For non-musicians unfamiliar with the ways music is made today, here’s a clue: It’s no longer necessary to play an instrument to create a musical composition. Another option it to piece together snippets of pre-recorded digital audio. This technique underlies a lot of what modern DJs and producers do.
Sound Trends brings apps to iOS devices that allow you to do this kind of thing on your iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Its iPad effort is the $15 Looptastic HD, and true to its name, it’s a fairly “tastic” effort, allowing you to very easily piece together and mix tracks from a handful of audio loops.
The workflow is easy to grasp. Launch the app, tap a loop set (a set included with the app, one you’ve added via the Loop Store available within the app, or a set you’ve imported from your Mac over Wi-Fi), and, in the main screen, add and manipulate loops and effects. That main screen consists of a mix zone area, a crossfader controller, a bin for choosing other loop sets, an XY pad for controlling effects, and a list of effects that you can assign to one of the mix zones.
To start work, drag one of the more than 900 included loops into a mix zone—the app includes left, middle, and right mix zones. The loop starts playing immediately. To increase or decrease its volume, drag it up or down, respectively, within the zone. The waveform of the selected loop is represented at the top of the window. Drag on the waveform to scrub the audio forward or back. You can tap a tool icon next to the waveform and choose to have the loop always play or play just when you touch it. You can also have a loop play backwards by tapping a Reverse button.
When you place a loop in the left or right mix zone you have the option to crossfade in and out of it. When the crossfader control is set in the middle position (as it is by default) you hear all of the loops—those in the left, middle, and right zones. But drag the control to the left, and those loops in the right zone fade out (eventually to nothing as you drag all the way to the left), letting you hear just the loops in the left and right mix zones. Drag all the way to the right and the loops in the left mix zone are muted and you hear just the loops in the middle and right zones.
To add effects to a zone, select an effect and touch the XY pad to engage the effect. Dragging your finger to different areas of the XY pad changes the character of the effect. For example, when using the Gate effect, dragging your finger to the right increases the speed of the gate (how often it opens and closes, letting sound through). Drag your finger up and down to choose how strong (wet/dry) the effect is—allowing more sound to pass through when your finger is at the bottom of the pad and shutting the gate firmly when you drag your finger to the top of the pad.
You can use the XY pad to change the sound of the effect in real time by dragging your finger around the pad. As you do, the effect will change. Or you can tap a Hold button on either side of the pad and the effect will continue to play using the current setting. While the Hold button is engaged you’re welcome to tap another location on the pad at any time to assign a different effect setting. In addition, you can turn that effect on or off for each of the three mix zones using buttons below the pad.
You can also assign multiple effects. When you do, a small green dot appears next to the name of each active effect. To switch an effect off, select it in the list and tap the Hold button.
Looptastic has other interesting features. You can adjust the tempo of your track by either choosing a tempo—128bpm, for example—or by steadily tapping on the iPad to set the tempo to match the speed of your taps. You can sync two iPads together so that the two match tempo—thus letting you have two audio sources for your mix, much like a DJ has multiple audio sources and mixes among them. You can record your own loops using the iPad’s built-in mic or compatible headset mic as well as tap a Loop Store button to add additional loops (the Loop Store offers both free and for-purchase loops). And Looptastic HD automatically records everything you do, allowing you to save your work just by tapping a Save button.
This last option could use some work, however. As I said, it records everything you do, which includes your setup work—auditioning sounds, adding and rejecting loops, adjusting the loops’ volume, and playing with effects—as well as your “real” mixes. There’s no way to edit out that extraneous material when you’re working in the app. You must export the saved track to your computer and cut out the cruft there.
Importing and exporting is another slight bump in the road. You move Looptastic content on and off the iPad via Wi-Fi. To do that, fire up a Web browser, enter the address of the iPad (http://10.0.1.2:8080, for example), and then choose the content you want to send to or receive from the iPad. It’s a great feature, but it would also be nice if you could access Looptastic in the traditional way—through a Looptastic HD entry in iTunes’ App pane. This would be particularly welcome for those times when you’re copying loops from your computer to the iPad. Dragging them into iTunes is easier than navigating to them from your Web browser.
Despite these minor inconveniences, Looptastic HD is well worth your musical while if the idea of creating and mixing loop-based tracks on the go appeals to you. It’s easy to use, includes lots of loops to get started with, has the depth to act not only as a sketch pad but also a performance tool, and is enough fun to eat up hours of your time.
[Christopher Breen is a senior editor for Macworld.]