When the first music apps started to find their way onto the first generation iPhone, it seemed like a fun and engaging novelty that invited the world to make music on the go. Fast forward five years later, and we’ve got a robust and increasingly complex ecosystem of music creation apps that have long since moved out of the novelty category. One thing definitely remains the same though – the wide spread use of iPhones and iPads combined with the low price point of numerous high quality music apps means that more people are expressing themselves creatively. Some of those people might have some musical experience to guide them through their mobile creations, while others might be diving into the world of composition on instinct alone. Despite this divide, we all have some learning to do; whether we need help with music theory, technology concerns, or form and structure, there’s absolutely a need for instruction around iOS music. With so many people coming into the world of iOS music creation from so many different angles, a learning experience that touches upon a wide realm of iPad and iPhone music creation apps is long overdue.
Composer, pianist, and educator, Ed Goldfarb has sought to bridge this gap with a new course that exposes students to a vast array of musical concepts and iOS tools. He’ll be offering a course, MUS 66D, “Making Music With The Apple iOS,” through Foothill College Online, which will allow any iOS user from around the world to expand upon their current knowledge and come away with a variety of original creations. He’s developed a smart approach to intertwine the fun and excitement of iOS music apps with the nuts and bolts of musical creation that should benefit a number of musicians. The course started on Monday September 24th and it runs twelve weeks, going through a number of defined steps. The first wave of students should emerge from the course in December with some serious iOS music making skills that hopefully they’ll be applying to continued creative ventures.
The idea of a whole college course dedicated to the art of iOS music making is certainly a new concept, but one who’s time has come. It’s an intriguing idea and one that we wanted to investigate a bit further. In the following interview, Goldfarb discusses his background as a musician, the iOS music course, and his hopes for this type of education.
iOS Music And You: Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a musician and your experience with electronic music?
Ed Goldfarb: I’ve been a professional musician since I was thirteen years old, and I’ve done a little bit of almost every kind of musical gig you can imagine. I’ve directed shows, produced records, arranged for and conducted orchestras – pretty much you name it. I built my first studio around an 8-track cassette recorder and a Mac, and I now have a Pro Tools HD3 Accel and a decent-sized modular synth rig. As a listener, I’ve been a big fan of electronic music my whole life, but I’ve never really done anything with it professionally until now.
iOSM&Y: How did you get started making music with iOS devices?
EG: I bought one Bloom came out not that long after, and I started to see the potential. The first app I used was probably Retro Recorder, and of course it’s progressed from there – once NanoStudio dropped I started using it for sketches and even a few sound track cues. The iPad was a life-changer for me instantly ’cause I work a lot with sheet music – it’s still amazing to me that I’ve got maybe 50% of the world’s greatest piano music composed before 1923 at my fingertips at all times – sci-fi I play Haaken Continuum, too, and I really dig the innovations in synth control available on a lot of these apps. I can’t wait for them to figure out a way to make the touchscreen a little…squishy, maybe, but I’m sure they’re working on it
iOSM&Y: What inspired you to create “Making Music With the Apple iOS” and what will the course look like?
EG: It just seemed like it would be fun, frankly. As a professional musician, it can be surprisingly easy to lose sight of how *fun* music is, and, for me, working with iOS devices is always pretty fun – the form-factor and touch interaction just really make me happy, creatively. And, although there’s this awesome online community that’s built up around iOS music, I discovered that very few people I knew in the real world were aware of it – even musician friends •who had these devices• didn’t really know what they could do with them! So, when I started doing some teaching at Foothill a couple of years ago, I brought up the idea for the class. They were very supportive, even if they perhaps didn’t entirely understand what it was (for which I give them mad props) so I learned the process of creating a curriculum and getting it approved by the State of California, and now here we are.
iOSM&Y: In terms of musical background, who’s the ideal student for the class and what do you feel like students will get out of the course?
EG: Ultimately I’d love to create an “Introduction to Music Creation” class for the iOS – I think these devices have great potential to unleash the musician inside everyone. Honestly, if you can sing along with the radio, wave your hands and count to four, you can make music with the iOS. The fundamentals of rhythm, modes and song structure are extremely simple to understand, and innovations like Apple’s Smart Instruments and the note-restricted scales in apps like Animoog and Magellan (among many others) make it really easy to start plunking away. Or you can sit down with something like SpaceWiz and maybe not learn a ton about music initially, but definitely create something unique that incorporates your own artistic sensibility. That much being said, I expect that the great majority of my students will have at least some experience with music technology, and that’s great. The way these apps work, musicians at every level will get a great deal out of this class.
