Musical Space: Phoneland

Jan 21, 2014

The song you are hearing is made entirely from music produced on my phone. Doing it was fast, fun and easy; it didn’t take much know-how, either. Most of you could do it, too; I think all of you should try.

Smartphone music apps can make creating music convenient and intimate. They can let you express yourself artistically while waiting in line at the bank. To get started, just search for “synthesizer” or “drum machine” in your app store. For obvious reasons, I like the free ones best. Keep trying them until you find the ones that fit your personality. My favorites tend to feel good in my fingers and have a beautiful visual component.

With most of these, the amount of control you have is rather crude, the number of choices you have is minimal, and the outcome is not that sophisticated, and maybe that’s the point.

Here the emphasis is on user-friendliness and immediate gratification. You won’t have to know how to play a scale or the difference between a whole-note and a half-note.

If you do want it to be more complicated, a lot of companies are making professional-grade devices for smartphones. Even though most of them cost less than fifteen dollars, the features and audio quality are better than the real digital instruments of just a few years ago. I almost hate to say it, but playing the Moog synthesizer on my phone can be more fun than playing a real one.

Whatever your approach is, you now have have a musical instrument in your pocket, sort of like a harmonica, but with the possibility of using headphones


©2013 by Mark Foley

Notes for Phoneland:

Every sound you hear on Phoneland was created on an IPhone 5s. I cheated a bit by combining them in a digital workstation called Ableton Live 9, so that I could balance the mix and make the beats line up. There was only minimal editing of the sounds.

The tune starts with 2 tracks of Tonepad, which is a simple, free, virtual version of an electronic instrument called the Tenori-On. This a satisfying and beautiful app to play. Even though is doesn’t allow you to change tempo, key or timbre, I knew it would be a nice backbone for a down-tempo funk groove.

The “vocal” lead sound was created on the Animoog, a high-quality synthesizer designed by the Moog company to emulate their ground-breaking instruments. A second glitchy “radio static” background Animoog track enters around 1:10.

The Drums were made on an app called Figure, and the bass is by the iKaossilator. Both of these apps are from companies that cater to music professionals, but these don’t require a musical background. Each one is powerful enough to create an entire song by itself.

The first break features a throbbing sequence of notes on Sync Synthe, another beautiful, free app thats fun to play for the sounds and for its visual element.

The high-pitched siren of the second break was made on Fourier Touch,

slowly raking three fingers across the screen.

After that, a new set of drums comes in. This is a stock drum loop that comes on Garageband, which is a complete audio workstation that has newly become free on IO7.