midiLFOs review – midi modulation ‘toy’ from developer Art Kerns

Download from iTunes App Storemidilfos logoIf developer Art Kern’s name sounds a little familiar then, for iOS musicians of a more long-standing nature, it is probably because Art is part of the Synthetic Bits development team that makes the excellent Funkbox drum machine app. Obviously liking to keep himself busy, Art has also been working on a side-project more recently and that product landed on the App Store a few days ago; midiLFOs.

Now Funkbox is, in its own way, quite a colourful app. However, given the very bold colour scheme adopted by Art in midiLFOs, I think we now also know that he is not a ‘blacker than black’ sort of a guy :-) However, despite the ‘make a child happy’ colour scheme, and the word ‘toy’ in the app’s full tag line (‘midiLFOs – midi modulation toy’), this is actually quite a useful little MIDI utility app. If you like to get your synth sounds moving (sonically or spatially), then midiLFOs might well be of interest.

midiLFOs - colourful MIDI LFO modulation data for your iOS music workflow :-)

midiLFOs – colourful MIDI LFO modulation data for your iOS music workflow :-)

The LFOdown

So what is midiLFOs? Essentially, what you get here is a stand-alone iOS music app that has four LFOs capable of transmitting MIDI CC data to other apps. You can change the nature of the LFO waveform, control which MIDI destination, channel number and MIDI CC number is used by each LFO, have the LFOs modulate each other, start and stop each LFO independently, sync the LFO speed to external MIDI clock and adjust a number of different parameters about each LFO that means its basic waveform is modified in various ways. If might not make any noise itself (it just generates MIDI data to send to other apps) but it is certainly an app that lots of iOS musicians (or hardware synth users) could have a lot of fun with.

The LFOs can be based around a number of different waveforms.

The LFOs can be based around a number of different waveforms.

And all this comes in an app that is currently priced at UK£3.99 (coffee and Danish pricing), is a 1MB download (so will fit almost anywhere) and requires an iPad running iOS8.2 or later.

Happy face

There is something intrinsically happy about big, bold, slabs of bright colour and midiLFOs has lots of that. The controls are identical for each of the four available LFOs but the colour scheme changes as you step through the four coloured tabs at the base of the display. Tapping on the top strip opens a dialog that allows you to specific the MIDI out destination, channel number and CC number for the currently selected LFO. used in combination with the MIDI Learn feature in a destination synth app (for example), this means it ought to be easy enough to link midiLFOs’ LFOs to a specific parameter in your target synth.

You can set the MIDI destination, channel and CC number for each LFO.

You can set the MIDI destination, channel and CC number for each LFO.

To trigger an LFO on/off, you just tap on the main display outside any of the key labels. Tap on any of the labels themselves within the main waveform display and you also get additional dialogs allowing you to adjust the associated parameter. So, you can, for example, pick between sine, triangle, sawtooth, square or ‘sample and hold’ waveform types. Equally, you can turn the ‘loop’ off (when off, the waveform just executes once and then stops) and adjust the minimum and maximum CC values generated as the waveform cycles through its pattern. This is useful if you just want to confine your synth parameter changes to a narrow range rather than just going from ‘min’ to ‘max’.

The LFOs can also be used to modulate each other....

The LFOs can also be used to modulate each other….

As you might expect, the Offset control simply shifts the waveform along the time axis of the display while the rate control changes the speed along which the waveform is tracked (you get a small white ball on the screen showing the current position of the LFO along the waveform). The rate can also be controlled by MIDI Clock if you have a suitable clock source and then the Rate control sets the rate relative to the incoming tempo.

On the right-hand side of the screen are various options that allows you to modulate the amplitude and rate of the currently selected LFO based upon the changes in a different LFO. You could, therefore, use one or two of midiLFOs LFOs simply to modulate the others… although you can use an LFO as both an internal modulator and a ‘sender’ (of data to another app). The Sync button here toggles the rate control between ‘free’ and MIDI Clock modes.

You can save your configurations for later recall.

You can save your configurations for later recall.

Tap the ‘Save LFOs’ label located bottom-right and you can save (or re-load) a midiLFOs configuration. This is obviously useful if there are regular setups that you use and will obviously speed the workflow. Tap on the midiLFOs label located top-right and a multi-tab dialog opens. This includes a number of different settings (for example, for controlling MIDI latency and the LFO update rate, both of which, I suspect, control the responsiveness of the app and the amount of MIDI data generated?).

