or not, and whether you foresee yourself using the camera connector for its initial intended purpose.
Note: Some USB devices connected using the camera connector require more power than the iPad is willing to provide. While simple USB keyboards like the Akai LPK25 will work flawlessly, larger and hungrier inputs will require a powered USB hub in order to work. If you’re thinking of using a full-sized, externally powered keyboard then this won’t be an issue seeing as it will be mains-powered.
CoreMIDI & Apps
In addition to being a hardware interface using physical cables, CoreMIDI is capable of acting as a software interface and wirelessly too. Wireless MIDI usually takes the form of an app-to-app connection, and enables two or more iOS devices to communicate provided they share the same network. Latency might be an issue for routers that still use older wireless standards, and unfortunately Bluetooth connection is not possible.
One such app that makes use of CoreMIDI for wireless control is Funkbox, which can receive and send signals like clock speed, transport and note triggers to and from controllers and drum machines. Synthetic Bits, the developers of Funkbox, have also developed what is easily one of the simplest and best MIDI controllers for iOS called Little MIDI Machine, available for free. It allows you to sequence MIDI hardware, iOS apps and other iOS devices wirelessly and with all components working together, it’s a very advanced system as you can see from the video below.
MIDI uses numbered channels to send its various signals, and in order to trigger a specific instrument you will need to make sure that the channels match up, and this goes for both physical hardware connections and app or wireless connections too.. So to trigger a synth like Sunrizer which is listening to channel 10, you would need to set the output of your step sequencer (in this instance Little MIDI) to channel 10 also. It’s a simple system to grip once you’ve played with a set of apps or devices, and it’s an excellent way of finely-tuning a sequence before trying it out on a variety of instruments.
Another often useful feature is MIDI Learn. Apps that support MIDI Learn allow you to assign various physical controls like volume or filter cutoff to sliders and knobs on physical controllers. In order to use MIDI Learn you will first need to activate the learning interface in the app you are using, then tap the function before assigning it to a knob or slider by moving it. Sunrizer supports this for a huge number of variables, and it also works for other functions like triggering an arpeggiator or holding notes.
So Where Do I Start?
If you’ve never played with MIDI before and would like to see the potential first-hand you should download Little MIDI from the App Store as well as a cheap instrument like miniSynth 2 ($0.99) or Apple’s own GarageBand ($4.99) each of which support CoreMIDI. Both of these apps should be able to talk to your sequencer with default routing. Before building your sequence ensure you have turned on BG Audio on the synth (it’s under the FX panel) or Run in Background under GarageBand settings and mute the internal Little MIDI Machine piano note in the settings.
You can now sequence miniSynth 2 or GarageBand with Little MIDI Machine by adjusting pitch, velocity and various other triggers. To really master MIDI work your way through the brief but detailed Little MIDI Machine manual which provides a crash-course in sequencing a synth. You’ll probably drop the manual once you’ve figured much of it out! If you’re sick of switching between apps and are lucky enough to own an iPad and an iPhone you can even use CoreMIDI over Wi-Fi to sequence a synth on one device and play it on the other. Magic.
The iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch are no longer toys when it comes to serious music production. No more will your ‘crippled’ iOS devices be restricted to GarageBand when it comes to laying down a rough mix, and GarageBand itself is no longer the fluffy, family-friendly workstation it once was after a recent update which added support for AudioBus.
AudioBus is serious music production technology that acts like an unending set of cables, allowing you to connect a series of apps together. It’s just like MIDI, working behind the scenes to process and record beats, grooves and melodies from other running apps. There is so much potential in iOS to be the new home producer’s go-to platform for production, and AudioBus for iOS is the missing puzzle piece that’s paving the way.
What Is AudioBus?
AudioBus is an app, which you can download like any other from the App Store for the usual price of $9.99, though as I write this the price has been halved to celebrate a big update to GarageBand. AudioBus is also an interface built into many of the best iOS music making apps, with more apps being added all the time. Once an app is AudioBus compatible it is either an input, an effects processor or a digital audio workstation (DAW).
This is a three-stage system that you should get used to, because it’s likely you’ll be using it a lot. Some apps can function in all three roles, particularly the higher-end advanced synthesizers which support sampling and processing, as well as samplers like Loopy.
