Today Danny J Lewis gives you his first impressions of the much hyped Propellerheads iOS app ‘Figure’.
This post was originally published in DJ Magazine’s free online edition DJ Weekly issue 97
iOS apps are making the process of production much more accessible and ‘Figure’ from Propellerheads, the people who brought us Reason, offers a unique next gen interface for jamming with musical ideas. Traditionalists are going to hate on this one big time: for starters you don’t input notes via a keyboard and neither do you have the ability to edit notes on a piano roll. What is does is take away the ‘thinking’ process and strip things right down to a primal ‘fun’ level that is downright addictive!
Composition is broken down into three key areas: drums, bass and lead. For drums you get four touch strips, one for each category of drum sample such as kick, snare, hats and percussion. The vertical position of your finger on each strip sets the ‘length’ of the drum hit and is great for adding variety to your programming with larger decays at the top. The snare, hat and percussion strips also give you a different sample on the left and the right side allowing for even more creative scope. When I first used Figure I tried to programme the beats like an MPC or Maschine where each tap became a single element of the beat but the app doesn’t lend itself naturally to this kind of programming. Instead you select a ‘pattern’ from the rotary dial and then trigger it like a loop into the sequencer: the longer you hold your finger down, the longer the loop plays for. It takes a little getting used to but makes perfect sense and is a great way to lay down some beats, particularly for those who can’t play in time. The bass and lead elements operate on a similar principle: select a pattern and then trigger this from the touch strip, adjusting the root note of the sequence by the position on the pad.
At times like this it’s great to know that sound design tools such as Native Instruments’ Kontakt are out there. This allows us to work with source sounds in a malleable fashion, twisting them up beyond recognition, breaking free of the existing time and pitch constraints that most other samplers have to conform to. If you map midi controllers, this manipulation becomes more hands on and far less academic than some other tools. It’s truly a fun way to experiment with sounds you have ripped from the web. Turn a voice into a rise/fall effect with ease, slice up existing elements and re-arrange them, just do whatever you can to take the listener away from recognising the source – this is the key to staying on the right side of the law.
Danny is otherwise known as Enzyme Black, with releases on labels such as Defected, Masters At Work and his own imprint Enzyme Black Recordings. He is the head of course development at Point Blank’s online music production school.
Watch more exclusive free tutorials on Point Blank’s sample course page.
Propellerheads have released their new iPhone app. I’ve got it on the iPad, here. What we’re going to do in this video is just discover what’s going on with their . . . We’ve heard that it’s a very simple and easy-to-use kind of fun music-making tool; it’s not a serious tool. This has just got three main elements: drum, bass, and lead that we can play around with. I’m going to discover how it works. I’ve got the site here as a reference point, so I can read up on anything. I’m literally going to get the camera top-down, we’re going to take a look, and just have a play around and see what it can do.
Let’s start at the most logical place, with the drums. We’ve got some kits that we can swipe across here. Let me just check something there. Depending on the position here, we’re getting a different sound. I wonder if that’s the same on every single kit? We’ve got snare at the top. We’ve got a decay that’s increasing, so it’s a longer sound at the top, shorter at the bottom. Clap, the same as well. That seems to be a common theme. On the kick and the snare clap, it’s just shorter sound at the bottom, longer at the top.
We’ve got different samples here, with the hats on the left and the right. Once again, longer decay at the top, shorter down below. Different percussive sounds here, over on the shake tin. Let me just switch to another kit, see if that’s the same here. On this one we’ve only got the 808 cowbell. Definitely common that we’ve got the longer decay at the top and shorter decay down below. This is a really interesting approach. The numbers seem to indicate almost like a quantized grid. Here you got 4 separate divisions in the bar, there’s 7, but there’s also a pattern kind of vibe that’s going on behind the scenes. Really, this is a very intuitive interface for experimenting with different rhythmical ideas.
Yeah, I like that. I’m assuming recording, we just push this and we just give it a go. Let’s have a look. That was interesting. That’s a really nice little collection of sounds there. I wasn’t expecting that. Really liking this at the moment; a lot of flexibility. Let me just see if once you’ve got the pattern down that you can tweak it with these grid divisions once it’s playing. Do you know what, I’m really liking that. I wonder if that can be recorded in, as well. Let’s see. It doesn’t go as far as doing that. That possibly is a wishlist for a future version. Maybe I did something wrong, I’m not sure. This is the first time that I’m working with it, so we’ll see. That’s good, definitely feeling that at the moment, and love the experimentation here. Really like some of these patterns here. It’s got a real kind of broken beat flavor when you start working with those non-even-numbered grids, the odd numbers. Getting a really interesting flavor coming through there. That’s working well. I like that beat.
Let’s have a look on the mix. Just a level control. Pump. There’s some kind of side chain thing, I remember seeing that. I think, because there’s no musical elements on the go at the moment, we’re not really feeling that. Let’s come back to this, and let’s take a look at the bass. I like the beat there. Let’s take a look at the bass. The pattern here, from the rhythm section, if I increase this to 8, yeah, that’s as you would expect. 1/16ths , is just going to be rapid. The range here dictating the pitch, scale, steps, I think, is octaves. Let’s take this up. Let’s take a look. How high can we go? 7. Maybe the range is the octaves, so let’s just take that higher. Yeah, it certainly seems so. Let’s take it away from 16ths. Let’s go maybe . . . Let’s put the beat back.
Let’s record something in. I’ll keep running with that. Let’s take a look at this Tweaks section; Filter. Let me record some of that in. I’ve just realized that I’ve not recorded anything in on the lead, so we got back to this pattern section. I’m just getting familiar with it here. What else have we got? I’m going to play the backing so I can see if this going to suit. Let’s go with that. What have we got on here? Let’s try this. Wicked, that’s working really nicely. What have we got here? It looks like we can change the musical key. Tempo, Shuffle. That’s working really well.
It’s a really intuitive system. You can see that it’s a lot of fun. I can see a lot of people picking this up and getting a really good musical idea down without actually really knowing what they’re doing. It’s more a kind of ‘get your fingers on here and play around’ kind of a vibe. I’m not sure if it has any kind of exports to Reason. I can’t see anything at the moment, but that may be something that they’ll feature on a later version. To be honest with you, my feelings about this at the moment are that this is a great fun app, particularly given the price; it’s very cheap. It’d be really cool to see some kind of export functionality into Reason. We’ll see what happens; maybe they’re going to bring that in. I think, at the moment, just through playing that around, you’re seeing how quick and easy that is, and that’s without me getting to know this. This is without me looking at stuff in detail. I just took a quick skim of the site beforehand. Really good results, really quickly, and they actually sound really, really good; there’s no doubt about it.