Pick up and play gaming on the iPhone is big business as the massive success of casual classic apps such as Angry Birds, Tiny Wings and Cut the Rope has shown. People are busy and easily bored, making the iPhone’s ability to fill dull moments (and increasingly interactions with dull people) ideal. But can this pick up and play ideology carry across into more creative endeavours? I recently reviewed 53’s Paper, a casual notes and sketching app, that sacrificed certain key elements of usability (zoom, layers, brush size) for ease of use. And it was delightful.
Propellerhead has taken this spirit onboard with their new music making app for the iPhone ”Figure”. Long ago I reviewed their classic ReBirth emulator for the iPad which was amazing but also a beast to use (and possibly responsible for blowing left cup on one of my headphones).
Figure takes a much, much simple approach to beat making – much like the pick up and play approach to gaming that you find in Tiny Wing. Figure severely restricts your choice – giving you only bass, drums and lead to work with. You are also prevented from any sort of conventional note input, and are limited to a pre-quantised range of notes. So it’s pretty hard to make a bad sounding, out of time drum pattern and you can have an acceptable sounding beat out in literally seconds. There are a range of decent sounding kits included – my favourite being the Glitch kit which works very well with some of the onboard sounds. Bass and lead parts are powered by Reason’s Thor synthesiser and drum parts are powered by Kong.
Absolutely no musical training is needed to get great sounds out of Figure (something that’s a little annoying if you’ve invested a lot of time and money over a 10 year period to learning to play with synths) and it does a great job of putting a sense of “play” back into making music. You can also use it as a gateway tool, educating your about the importance of scales and modes as in the ”Tweak” section you can fiddle with major and minor modes and get a real feel for how that can modify a song.
If you enjoy making music, and only have short periods of time just then Figure is a near perfect app to jam on whilst you wait for your bus. However, when you’re bus arrives you may be in for a jarring surprise as there’s no Save or Export function. I know the app is not intended to be a fully working DAW but having no way to save your jams or share them with the wider world (beyond fiddly routing with wires into external audio recorders) seems like a glaring omission. Still for the price (about 99p or 69c) it’s pretty hard to grumble with software that’s this much fun.
Here is a video demo of the Figure app on the iPhone
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