You can set the MIDI in port for midiLFOs and receive clock, notes or CC data.

You can set the MIDI in port for midiLFOs and receive clock, notes or CC data.

You can also set the MIDI in port here. This is most obviously useful for identifying where your MIDI Clock data is coming from but you can also get the app to process CC or note data. These are useful when you move to the MIDI Map section. For example, you can configure the four LFOs to be triggered (switched on/off) via MIDI notes. You can also control the rate and amp and rate modulation controls via MIDI CC if you wish; hook up a hardware controller and you can control midiLFOs key controls that, in turn, will send MIDI data off to a target synth to control that. Still with me? Good….   there is a lot of MIDI-based fun to be had here.

The MIDI Map dialog allows you to configure incoming MIDI data if you are using an external MIDI controller with midiLFOs.

The MIDI Map dialog allows you to configure incoming MIDI data if you are using an external MIDI controller with midiLFOs.

Get connected

Of course, if you are going to get something useful out of midiLFOs then you have to get the MIDI CC data it creates into another app (or off to a hardware MIDI synth). I gave this a try using a few of my ‘go to’ iOS synths and, on the whole, the process is a pretty straightforward one. It does, however, go much more smoothly if your target synth (or drum machine) app has a decent MIDI Learn system.

For example, as shown in the screenshot, iProphet’s MIDI Learn feature worked pretty well. Connection does, however, require a bit of too-ing and fro-ing between the respective apps. For example, with iProphet, first, I had to make sure that none of midiLFOs LFOs were active. Then, flipping to iProphet, I had to open the MIDI Learn option and pick my target parameter. iProphet (like most MIDI Learn systems) then sits and waits for the next MIDI CC to appear….   so I then had to flip back to midiLFOs and start the required LFO…. before then flipping back to iProphet to confirm it had received and assigned the incoming CC data to the control I had selected.

I had no problems getting iProphet (for example) to respond to midiLFOs CC data...  but setup did involve a little flipping back and forth between apps.

I had no problems getting iProphet (for example) to respond to midiLFOs CC data… but setup did involve a little flipping back and forth between apps.

Yes, this did seem a bit long-winded at times but I’m not sure that there is much Art can do about this at the midiLFOs end. Well, maybe one thing would be useful…. At present, to toggle and LFO on/off, unless I’d missed something, you actually have to switch to that LFO via the four tabs at the base of the screen. What would be great is if there was a ‘global’ on/off button and the options to toggle each LFO individually (perhaps an extra rom of buttons just above the four coloured tabs?). Both of these things would be useful anyway… but particularly useful when switching back and forth to do MIDI assignments in another app. Maybe this is something that could be considered for a future update?

Otherwise, midiLFOs is a shed load of fun and, while lots of iOS synth apps have their own LFO modulation options, rather like a stand-alone arpeggiator app such as VirSyn’s Arpeggist, I can also see iOS musicians being attracted to midiLFOs if they like having plenty of options when it comes to sound modulation.

In summary

midiLFOs is a neat little MIDI utility app and, once you have it hooked up to your favourite MIDI-friendly music apps, it can do a very good turn of sound manipulation or parameter adjustment. Art Kerns has created something that’s fun, pretty easy to use and, yes, very colourful. It might not be an essential purchase for every iOS musician but it is a great little MIDI utility to have available and is most certainly ‘creative’ in terms of what it can allow you to do.

midiLFOs is, apparently, the first of a series of new apps he is working on. Here’s hoping that the others are as cute and cool as midiLFOs :-)

midiLFOs



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    Comments

    1. This kind of thing can be a lot of fun. I thought I would point out that anyone who owns Lemur for iOS can already do this with a bit of configuring. Baddcr over at synthpatcher.com posted a how-to vid.

      midiLFOs is obviously much simpler to use and costs considerably less than Lemur though.

      • Hi ZenLizard… absolutely agree… I guess apps like Lemur are aimed at a slightly different audience and is a much more flexible/powerful piece of software. midiLFOs is obviously intended to do one function and to make that function as accessible as possible and, in the context, it does a pretty good job. Best wishes, John

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