Positive Grid are well known within the iOS music making world for their highly regarded guitar rig/amp modelling software with BIAS Amp and BIAS FX being the current flagship products. Having started with iOS, they are, however, one of the few iOS developers that have attempted to ‘go the other way’ and expand their product line into the desktop world. Equally, they have also moved into hardware and their latest product – the BIAS Head amplifier – is an ambitious undertaking, especially as they are entering a market already occupied by some established big-hitters such as Line 6 and Kemper.
They have also stepped outside the pure guitar-based products with, for example, the Final Touch iOS mastering app and some rather nice processor plugins for the desktop. However, on their website, there are also details on an upcoming project – AI Drums – a new sort of virtual drummer app for iOS and that is slatted to arrive in Q4 of 2016. The interesting thing about AI Drums is that it ‘listens’ to your guitar performance (play a riff or strum some chords) and will then attempt to cough up a suitable drum part….
…. all of which makes the appearance of GoBeats from Positive Grid – it arrived as a free app on the App Store a couple of days ago – rather a surprise because it is an app into which you strum a few chords or play a riff and it attempt to generate a suitable drum part for you to then play along to.
In use, GoBeats is about as simple as things can get. On launch, you simply tap the large circle icon in the centre of the screen and then start playing your guitar. The apps detects what you are playing through your iOS hardware’s microphone and, when you tap the circle for a second time (to signal you have stopped playing), your get a rather cheesy ‘nice playing…’ comment, and can then trigger playback of GoBeats drum part suggestion for your guitar part.
In essence, that’s about it…. The audio plays back through your iPhone or iPad speakers (or headphone port) and, if you open the Settings page, then you can adjust the time signature (3/4 or 4/4 are the options) and the tempo. And, as far as I can tell, if the guitar performance you give it initially is a little more complex (maybe two song sections as opposed to a single riff or chord progression, for example) then the resulting drum part also tends to contain more performance variations. Once the groove is created, GoBeats just keeps playing until you stop it.
And, aside from being able to adjust the volume (the ‘circle’ slider that surround the central icon), that’s pretty much it in terms of features. There is no Audiobus or IAA or AU support, no MIDI in or MIDI out (the latter would be good if you could send it to your MIDI sequencer for editing/playback), no choice in terms of the drum sounds (just a fairly standard rock-style acoustic drum kit) and no Ableton LINK. There is also no way to save the drum performance for later recall. The app is universal, requires iOS9.0 or later, is a 215MB download and, as mentioned above, if free.
And because it’s free, you (a) have little room to complain about the fairly streamlined feature set and (b) might have a pretty low expectation of the results. In fact, in terms of (b), I quite enjoyed what the app produced. OK, sometimes it tried to offer me a drum performance that didn’t really ‘work’ musically for me…. it gave me a drum part that I just didn’t like with my guitar part… but, frankly, when you play with a real drummer, you would experience the same thing on occasions (just as the drummer might not think your latest guitar idea works over a drum groove he has written).
I did find I got better results when my original guitar part was well defined…. give GoBeats a wall of fuzzy 5th chords and it doesn’t really have a great sense of rhythm to then identify and build upon. However, give it a nice clear riff or chord progression, and the app’s AI stands a better chance or generating something useful. And, of course, if you don’t like the drum part suggestion, then just have another pass at the guitar part
GoBeats vs AI Drums?
When you look at the promotional blurb for the upcoming AI Drums, it is clear that it is intended to be a much more sophisticated product than GoBeats… more features, more drum sounds and more control. So, if AI Drums is still slatted for later this year, what is GoBeats for?
Good question…. and the obvious suggestions are that Positive Grid are (a) interested is seeing users reactions about the product concept, (b) perhaps involving users in a bit of voluntary beta testing (and hoping for some feedback) and (c) hoping to catch peoples attention with the basic idea so they are more likely to pay attention when AI Drums is released.
I can see the sense of all three of these possibilities…. and, while GoBeats is not going to win any prizes for iOS music app of the year, the underlying concept itself is interesting. If AI Drums delivers that concept is a more sophisticated – and iOS music production workflow-friendly fashion – then I can see it being a very attractive proposition for many guitar players; a virtual drummer that generates drum parts based upon your guitar playing rather than you having to assemble ‘patterns’ to build the drum performance for your song.
All that said, GoBeats itself is free and, if taken as simply an ‘instant practice’ tool while you work on a song idea or three, then it’s well worth auditioning even if you then set it aside until AI Drums itself arrives.
I’m fairly sure GoBeats is a bit of an experiment by Positive Grid and a precursor to the planned AI Drums. In its current format, it is perhaps limited to the ‘occasional practice tool’ category (and, as a free app, there is no shame in that). I am, however, intrigued enough by the basic concept to now be looking forward to AI Drums. That is, I suspect, what Positive Grid might be hoping…..