Music on Tablets

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Herein we have a potpourri of iPod app goodies for your perusal: music notation software, data communications helpers for both MIDI and audio, and an external controller for your external controller (no really!).


by Warren Burt, Sept. 2015


Notion – Music notation for the iPad

PreSonus’s Notion is one of the leading musical notation programs for the PC and Mac.  It’s up there with Sibelius and Finale as a fully featured notation program.  But when it comes to the iPad, Notion is the only serious notation program available for a tablet computer.  If you haven’t seen the Apple ad with conductor/composer Esa-Pekka Salonen composing on his iPad, then rehearsing the piece with the orchestra, here’s the link: And here’s another ad for Apple in the same series –

The point behind giving the links to these ads is not to promote neither Apple nor Salonen (fine composer though he is), but to show that yes, serious music notation is available on the iPad.  I had gotten Notion about a year and a half ago, but I never had a chance to properly explore it until recently, when I had to spend 5 days in a hospital bed, flat on my back, with an extreme case of vertigo.  Only by holding my head in one particular position could I stop the room spinning around me.  Fortunately, that position was one where I could hold the iPad and work on it.  More fortunately, the vertigo did indeed go away after about 10 days, and I’m now completely back to normal.  But those days gave me a chance to work seriously, uninterruptedly, with the program, and see what it could do.  And although there are limitations, there are enough features to say that yes, this is a serious program, and it can do professional level work, and in fact, in terms of complex rhythms, it has some capabilities that neither of its “big brothers,” Sibelius or Finale, can do. An example of those later.

Notion comes with a few samples – the same ones recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra that accompany the laptop version of the program – and has the ability to, with in-app purchases, to expand to the full sound set.  The total amount for the entire library is about $30-40 dollars (current price on the App Store is 37.99 for all samples, but I’m not sure what currency that is listed in), which is well worth it, given the extensive range and quality of the samples.  Let it be said right away that the orientation of the sample set is for “classical” music – there are indeed some basses, some electric guitars, an electric piano and a drum-kit included in the complete sample set, but if you’re into serious pop synthesis, this is not the program for you.  There are, however, a wide range of woodwind samples (including contrabass clarinet and contrabassoon), and both solo and section string samples, with a wide range of articulations (pizzicato, bowed, etc.) on the strings.  The percussion samples are especially tasty (and there are a lot of them), and I like the idea that there are separate jazz and classical samples for the saxophones and other winds.

Input into the program is with either an external MIDI source, or with one of the note-input graphics on the iPad itself – there is a piano-type keyboard, a set of percussion pads, and a fret-board.  The program supplies the proper kind of interface for the instrument you choose.  In the case of the fretboard, you can customise it to match the tuning and number of strings for the instrument you choose.


PreSonus have yet to implement Background Audio in Notion, nor Audiobus capability or Inter-App Audio, so you can’t use, for example, another MIDI app on the iPad to generate information which Notion could notate. (That would require the ability to have Notion running while another app is on the screen – something it seems to not be able to do.)  Nor can you take the real-time audio output of Notion and feed it into other apps.  These abilities might come with future updates, but for the moment, Notion is a single, use-it-on-its-own app.  However, if you take the app as a stand-alone product, it’s superb for what it does.

Entry of notation symbols is quite easy, and editing, while a bit fussy (you’ll get used to zooming in and out of the screen to get the resolution necessary to select a single detail), is quite possible.  There are a few things that seem a bit unnecessarily difficult (like selecting only a part of a measure with the selection tool), but I’m willing to give PreSonus the benefit of the doubt on these – undoubtedly things like this will be addressed in future upgrades.  For the most part, though, the inputting and editing of notation is pretty easy.  The playback of the samples is also quite good.  And you can export your score or recording as either a PDF file (both score and parts) (and the engraving quality of the PDF output is fairly elegant), a WAV or AAC file, a MIDI file, or a MusicXML file.  This last is a cross-application format that allows you to move score files between applications.  For simple scores, I was able to move a score from Notion into Sibelius, and also from Sibelius into Notion with only a little bit of editing required.  For more complex scores, with, for example, very complex polyrhythms, the translation breaks down.  But for most “normal” applications, the transporting of scores with MusicXML should work acceptably.  I don’t own the laptop version of Notion, so I can’t comment on how it moves scores between the iPad version and the laptop version.  For that, I’ll just have to assume that Esa-Pekka Salonen was able to move his scores from one to the other fairly easily, using either MusicXML or Notion’s own .notion file format.

Brian McLaren, a composer friend, has been composing with extremely complex polyrhythms of late.  He has found that none of the current notation programs are able to notate the music that he can conceive of.  He has had the best results with Lilypond, the free, programmable Linux notation program, but even there he’s come up against limits.  Inspired by his example, I thought I would see what Notion could do.

