Studio Amplify have a couple of other iOS music apps in their catalogue and that I’ve looked at previously here on the blog; Jungulator and NOIZ. Both apps were perhaps aimed as much at non-musicians as those with traditional musical skills in that they allowed you to easily create musical ideas but based upon pre-existing musical content such as loops and drum samples.
However, as I mentioned last week, the development team have now added a further app to their line-up; KRFT and, if you say it rather than spell it, then you will get a better sense of what the app is about. One of the interesting things about NOIZ was the performance interface. This was a lot of fun and, yes, while you were still just triggering loops or effects, it did, I’m sure, appeal to EDM producers whatever their formal musical training/skill level.
With KRFT, Studio Amplify have taken that performance interface concept to another level as, in this case, you get to program your own drum loops or synth parts (the app includes its own collection of sounds for playback) and then actually build your own user interface to trigger them in real-time with effects options included that you can also control from your customised surface. Yes, you ‘craft’ your own set of triggers on a per-project basis and, unlike the earlier apps mentioned above, you also are responsible for writing the musical content in terms of sequencing drum and synth patterns.
The combination of these two features perhaps means KRFT is aimed at a slightly different audience than NOIZ – those with a bit more musical experience perhaps? – but it may well attract existing NOIZ users in looking to take their music creation efforts a little bit further. And, with the emphasis very much placed upon the design of the performance interface, this is obviously an app for those that like to ‘perform’, be that in a live context or within a studio as a means of improvising a complete musical piece build around a set of your own musical phrases and beats.
KRFT requires iOS9.0 or later, is a 17MB download and is a universal app (I did my own testing on an iPad Pro but the apps works just as well on an iPhone, albeit with somewhat less screen real-estate to build your interface designs). The app is priced at UK£4.99/US$4.99.
A KRFT project is built around a ‘surface’ – essentially a collection of triggers/controls that the user can design for themselves using a preset collection of object types, and then link each object with a sound (sequenced synth/drum sound), sample (more on this in an minute), effect (to process a sound) or dial (to tweak a sound in real-time). Building a KRFT project therefore requires you to complete two related tasks; creating the interface itself and generating the musical content that the surface can then trigger.
At a basic level, there is nothing too challenging about the mechanics of these two processes (although, of course, the quality of your musical ideas is not something the app can guarantee!) and Studio Amplify have made this easier for the new user by building into the app some useful documentation as well as having already put a number of tutorial-style video online that cover the various surface creation options. These are well worth a look and will deal with any initial learning curve climbing required. A small collection of example surfaces (projects) are also included with the app so these can be explored as you get started.
That said, creating a new surface from scratch simply requires you to hit the big ‘+’ button on the Surfaces page that opens when you launch the app. This will then bring up your new – and initially blank – surface ready to be edited. You then simply tap the pencil icon to switch to Edit mode and, if you the tap the screen, a pop-up selection of object types will appear for you to choose from.
At present, this pop-up contains six options; Loop, Fill, Dial, Morph, Group and Sample, each of which perform a different function. For example, Loop allows you to use a drum, bass or lead sound and to program a pattern. When you create a new Loop, you are provided with a default set of three instruments to choose from but you can add more. Each of these just represents a ‘sound’ to be used in your current project and you can have multiple Loops linked to each instrument (sound).
Patterns can be up to 32 bars in length and you then get a suitable step-based grid into which you can create your part. Notes can be entered directly into the grid and you get the usual tools for moving notes and changing their length. You can also flip to the ‘keyboard’ view where you get a set of pads and, via the Record button (located bottom-right) you can then live record a part. This can be quantized on input if required and you can always go to the pattern grid if you need to fine-tune further.
When creating a Loop, you can select a sound from the presets included. These provide 50 lead, 50 bass and 14 drum kits to choose between and, as there are some sound tweaking options available also, there is plenty of choice to keep things interesting. At present, the app doesn’t seem to have any MIDI support so you can’t use an external keyboard to record your patterns nor send patterns out to trigger sounds in a 3rd party synth or drum machine app. It will be interesting to see if Studio Amplify add this or, perhaps even consider adding AU hosting; that’s would be an interesting option.
The other element of creating sequences that could be a bit slicker is monitoring existing parts while creating a new one. So, unless I’ve missed something (quite possible!), for example, if you had a drum beat already created and wanted to add a bass line, you have to leave edit mode, trigger playback of the drum part, go back to edit mode and then create your new object for your bass sequence…. It would be nice to have the option directly within the editing environment to trigger playback of existing loops/patterns while you record a new one….
While the included instrument engines are not as deep as you might find in a dedicated synth or drum machine app, there are some neat details worth exploring. So, for example, you can tweak various elements of the sounds. There are lots of options here including adjusting the filet settings, adding distortion or applying delay, EQ or chorus effects. Equally, for pitched instruments, there are tuning options to force the pitch of notes to a particular key. You can also specify how loops synchronise with other elements that are in playback and adjust the number of times a loop will repeat once triggered (the default is infinity). All of these options actually result in quite a lot of flexibility with the Loop objects….
What of the other objects? Well, a Fill is simply a pattern sequence that only plays while you hold the trigger down on the surface and, obviously, is great for drum fills or synth risers or hits. Group is quite an interesting one. This can be connected to multiple Loops or Fills so you can trigger them all by just tapping a single icon within the surface. This is obviously great for moving quickly between multiple song sections while performing (a bit like moving between ‘scenes’ within Korg’s Gadget, for example).
