iPulsaret review – apeSoft don’t just do effects; they also do synths

Download from iTunes App StoreiPulsaret logoDeveloper apeSoft will be familiar to many iOS musicians through their various iOS music apps and their obvious close collaboration with Amazing Noises and their various iOS music apps. Between these two developer names, I’ve reviewed apps such as apeFilter, Sparkle, Dedalus, apeDelay and DubFilter and, if you have encountered any of these apps then you will know that apeSoft don’t really do ‘conventional’.

However, apeSoft also don’t just do audio effects apps…. they also have a line of iOS ‘instruments’ and/or synths; iDensity, Stria and iPulsaret. These apps are a little more orientated towards ‘playable’ instruments and, within the last few months (indeed, the last couple of weeks for Stria and iPulsaret), all three have updated to v.2.0 and beyond.

And, as I’ve never quite got around to looking at any of these three apps, I think this might, therefore, be a good time to put that right… so let’s take a look at iPulsaret….

iPulsaret - a synth Jim, but not as we know it....

iPulsaret – a synth Jim, but not as we know it….

50 shades….

… of weird is really what apeSoft are about. This is not a developer that you follow if your musical tastes are more singer/songwriter or trad jazz. However, if you like experimental electronic music – with lots of odd noises, evolving pads and textures, and glitchy drones – well, then I think you might be in luck because that’s what apeSoft – and iPulsaret – seem to do best.

iPulsaret first appeared on the App Store back in October 2012 but it was updated to v.2.0 at the start of July this year. Currently priced at UK£5.99, it is a universal app that requires iOS7.0 or later and comes in at a very modest 19 MB download. The app’s sound engine is based around granular synthesis so what you get here is a range of options for deriving grains sources from either standard waveforms, pre-recorded audio files or live audio input, and then manipulating them in a whole host of different ways.

iPulsaret offers five different 'sound source' options include a pre-recorded sample as shown here.

iPulsaret offers five different ‘sound source’ options include a pre-recorded sample as shown here.

This is, however, a playable instrument. There is a virtual MIDI keyboard and you can, of course, hook up an external MIDI keyboard to trigger the sounds you have created. The sounds that iPulsaret creates are… well… typical apeSoft… don’t expect beautifully rendered emulations of real strings or pianos or acoustic guitars; that’s not what this engine is about. For weird – and often wonderful – noises, electronic bleeps, evolving textures and rather unsettling ‘stuff’, iPulsaret is just the thing :-)

Actually, in terms of the raw sound sources, what you get is 5 basic ‘shades’ (grain sources) and then a whole bunch of other options that you can apply to those five possible sources of grains. These are labelled Wave, Trainlet, Sample, Live and Harmonic. There is a description of each of these within the built-in user guide (which you can access via the main menu button located top-tight). Wave is essentially a number of different standard waveforms that you can morph between using the controls provided. Sample uses a pre-recorded audio file as a source and you can control how that sample is re-sampled to extract grains. A number of samples are included to get you started but you can import your own via various routes (including iTunes File Sharing) if you wish. Live takes an incoming audio signal from an external mic or another iOS app (if, for example, using iPulsaret via Audiobus) and you get a wet/dry control here so you can blend the processed and unprocessed version of that incoming audio to taste.

You can also use a 'live' audio source from an external mic or another app.

You can also use a ‘live’ audio source from an external mic or another app.

As for Trainlet and Harm modes…. well, I’ve read the manual and my guitarist-sized brain is not really any the wiser. Still, both modes can create some interesting noises so, like me, just experiment and see what happens. I did like the Harm mode though as there is definitely something ‘harmonic’ going on there that can be very musical.

Going with the grain

The five grain sources provide lots of options but, as the top half of the screen has to be swiped left/right to access all of the other elements of the sound engine, you can guess that there are quite a lot of further options to explore.

These start with the Grain Parameters, Grain Envelope, Grainlet and Glisson Sweep sections. No, I’ve no idea what’s going on here either but tweak away as these controls influence just how the grains are extracted from your sound source and then combined to make some sound. I’m not really sure the documentation will get you a full understanding of what’s on offer but, as this is an app for the dedicated noise experimenter, I’m not sure the target audience is really going to be too concerned. In short, there is plenty of experimental scope here… and plenty of knobs that crank up ‘weird’ in various different ways :-)

Swipe left/right in the upper portion of the screen to access all the other controls on offer.

Swipe left/right in the upper portion of the screen to access all the other controls on offer.