Oh, I should mention that the class is designed for *any* iOS device – I’d love to see iPhone users for whom this is their only music making device, but, of course, if you’re a Logic or Ableton user and you’re curious about whether you can make real music with your iPad, this class is definitely for you, too.
iOSM&Y: You’ve selected an interesting assortment of apps, ranging from more obvious choices like GarageBand and NanoStudio to less expected selections like PixiTracker – what criteria did you use to narrow down the list of apps that would work best in the class?
EG: I knew that GarageBand was going to be the focal point since it’s well-known and popular and does a lot of things really well. It’s got great features for beginners, but the sheer magnitude of the program – the different screens and various choices you have to make before you can get down to making music – made me reluctant to start the class with it. PixiTracker is great for music beginners cause you can just hit “play” and start dragging your fingers across the screen. Then you can sculpt your doodles into something artistic – you can even use your eye rather than your ear and see/hear what happens. PixiTracker is fun for experienced musicians, too, ’cause it’s a way of putting music together that a lot of musicians (especially traditional band-oriented musicians) aren’t familiar with, but is very rewarding and fun. Pixi also is a great platform to learn the basics of sampling, grid-based rhythm programming (including variation in pitch and velocity) and song structure. And it’s extremely to simple use. And the visualizer’s awesome. And it’s two bucks
Figure is also in the class early on, and it introduces note scales, effects and mixing, as well as real-time interaction – it’s more of an instrument than PixiTracker. Again, this app has a lot to offer both beginners and music tech veterans. And, throughout the class, I’ll be offering music production and performance tips applicable to whatever apps we’re working with.
We’ll also be spending a little time learning analog-style synthesis and sequencing – my plan is currently to do that with Sunrizer, since it sounds great and is Universal. I’ve left some slots open in the course to see where things go in the first part of the class – we might delve deeper into GarageBand or move on to NanoStudio or…who knows what might be released in the next two months? I’d love to see a DAW that incorporates a) synthesis, b) sample playback and c) audio playback – Nano does a+b. BeatMaker 2 and Music Studio do b+c but none that I know of do all three. Except maybe SunVox, in its unique way. I totally love SunVox, by the way – I think it sounds fantastic, and it can do things no other iOS music app can do – different tempos and time signatures every bar, automation of pretty much every parameter, etc.
iOSM&Y: You’ve got some nice pieces of theory, form, analysis, and production techniques hidden among the more – how do you feel about iOS music apps as vehicles to learn about the nuts and bolts of music?
EG: I probably addressed most of these questions above. I think they’re fantastic for teaching music at any level. I had never really done anything in the visual arts before I got my iPad, but within days I was doing sketches and learning about perspective and other aspects of visual art that I’d known nothing about previously. The same can happen for people who are introduced to music through the iOS.
iOSM&Y: The world of iOS music apps is something that evolves at a breakneck speed – how are you preparing your students to sort through and use the constant barrage of new music apps?
EG: Foothill Classes all have discussion forums, and I really believe in them as a learning tool, especially in specialized classes like this one. We’ll start tracking the news in the iOS community, and I’m sure we’ll get into the positives and negatives of trying to maneuver on this fast-shifting playing field. We’ll be checking out videos and analyzing press releases and, I’m sure, getting excited about new apps, playing with them for five seconds and deleting them And also discovering amazing new innovations like Impaktor.
iOSM&Y: The class will certainly turn out a group of music makers firmly attached to the iOS platform – what are the advantages of making music with an iPhone or iPad and why should people embrace this way of making music?
EG: ‘Cause it’s fun! There’s a joy to making music on a totally self-contained device – your keyboard becomes your microphone turns into your editor and then your mixer – how cool is that? And the touch screen is a great way to make art. Not all apps sound as good as what you can pull out of a desktop workstation or hardware synth, but some do, and the quality will only improve. I certainly can envision a time in the near future when I’ll make the grand majority of my music on iOS platform devices, and for many beginning and hobbyist musicians, that time could easily be now.
iOSM&Y: Tell us a little bit more about where people can get details on the class and where they register.
EG: I would go to my info sheet on the class and follow the link at the bottom to register. The 12-week Quarter begins Monday September 24, but all Foothill classes are designed to start slow (to allow late enrollment), and I’ll accept applicants for the next two weeks. It’s not full yet, but it’s getting there.
Want to hear some iPad music that Goldfarb put together using the same technique that he’ll demonstrate in the class? Check out this video filled with a song that he created using PixiTracker – some very cool, glitchy stuff!
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