Saturday, October 22, 2011

Animoog for iPad

So today was the first day I really sat down with Moog’s new Animoog app for the iPad. Not for any good reason, but I stayed up after midnight on the night of the announcement to see what it was about, and when I saw that it was only $1 (temporarily) it was basically a no-brainer. And for a few days after that I picked out presets and played with the knobs a bit and thought it was pretty cool. I even downloaded the manual. (Which I have now read. Twice.) And while there’s been a bit of controversy over their “First Professional Synth Designed for the iPad” tagline, I have to say that after spending some quality time with it I’m pretty much blown away.

At first I thought it would be a cool toy, but after using it for most of the afternoon today I’ve come to think of it as a “real” synthesizer and not just an iPad app. First off, it doesn’t just have a few waveforms. Instead it has 56 different “waves,” plus one silent one. They’re not static waves either but rather actually synthesized tones. It’s almost like they’ve taken an analog synthesizer and a wavetable synthesizer and made a mashup on the iPad.

But it goes further than that. They’ve done things with Animoog that you really couldn’t have done on an analog synth because the whole playing surface of it is touch sensitive, and the “keyboard” responds to multi-touch. It’s almost like they’ve taken a synthesizer keyboard and a Haken Continuum and formed them into a 2D synth controller that responds to poly-pressure. It’s actually strange that such a unique and interesting keyboard came out of Moog, but apparently Bob Moog made an actual physical keyboard like this for someone decades ago, and the Animoog keyboard is modeled after that. And the glass playing surface is perfect for it. You can play individual notes, and you can slide your fingers left to right to slide between notes. You can also slide up and down on a note to change the timbre of the tone as well. There’s a pitch correction control as well. Set all the way up makes each note discrete, set all the way down makes it slide evenly from note to note as if you were playing slide guitar. You can also set up the keyboard to play in a scale, either one of the preprogrammed ones or one of your own making.

In addition there are all the “standard” synthesizer elements such as a multi-mode filter, delay module, envelope generators (three of them), etc. Beyond that, there are things like four fully routable modulation paths. But what’s totally cool is that it’s four-voice polyphonic. When they said “professional synth” in their marketing copy I took it with a grain of salt, but after spending some time exploring the synth I have to say that it’s true. I might not have used their “first” bit, but the thing is an incredibly expressive instrument, and I can’t wait to finally hook up my iPad to a MIDI keyboard (although honestly I think I’m going to miss the on-screen keyboard because it’s just so good).

But in some ways all this, while nice, is not even the interesting part. What they’ve done is to add on an X/Y pad like they have on the Minimoog Voyager. The pad is divided into 8 vertical and 16 horizontal zones. The true power of the Animoog is that you can assign a different sound to each of the 8 vertical zones if you want to. You can then change timbres by moving your finger around the X/Y pad. Moving up and down changes between the 8 basic timbres you’ve chosen, and moving side to side changes some parameters of that zone’s sound. It’s hard to explain but simple to do. There’s a great animated image showing exactly what’s going on with the X-Y pad, and in this case a couple of images will save me a few hundred words at least.

But it goes beyond even this. The TRUE true power of the Animoog synth is that you can animate the X/Y pad in several ways. Notes you play on the keyboard are not static, but rather they move around the X/Y pad, and in doing so the timbre constantly changes as the note crosses the boundaries between zones in the 8 x 16 grid. But wait, there’s more. It’s not just that the notes move, it’s that you can draw a path that the moving notes will follow. It’s a simple idea, but that’s what makes this synth generate its unique sounds. While it’s certainly possible to make a static sound that just sits, there are so many elements of motion you can impart to your patches that it’s just hard to express in written words what this thing can do.

Oh, and did I mention the sound-on-sound recording module that has layering and overdubbing? Almost forgot.

So all marketing hyperbole aside, Animoog is an incredibly powerful synthesizer. And while I’m totally looking forward to getting an iPad/MIDI interface soon, 10 minutes with Animoog has made me wish I had a Continuum. And if someone out there decides to make a physical 2D flat surface keyboard I’d definitely consider plunking down some dollars just so I could use the Animoog synth to its full potential.

This is by no means a complete review of every feature the synth has to offer. It has a 9 page manual, but even though that doesn’t sound like much the Animoog has a tremendous amount of depth to it. I’ll try to record a few examples of what it can do over the next few days and post them here. And just to balance out my bubbling praise, there are a few rough edges. Like when “turning knobs” I’ve sometimes managed to hit the change module buttons in the middle of adjusting something. That’s probably my fault, but I’ve managed to do it a bunch of times. Many Mac software synths give you a choice between rotary or linear control of the knobs and I guess I’d prefer rotary. And I have to say that the way you save your patches is completely unintuitive and that’s being polite. It’s also barely mentioned in the manual. It’s not a huge deal as once you figure it out the first time (hold the Save button for an indeterminately long time and you’ll be OK) it’s easy enough to do. Another thing I’d like to see is sound banks. There’s only one, and while that’s fine I’d rather have the built-in bank separated from my own patches. And oh yeah, if you’re going to play live with this, make sure you turn off notifications unless you want to hear all those Words With Friends notification sounds while you’re playing. These are all pretty minor niggles, though. In case you couldn’t tell, I think this thing’s amazing.

Animoog for iPad, from Moog. The real price will be $30 in a month, but for now it’s only $1 (as is their Filtratron app as well). If I didn’t already have an iPad, this app would make me go out and buy one. It’s that good. This is the Moog polysynth I’ve been waiting for.

Update — here’s an Animoog tune I just did:


krm said...

I am no musician or have never even played with anything like this but it is an incredible app. Is there anybody out there that can explain to me how to export sounds to make custom ringtones with it?
please help!

Seth Elgart said...

@krm I don't think you can go directly from Animoog to a ringtone in one step, but with few extra steps it can be done. You'd first have to record something in Animoog and then hit the Copy button in the Record section. When you do this you're actually storing a file called clipboard.wav on your iPad, and you should be able to export this file using iTunes.

Once you've done that you can edit the file in the program of your choice to make your ringtone. You can do this in GarageBand if you like, or in pretty much any sound editing software. I use Rogue Amoeba's Fission, but there are plenty of other programs out there you could use.

Hmmm. Maybe I'll do a tutorial blog post on how to do this.