The rest of the controls are perhaps of a rather more conventional ‘synth’ variety. You get a Note Envelope (ADSR) section, a Stereo Echo, Ring Modulation, Lowpass Ladder (filter effect), High Shelving (a further filter), Reverb and Compressor. These elements can all be toggled on/off individually via the button located top-right of each sub-section. Again, there is obviously plenty of additional sound shaping provided here.

The bottom half of the screen is dominated by a virtual keyboard. It’s not quite a photo-realistic piano keyboard but it gets the job done and there you tap on the keys controls velocity while post-tap up/down movements can be used to modulate one or more of iPulsaret’s parameters. There is also a keyboard ‘lock’ option so you can trigger a few notes and then remove your fingers while to experiment with the app’s other controls to manipulate your sound; obviously good for those that want to make pads or soundscape textures.

No, I've no idea about the specifics of the Grain Parameter section either...  but it helps you make some cool - it slightly crazy - noises.

No, I’ve no idea about the specifics of the Grain Parameter section either… but it helps you make some cool – it slightly crazy – noises.

In terms of the graphical design, iPulsaret is a chip of the old apeSoft block; as such, it is not perhaps the prettiest synth app you will ever see (that would make a good ‘awards ceremony’ category!) but is functional and no fuss. There are different colour schemes available via the Settings page (again, accessed via the main menu) if the default while look is just a bit too ‘daylight’ for your muse.

Control freak

Given this is very much from the apeSoft stable, you also get all the usual apeSoft control options. You can, therefore, link almost any of the controls to MIDI to automate them and you can use the iPad’s motion sensitivity to also control changes in parameters. All this can be configured from the Control Manager page and this works exactly as in other apeSoft apps.

The SnapShots pad allows you to blend between four different iPulsaret presets.

The SnapShots pad allows you to blend between four different iPulsaret presets.

You also get the Snapshots Pad. This allows you to select any four presets (ones supplied with the app or ones you have created yourself) and then use the pad to blend between their various settings as you would with any synth XY controller pad.

Both the Control Manager and Snapshots Pad are also accessed via the main menu. This is also where you can find the Preset Manager and the File Manager.

As with apeSoft's other apps, there is a comprehensive 'control' system for real-time adjustment of the app's parameters.

As with apeSoft’s other apps, there is a comprehensive ‘control’ system for real-time adjustment of the app’s parameters.

Feel my pulse

iPulsaret can be used as a stand-alone app (although be careful with feedback if you use the ‘live’ input option) or with Audiobus/IAA. In terms of the latter, I had no difficulties at all. The app behaved well within Audiobus and, for example, when used in the Audiobus Effects slot, I was able to process the output from another app through iPulsaret as a ‘live’ audio source. This did some ‘interesting’ (yep, mostly weird!) things to so fairly standard synth sounds. The app also behaved well when used via IAA with Cubasis as my host.

iPulsaret performed well when used via Audiobus...  as shown here where it is processing audio from SynthMaster Player.

iPulsaret performed well when used via Audiobus… as shown here where it is processing audio from SynthMaster Player.

Hooked up to a MIDI keyboard, I had no problems ‘playing’ notes into iPulsaret, although what you get out depends very much on how the app is configured. Yes, it can do musical or tuneful but I’m not sure that’s really where it excels. Where I had the most fun was when I triggered a few notes, set them to ‘lock’, and then just started tweaking the various grain and effects controls. With any sustained sound, you can then get into all sots of soundscape and audio texture production and, given the number of control options available, you can make that sound evolve in all sorts of interesting and ear-catching ways.

The app also worked well as an IAA plugin within Cubasis.

The app also worked well as an IAA plugin within Cubasis.

If I was a synth-loving iOS music newbie, perhaps iPulsaret might not be my first choice (stick with the likes of iM1, Thor, SynthMaster Player, etc. if you want a more conventional place to start). However, for those who’s app collections perhaps already include apps such as SoundScapper or Borderlands Granular, then maybe you already own a copy of iPulsaret… but, if not, this is going to be your kind of app….

In summary

Indeed, if the likes of SoundScapper and Borderlands Granular are what floats your sonic boat, then I suspect the entire apeSoft iOS music app catalogue will also appeal. iPulsaret is a very intriguing – and very powerful – sound design tool. It is a ‘synth’ but perhaps not in the conventional way in which we thing of a synth. It is perhaps, therefore, something of a niche product but, if electronic music, ambient soundscapes and just plain weird and glitchy are your thing, then this is most certainly worth a look. And, at just UK£5.99, iPulsaret is also unlikely to set too many bank manager’s heart pulsing….

iPulsaret


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