This, measure 20 of Y H Ippo’s “Isopathologus III,” illustrates what Notion is capable of.  This is a measure of 15/4 time.  The various instruments are dividing those 15 beats into 15 (bongos), 14 (ratchet), 13 (Chinese cymbal), 12 (Marimba), 11 (Tuned Gongs), and 10 (Brake Drums) parts.  We tried to add a part where the 15 beats were divided into 9 parts, but at that point, either the program, or the limitations of my iPad, slowed the program down to a crawl.  But this measure, if repeated, can also be played with accelerating or decelerating tempi, and the beginning and ending metronome markings of the acceleration or deceleration can also be specified precisely.  And to my ear, at any rate, the playback of these rhythms seems extremely accurate.

Here’s another measure of the same piece, which shows how different kinds of tuplets can be combined in the same bar.  In my exploration of Notion, so far, I’ve rarely been disappointed, and have, more often than not, found abilities that were far beyond what I thought an iPad app (especially at this stage of the game) would be capable of.  If you’re into sequencing through using traditional musical notation, it’s well worth a look.

From the App Store, $18.99 USD.


Midimux and Audiomux

Want to get sound and/or MIDI in and out of your iPad?  It’s now possible with two new apps: Midimux and Audiomux.

One of the problems of the iPad has been its “sandboxed” nature.  Apple seems to have had the idea that apps would be self-contained entities, each working on its own.  But musicians are not like that.  Remember, the field of electronic music started with musicians plugging together bits of surplus electronics to make unexpected sounds.  No matter how elegant the program or piece of hardware, musicians are always going to want to take the sound out of it and put it into something else, or put a sound from somewhere else through it. 

The iOS world has been moving in that direction for a while now.  Audiobus and Apple’s own Inter-App Audio now allow audio to be routed between apps on the iPad, and Core MIDI allows the same capability with MIDI.  But more recently, several companies have brought out products that allow both audio and MIDI to stream seamlessly from the iPad to computers.  One of these companies is the German company Zerodebug, and they recently brought out two products, Midimux and Audiomux.  At first these were only for the Apple OSX operating system, but recently they’ve also brought them out for Windows as well.  Simply, MidiMux allows MIDI to be sent to the computer from the iPad, or vice-versa, using the standard 30-pin or Lightning/USB connecting cable.  The same cable that you use to charge your device.  Audiomux uses the same cable for bi-directional audio streaming between the computer and your iPad.  Both programs consist of apps for the iPad and corresponding free programs for the computer.  You activate, for example, Audiomux on your iPad, and then you activate Audiomux on your computer. On your iPad, you select a device to act as output, and in your DAW of choice, you use the VST Audiomux app to route the sound into your computer.  Using my Roland Octa-Capture interface, and its ASIO driver, I was able to achieve latency of less than 5 ms between playing a sound on my iPad, and having it appear in the computer.  Similarly, generating sound on the computer, and streaming it to an effects app on the iPad, and then sending the result back to the computer had a similar negligible latency.

This shows the interface between Audiomux and the computer.  In this case, the app Gestrument is being sent from the iPad to the computer.  On the computer, I’m using AudioMulch as my DAW, and the VST plugin “audiomux_generator_32_1” is then routed through Illformed’s “Glitch 2” plugin.  You can see this in this photo.

And FIG 3 shows the two side-by-side.  Gestrument is on the iPad, being played by my finger.  The sound then travels though Glitch 2 on the computer.  The connection between the computer and the iPad is seamless, and the audio travels between both devices effortlessly.

Conversely, sound can be generated on the computer and then routed into the iPad and returned to the computer.  This photo shows Modartt’s Pianoteq physically modelled piano being routed, through the VST plugin “audiomux_effect_32_1” into audiomux, and then through the BirdStepper effects unit on the iPad. The sound then returns to the computer.  Using the ASIO driver, latency was negligible. 

What this means is that any of the Audiomux-compatible sound making apps on the iPad (and this includes all Audiobus-compatible apps) can be freely streamed into the computer for recording or processing.  And, the iPad, with its many unusual sound processing devices, can be used as a send/receive effect within a DAW.  For those of us who grew up on modular systems, the world just got a little bit larger, and more powerful.

Similarly, Midimux routes MIDI either to or from the computer and the iPad.  The interface is shown here.  The devices show in the “local port” column are on the iPad, and the devices shown on the “remote port” column are on the computer.  By clicking the “source” and “destination” columns, one makes a device a sender, a receiver, or both.  In this setup, the Analog Midi Sequencer app is used to generate MIDI, which is sent through Midimux to the LoopBe Internal MIDI interface.  The MIdimux program on the computer looks at all the available MIDI ports on the computer and makes them available in the iPad, and vice-versa. In AudioMulch, Midi Input 1 is set to read the LoopBe Internal MIDI, and that MIDI is then sent to the Arturia Moog Modular V softsynth.