Sample is an interesting one and will, I suspect, at some point, become a bit more interesting. As you might expect, this object allows you to trigger an audio sample. At present, this is limited to a selection of 50 or so that are included within the app and these are mostly of the sound effect variety. You can, however, adjust the volume and pitch (amongst a few other things) and also set the triggering behaviour including, if required, the loop count (as for pattern loops).
This object type works well and the included sounds are fun…. but it would really come into its own if it allowed you to import your own audio samples – and in particular loops – for triggering. My understanding is that this is a feature high on the development priority list. If so, if would obviously be a very interesting additional option.
The other two objects – Morph and Dial – provide you with different types of real-time control over existing sounds. Morph lets you target a parameter in one of the in-built synth/drum machine sounds and then, when you trigger the object on playback, that parameter will be ‘morphed’ when you trigger the morph option. Again, you can adjust how the trigger behaves in various ways.
Dial is perhaps a little more straightforward and does pretty much what you would expect. A dial is simply assigned to a specific control on one of your instruments and you can then tweak it during a performance. In essence, this is like a Morph but you use the dial to set the specific parameter value as you play.
One other element of designing your KRFT surface is the arrangement of objects on that surface. Having created the various object types, you can, of course, re-organise them into a suitable pattern on screen. This includes options for ‘flipping’ (rotating) objects so, if you want to turn your Loop or Fill diamonds into neat looking 3D ‘blocks’ (as seen in the example projects), then that’s perfectly possible. This is a nice way to organise your various musical ideas into sensible groups and this will, of course, make things easier to navigate when you get to the actual performance part.
Which is, of course, very much the point of KRFT… and I have to say it is quite a lot of fun. I did most of my own testing on a large format iPad Pro and you do get plenty of screen space to work with. This makes larger, more complex, projects easier to manage but, even so, you can built up some interesting musical ideas just based upon a few Loops/Fills and some Morphs. You then just hot the Record button located top-right of the performance screen and your KRFT ‘jam’ will get recorded as an audio file. At present, these are saved as 256kbs AAC files….. they sound good to my ears but some users might like the option of fully-blown WAVs.
Other features include a simple Mixer screen and the Master Settings screen where you can tweak overall tuning/scale, tempo, swing and reverb settings. Other than that, it boils down to your ability to construct some suitable sequences and get jamming.
What else to say? Well, as well as an absence of MIDI in/out, at present it is worth noting that KFTR doesn’t offer any Audiobus or IAA support; this is very much a standalone music creation tool. That might, of course, change as development continues and I’m sure there would be interest from many potential users in seeing KRFT as part of a wider music production workflow.
As mentioned earlier, a further point to make clear is that, unlike NOIZ, this is an app that benefits from some underlying musical skills from the user. Until Studio Amplify expand upon the options for using pre-recorded audio loops, the bulk of the KRFT musical content has to come from pattern-based sequencing…. so you need to have a musical ear to get those tunes and beats working.
What about KRFT in comparison with other ‘all-in-one’ EDM-style music production apps? Well, it’s deeper than something like Figure, for example, and maybe closer to an app such as TriqTraq in terms of depth. It’s not going to take you as deep as Gadget though, even though the pattern-based triggering, and the ability to ‘Group’ Loops and Fills, has some similarities to Gadget’s scene-based song construction. Gadget’s gadgets are, of course, also more sophisticated as sound sources than what is currently built in to KRFT, although don’t let you think KFTR’s sounds are not very useable; they are.
Finally, while surfaces can be cloned and the clone repopulated with different combinations of sounds and patterns, it is worth noting that each KRFT project does require you to go through the ‘surface creation’ stage in order to then eventually make some music. The upside is, of course, that custom performance interface for each project. The downside is that you have to complete this task as part of every project. That will suit some users and perhaps deter others…. perhaps most specifically, those that just want to compose rather than perform. This element of the app does, therefore, make it something that’s going to appeal more to the ‘performer’.
I do like KRFT. What’s already here is a very solid start with some very useable synth/drum sounds and a feature set that means this is a tool for ‘proper’ music creation rather than just a ‘remix’ tool for exploring pre-supplied musical content (which is perhaps what NOIZ was intended as).
It’s also possible to see some potential here that, as yet, is waiting ready to be realised. The obvious areas would be (a) in importing your own audio loops and (b) hosting other 3rd party synth or effects apps within KRFT. Given what’s here already, I could imagine (a) might be a relatively straightforward task for Studio Amplify to implement. In contrast, (b) is perhaps a more ambitious ask…. watch this space.
Where KRFT will obviously score with potential users is those who like to create, and then jam with, their own synth and drum-based musical ideas. Those jams might well be in a studio context but the more obvious attraction would be for those musicians who want to include their iPad or iPhone in a live performance environment. Much like Launchpad or Blocs Wave can be used to trigger sample-based content in that fashion, KRFT could easily be used in a similar way… but with sequenced content and via an interface you have designed yourself.
While KRFT is an interesting app and would, I suspect, be fun for almost any iOS musician with a bent for electronic music styles to explore, there will be a sub-set of those EDM/iOS user base that will be particularly interested in giving KRFT a try simply because they like to ‘jam’ rather than think about music creation in the more ‘linear’ way a conventional DAW/sequencer functions. If that’s you, then KRFT, at just UK£4.99/US$4.99, is already worth a look. Here’s hoping Studio Amplify get the support required to take KRFT further though….. the concept is a lot of fun and there is plenty of further potential here waiting to be explored.