As far as music-making apps for tablets go, Garage Band for iPad is about as far down a certain path as you can travel, with on-screen guitars you can pluck and strum and tiny drum kits for letting your fingers do their best Keith Moon (or, in reality, more like their best Dennis Wilson). But while all of that is undeniably cool, the true potential for music apps lies not in aping old instruments but in creating new ones, finding new ways to harness the power of multitouch for creating sounds and grooves.
Samplr, an iPad app that lets you manipulate waveforms directly, is an impressive step in that direction.
Created by Barcelona-based designer Marcos Alonso, Samplr is a flexible tool kit for sample-based noisemaking. And unlike many others that were ported from popular desktop software or that rely on layouts from other pieces of hardware, Samplr was designed expressly for the iPad.
There are seven modes for manipulating samples—some let you scratch scraps of audio like a record, others let you chop them up and play them back like keys on a keyboard. You can use a built-in library of samples, import your own, or record them with the iPad’s mic, and the app lets you record, loop, and layer tracks of samples as you go.
The button-dense UI can be a bit forbidding at first, but the app is intended to be a fully featured tool, suitable for live performance, as much as a newcomer-welcoming affair like Garage Band. And while it is totally unique to the touchscreen in its heavy use of multitouch, there are ways in which it does take after a real piece of gear. "I tried to design Samplr like a real-life instrument," Alonso says. "There is only one main view, and all the buttons are always accessible and on the same place, just like a guitar or a piano. I didn’t want to have menus over the instrument during the performance or different views with buttons in different places."
But in another way, Samplr’s reliance on the waveform itself—the graphical representation of the audio signal—makes it especially user-friendly. In most music production software, when you change, say, the attack or delay of a certain sound, you have to listen for the difference. Here, you can see it change the waveform in real time, giving you an instant type of feedback on how your adjustment of these values is affecting the sound.
"If something is happening inside the instrument that can be shown to the user, I try to show it in the best possible way," Alonso says. "The moving waveforms . . . are just raw representations of the internal data. Seeing what’s happening inside creates a stronger connection between the player and the instrument."