As well as being a standalone app, AudioBus must be built-in to any apps that wish to make use of it. The developers would have a lot more supported apps right now if they hadn’t spent so long getting the SDK right, weary of releasing a version that thwarts developers and the iOS producer population with problems. As it stands the SDK is now ready to go, so expect to see a lot more AudioBus compatible apps being released over the coming years.
When you purchase AudioBus you’re not just purchasing an app, you’re also unlocking the potential for your other apps to far surpass what you thought they were capable of. The ability to route audio from one app, into another, manipulate the sound before looping it back into a DAW or sampler essentially means you have a ready-to-use studio and performance hardware in your back pocket.
How Do I Use It?
First thing’s first – AudioBus is only able to operate within the limits of your device’s hardware capabilities. This means older devices like the iPad 2 may struggle compared to the iPhone 5. You will need at least an iPhone 4S, iPod Touch 5G or iPad 2 to play, though the newer your hardware the more you’ll be able to do before you encounter the dreaded crackle. AudioBus is very CPU intensive, and it should go without saying that using it along with 5 or 6 other apps will destroy your battery life.
If you find you’re experiencing popping or crackling then you can increase the buffer size two-fold to 512 frame using the AudioBus settings, located at the top of the screen within the app. This might increase latency (and definitely increase CPU usage) but if you’re depending on a lot of apps interacting you might have no other choice. Remember, performance can only get better from here as Apple supplies faster hardware with each new generation of iOS hardware.
To begin routing apps through AudioBus you must first have some compatible apps. A full list of compatible software can be found on the Apps tab within AudioBus, or by visiting the website. You can also check out our recent post featuring some of the best sub-$10 music making apps for iOS if you’re on a budget. The only tab you really need to worry about is the Connections tab, on which you can add apps using the plus ‘+’ icon next to the Input, Effects and Output sections.
Tap the plus and a list of installed, compatible apps will be displayed – pick one and AudioBus will briefly launch that app before returning to the main interface. You can now add more apps until you are ready to play.
The main AudioBus interface will allow you to quickly switch between and control apps. A new bar should appear on the right-hand side of the screen which lists all currently connected apps, along with the option to switch to them, pause or begin recording depending on the app.
If you’re using an effects processor in stage 2, you might need to enable the speaker output in under the Output section in order to hear anything. That’s pretty much all there is to setting up AudioBus, now you’ve just got to experiment!
Use the bar that appears on the right hand-side of each connected app to control your connections. This bar can be hidden and revealed in much the same way as the iOS notification centre, by swiping from the edge inwards, useful if it gets in the way of your playing. In order to disconnect an app hit the eject button in AudioBus.
But It Crashed?
One thing that AudioBus doesn’t do, and quite possibly won’t do any time soon, is quit in a tidy manner. This is because it’s a background service that stays awake in case you’re still using it, and needs to be told when to quit. You can manually quit AudioBus using the iOS app switcher: double-tap the home button, press and hold the AudioBus icon and then close the app using the cross that appears.
You will have to do this after every time you use the app, which is a small price to pay for the interoperability offered by the service. Similarly, I find GarageBand and JamUp tend to hang in a similar manner after being plugged in to AudioBus, so you might need to force-close them too.
That’s pretty much everything you’ll need to know about AudioBus to make music, a must-have app for hobbyists and professionals alike. Take sources, route them through processors and record them in a DAW. Expect to see the refinement and further expansion of this system as our devices become increasingly powerful over the next few generations, and expect your bank balance to suffer as a result of the ever-increasing number of quality audio apps out there.
Download: AudioBus for iPad, iPhone & iPod Touch ($9.99)
This exciting new instrument has just been unveiled by design led technology start-up ROLI a radically new kind of musical instrument and digital controller that reimagines the most iconic of musical instruments – the piano.
An evolution of the piano keyboard, the Seaboard has a soft three dimensional surface that enables unprecedented realtime, intuitive control of the fundamental characteristics of sound: pitch, volume, and timbre. Piano and keyboard players can instantly transfer their skills to the Seaboard and begin exploring its new capacities.
