“A properly exciting piece of inventive software that really can turn your iPad into a unique musical instrument, rather than a plinky plonky toy.”£2.99
We’ve long held that iOS would be the perfect platform for a virtual Theremin. Yes, we’ve had a look and noted that there are a few already, generally powered by sliders that control the pitch and, if you’re lucky, the volume, but come on. Here’s a free idea for anyone who wants to try and implement it: a Theremin app that uses the camera to track your hand and determine the pitch from that. Put the volume control on the touch-screen and, while you’re there, add some effects as well, and you have the iPad as a proper musical instrument. Because while we enjoy music apps that simulate proper instruments and equipment, we like the idea of an iPad as a unique musical instrument even more.rnrnSamplr is sort of in that ballpark. From initial investigations we had it down as some kind of visual sequencer, but it’s a lot cleverer than that – more of a sample-based instrument, built more for live performance than recording.
(Until very recently the only way to get your own audio into Samplr was by importing it through iTunes, which was a bit of a pain. A last-minute update, however, has added the ability to record your own audio through the iPad microphone, and also integrates Sonoma audiocopy and paste functionality so that you can nab sounds from any other Sonoma-enabled apps. So while it wasn't much of a sampler before, it is now.)
The basics, then: you can load it with up to six different samples that you can play live in interesting ways in order to create entertaining noises. There are seven different play modes; we’ll mention the loop player mode first and get it out of the way, because all it does is play the sample on a repeat loop. Useful, but it’s in the other play modes that the fun really starts.rnrnThere’s Slicer mode, in which you can split a sample up into lots of little chunks (either automatically or by hand) and play them by tapping on them. Then there’s Looper mode: use two fingers to create fragments that loop repeatedly. E-Bow mode is similar to Looper, only controlled with one finger (although you can adjust fragment length with a slider), while Tape mode plays the entire sample at a speed (and direction) dictated by how far your fingertip is from the centre of the sample. Scratch mode’s pretty self-explanatory, and Keyboard mode enables you to play the sample like a musical instrument. rnrnOn top of that there’s a hefty assortment of effects, with distortion, filter, amplitude modulation, feedback and reverb controls, plus attack and decay sliders as well as extra dedicated controls for some of the play modes and doubtless a few other things we’ve overlooked. There’s quite a bit to take in, but thankfully Samplr packs a concise and well thought-out manual that shows you what’s what, plus a good few demo projects that you can play around with and get a feel for how it all goes together. With a gesture recorder you can start building your own tracks that you can then trigger and use as backing while you perform live on another sample (perhaps recording yourself as you go, and then moving on to yet another). In short, it’s ace musical fun.rnrnThe only slightly disappointing things about it are that it adjusts pitch by changing the playback speed rather than timestretching, and that samples seem to be sliced up very fine rather than played at full resolution; which is quite noticeable if you’re scratching really slowly or playing the thinnest possible loops in Looper or E-Bow mode. We assume this is down to performance and battery issues, and it’s really not that big a deal; certainly not enough to put us off recommending Samplr to anyone with the slightest vague interest in musical leanings.