This photo shows the result.  The Analog Midi Sequencer app on the iPad is controlling the Modular V softsynth on the compute, inside AudioMulch.

Things are similar with sending MIDI from the computer into the iPad. In this setup, LoopBe Internal MIDI is set as the source, on the Remote Port, and Z3ta+ is set as the destination on the Local Port.  The result is that MIDI generated on the computer is sent to the iPad for use with the selected iPad apps.

And the result is here.  A Hopalong fractal is set up in John Dunn’s algorithmic program ArtWonk, and that generates a two-voice MIDI texture that is then played on the iPad (in 23 tone tuning) using Cakewalk’s Z3ta+ app.

Again, once the interfaces are set up properly, the behaviour of the programs is absolutely seamless.  MIDI travels in both directions with no perceptible latency – none that I could hear, at any rate.  Again, for those of us who grew up in the modular world, the music technology world has just gotten a bit bigger, and a bit more powerful.  A whole new world of possibilities opens up.  The “sandbox” has now opened up to the world.

By Zerodebug – Midimux $8.99 USD; Audiomux $8.99 USD; Bundle with both $9.99 USD; from the App Store.


Audiobus Remote

Audiobus is, of course, the program that allows various sound making apps on the iPad to talk to each other.  One of the problems of the iPad is that only one app can appear on the screen at a time.  This limits what one can do in real-time when performing.  But the folks at Audiobus have just released a new program, “Audiobus Remote,” that allows one to use another iOS device, through Bluetooth, to control apps present in Audiobus.

Using the Remote is simplicity itself.  Just make sure that Bluetooth is turned on in both of your iOS devices. I’m using my iPad and an old iPhone5.  Start Audiobus and load the apps you want to use in it.  Start Audiobus Remote on your secondary iOS device.  After a short wait, you’ll see the apps that are in Audiobus appear in the Remote.  In some cases, only the icon for the app appears.  But if the app developer has implemented Audiobus Remote Triggers in their app, you’ll see a whole sequence of controls appearing. 

In this example, I’ve put Elastic Drums through Holderness Audio’s Caramel distortion unit, with the output going into FL Studio HD.  The image below shows the apps in Audiobus on the iPad.

And the next image shows what appears on the Audiobus Remote.  On the left is the icon for Audiobus itself.  Then a column of controls for Caramel – an on/off switch, a bypass for the effects, and up and down arrows to scroll through the effect’s presets.  Next comes the many controls for Elastic Drums, which allow control of just about all aspects of the program.  One could easily have Caramel on the screen of the iPad, and be performing with its controls with one hand, while playing the Remote, and controlling aspects of Elastic Drums with the other hand. Then, for FL Studio HD, remote controls for starting to record, rewind, and play appear.  This is a simple example, but it shows what can be done. 

The final image below shows the two devices next to each other.  They could, of course, be set further apart, but this shows the kind of setups that are now possible with the new Remote app.

After installing a number of apps which promised control and connectivity, and then having struggled to get the devices actually talking with each other, I was delighted with how smooth the connection between Audiobus and the Remote really was.  I simply just made sure that Bluetooth was activated on both devices, set up Audiobus, then turned on the Remote, and voila! Connectivity.

At the moment, only a few apps have a comprehensive set of triggers available.  Some of these are Elastic Drums, all of Holderness’s effects units, Sector, Moog’s Filtatron, and several others.  Some apps have just their on/off or play/stop controls available at this time, and others just have their icons appearing – which means that you can select them to appear in Audiobus, but that’s it.  However, it’s very early days for this technology, so one can expect that more app developers will include controls and triggers for their apps to appear in Remote in the future.  This really does increase the performance ability of the iPad platform, so if you’re involved in performing with the iPad, I can highly recommend that you invest in Audiobus Remote.

Available in the App Store for $6.49 USD.


And Now This …

A number of people have asked me about using their iPad to control their DAW of choice.  I don’t have the resources to investigate all the possible apps and DAWs out there, but I recently came across an article that gave a guide to at least four apps which offer control of specific DAWs.  It’s by Thomas Rudolph and Vincent Leonard, and it appeared recently in Electronic Musician magazine.  It’s on-line at this URL:

In this article, they show Touchable by APPBC, which controls Ableton Live over wi-fi; Cubase IC Pro by Steinberg, for, of course, Cubase (version 6.5 or later), again over wi-fi; Logic Remote by Apple, for controlling either LogicX, or GarageBand 10.0, or MainStage 3.0.2, also using wi-fi; and DP Control by MOTU, for Digital Performer 7.2 or higher.  Like all the others, this one works over wi-fi. 

These are all DAWs that I don’t have, or don’t use extensively, so it was good to see this article, and in the interests of spreading the knowledge as widely as I can, I pass the link on to you.




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