The Seaboard is the first electronic instrument to enable control of a wide variety of parameters through traditional techniques for expressiveness and virtuosity. As a controller, the Seaboard allows players to manipulate sound like never before. It authentically simulates a plethora of other instruments – guitar note bends, subtle string and horn swells, and much more are expressively created in seconds instead of hours. Both as an instrument and as a controller the Seaboard creates a world of entirely new sonic possibilities, and provides a new bridge between acoustic and electronic approaches to music.
We’re very excited by this new instrument and hope to get our hands on one soon
A limited edition of 88 Seaboard GRANDs will be available for preorder worldwide starting in April 2013. Each Seaboard GRAND will be hand assembled to order in the ROLI studio in the heart of Dalston, East London, and, in recognition of its provenance, each will be named after a particular note on the piano keyboard, from A0 to C8.
We’ll bring you more info about this innovative new piece of kit when we have it! More info can be found by following the link below:
Sonuus, maker of Guitar to MIDI hardware, has released a Universal iOS app that gives you all the same functionality in app form. Their hardware units are around $100, so this is a pretty nice deal as a $2 app! The price goes up to $10 next month.
The Sonuus G2M – Universal Guitar-to-MIDI Converter app delivers high-performance, low-latency, MIDI conversion for guitar (and other musical instruments). Featuring the same pitch-to-MIDI technology used in Sonuus’ acclaimed hardware products, the G2M app gives you an easy, low-cost way to enter the world of MIDI guitar.
This G2M app gives you access to the same technology of the Sonuus hardware G2M:
- Any electric guitar can be used as a solo MIDI guitar: i.e., it’s universal.
- No guitar modifications or special pickups required.
- Robust note detection — minimises wrong notes.
- Velocity detection of notes, so your playing dynamics are translated into MIDI messages.
- Fast, accurate pitch-bend determination, or alternative chromatic mode.
- Very low latency & very fast tracking.
- Built-in, precise tuner.
These features combine to do something that no other MIDI converters can do: accurately capture the musicality and phrasing of what you are playing. Whether you want to lay down a MIDI bass line, or a saxophone solo, the G2M ensures the musical nuances of what you play are retained.
Roland today released this video celebrating the 30th Anniversary of MIDI, which has become a massively important industry standard, due to the vision of Sequential Circuit’s Dave Smith, Roland’s Ikutaro Kakehashi and others.
For a 30 year-old standard, MIDI is going strong. In just the last few weeks, we’ve seen the standard show up in MIDI Tesla Coils, an iPad MIDI sequencer, new MIDI instruments and your Web browser.
In addition to noting the wide range of vendor support for MIDI, it highlights some of the standard’s more unusual applications, like musical fountains. And then there’s the MIDI-controlled skull.
Pretty amazing for something that started with connecting a couple of synths together, back in 1983……
Check out this really instructional video about how to us non-Audiobus compatible apps with Audiobus using two devices and a guitar interface
Audiobus to launch on Monday, December 10th 2012.
It will cost 9.99 US$ and it’s going to be available for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch on iOS 5.0 and later.
Supported apps at launch will be, in alphabetical order:
Funkbox (input slot)
JamUp XT (effects slot)
JamUp Pro XT (effects slot)
Loopy (input and output slot)
Loopy HD (input and output slot)
MultiTrack DAW (output slot)
NLog MIDI Synth (input, effects and output slot)
NLog Synth PRO (input, effects and output slot)
Rebirth for iPad (input slot)
SoundPrism Pro (input slot)
Sunrizer Synth for iPad (input slot)
We’ll be starting a limited second wave of Audiobus apps – limited so we can rapidly respond to any potential remaining issues – by giving another 25 developers access to the SDK. These developers will be selected from the list of developers who have expressed interest in acquiring access to the SDK – currently that’s a list more than 700 entries strong.
After a sufficient amount of apps from the second wave of developers have been approved by App Review and feedback is favorable, we’re going to make the SDK public. This is going to happen in the next months.
For those asking themselves how long it takes a developer to implement Audiobus support into their app: It depends on the complexity of the app and level of integration. The fastest teams have done it in one day. Testing and submission to App Review is typically the most time-consuming part.
We’re currently finalizing the manual and we’re going to post videos demonstrating the less obvious features of Audiobus over the course of this week to shorten the wait.