Given that making music under iOS is still a little bit of an experimental process, by its very nature, it does attract a healthy cohort of somewhat experimental musicians. Yes, if you want to do straight-ahead singer-songwriter stuff on an iPad, you most certainly can. However, if you also want to create something just that bit more left-field, then there are some rather good iOS music apps that can inspire your experimental streak.
I’ve looked at a number of iOS audio effects apps here on the blog that might fall into this more ‘experimental’ category. For example, Turnado, EchoPad, Effectrix, Crystalline, birdStepper, Swoopster, WOW Filterbox and LiveFX might all fit in this particular box.
Software developer CKEK – led by Saveliy Kaliupanov – are keen to add another one to this impressive list; Deregulator. Launched just a few days ago, priced at just UK£1.49, and compatible with newer models of iPhone (but also runs fine on an iPad2 and later) using iOS6.1 or later, Deregulator could be described as a ‘spatial’ processor in that it focuses on stereo delay, echo and reverb effects. These types of effects are, of course, used in a conventional fashion in lots of recording contexts. Somehow, however, I don’t think that is quite what Saveliy has in mind with Deregulator :-)
So what’s in Deregulator? As mentioned already, the app combines a stereo echo, delay and reverb effects but, as you can probably guess from looking at the user interface, there are some unconventional elements to the way these effects are applied.
Perhaps the first thing to clarify is what the app means by ‘echo’ and ‘delay’ as, very often in mainstream audio processing, these terms are used interchangeably to refer to any audio processor that adds repeats to an audio signal. In Deregulator, that conventional (well, as conventional as the app gets) effect is the echo. In contrast, the delay element is somewhat different as this refers to the app taking pieces/slices of your audio and mixing those back in to the audio output. The result is much more experimental. Finally, the output from both the echo and delay elements are added together and passed through the reverb section that offers room size, damping and wet/dry controls.
However, the real twist in the tail is that many of the effects parameters can be set to vary in real-time on a random basis between minimum and maximum values set by the user. Using the multi-coloured panels within the main interface, you can switch this randomisation on/off for different parameters (so you can, if you wish, get something almost conventional out of the app in terms of reverb or echo) and you have control over the depth of variability. For example, for the left/right delay time settings (top-left in brown/orange), you can set the min.limit and max.limit delay times (two yellow cubes four rows from the top). With maximum delay times of 5 seconds, there is plenty of scope here for creating lots of long repeats.
Scrolling down the screen shows you the 25 preset slots (tap and hold to store the current settings to one of these) as well as providing you with access to the Options menu. This includes the rather wonderfully named ‘Mess All’ and ‘Anti Loud’ buttons. Mess All essentially generates a random patch while the Anti Loud button is definitely one to just leave switched on as it can help reduce the likelihood of lots of audio feedback delivering you a speaker-cone (and ear drum) bursting level of sound.
You can also enable the app’s internal recording mode here if you wish. However, as the app also comes with Audiobus support (and, apparently, IAA is in development), and it seems to behave nicely enough in either the Input or Effect slot position, then I suspect that’s how most folks will end up using it.
In use, the interface, and how the various controls interact, does take just a little time to get your head around. This is, in part, because the ‘Welcome’ instructions and manual (accessed via the Options menu) have both been written in English and, pretty obviously, this is a second language for Saveliy (this is not a criticism; my ‘second language’ is French and there is no way I could do as good a job as Saveliy has achieved here when it comes to technical writing in that language). Anyway, just be prepared to read between the lines a little and experiment; it will soon make some sense.
Of the various coloured button/controls, some are for display purposes only (they display how a parameter is varying), some are also essentially faders (tap and hold and you can adjust them) and others are switches (where a ‘x’ means off and a ‘+’ means on).
Two faders that are worth getting to grips with early on are the ‘delay.max’ and ‘echo.min’ settings (in white on the right edge). If you switch on the ‘Mode’ button on (‘+’), the echo/delay balance control (centre column, third row down) will shift the balance between the echo effect and the delay effect. Turn Mode off (‘x’) and this same echo/delay balance control can be used to manually set a fixed balance between the two effets. For example, slide it fully left and Deregulator’s delay effect is effectively bypassed and you get a (more or less) conventional echo-style effect.
Indeed, turning off all the automatic randomisation does allow you to get some fairly conventional echo/reverb effects out of the app if that’s what you require and there are some fabulous long delays/repeats that can be created with that 5 second maximum echo time. However, I’m not really sure that’s what Saveliy had in mind…. hit the Mess All button a few times and I think you will get a better idea… a mixture of almost endless repeats that change their pattern and lashings of reverb. If you like creating experimental soundscapes or electronic ambient music then I suspect you might have a lot of fun experimenting with Deregulator.
Deregulator is unconventional at a number of levels. The UI is colourful and, initially at least, just a bit baffling. The audio results, unless you really reel in what the processing can do, can be weird and, at times, very unpredictable. However, all that said, this is an app that the more experimental iOS musician is going to enjoy exploring.
At UK£1.49, Deregulator is in the ‘lose change’ price range for most likely purchasers. I would hesitate to say that it is an ‘essential purchase’ – it is perhaps just too unconventional and left-field for many musician’s needs – but, at this price, it really could be a causal purchase just to explore. For sound designers and ambient soundscape folk, I’d be a bit more assertive; you can hit a note or a chord and then just leave Deregulator to create something suitably weird and often wonderful. Deregulator is most certainly odd… but by design and in a good way :-)