WretchUp review – experimental iOS audio effect app from Mouse On Mars

Download from iTunes App StoreWretchUp logoThere are all sorts of audio effects available to the musician, sound designer or audio editor and, while there are no hard and fast rules here, broadly speaking you can place the application of audio effects into two classes; corrective (those that manage a problem to improve the overall sound) and creative (those that take a sound and transform it into something bigger, better and more interesting than it was to start with).

Specific effects might easily be able to do both corrective and creative tasks but it is probably fair to say that the processors themselves also fall into two categories; conventional (EQ, reverb, compression, etc.) and creative (you know, the more experimental stuff). Under iOS, we have a decent – and expanding – suite of both of these groups.

I did a roundup a week or so ago of the more conventional iOS audio effect apps and – once the backlog of blog stuff has cleared after the whole Black Friday/Cyber Monday frenzy – I’ll follow that up with a similar roundup piece for the more creative group. However, this week, I’ve been experimenting with (and occasionally been frightened by) a relatively new app that most definitely falls into the latter group; WretchUp.

WretchUp; sonic mayhem in an app.

WretchUp; sonic mayhem in an app.

What’s up?

WretchUp is a collaborative project with contributions from Rupert Smyth, Florian Grote, Peter Kim and the experimental musical entity that is Mouse On Mars, all topped off with some app design work by Oliver Greschke.

The app is designed for use on the iPhone (and scales fine to an iPad), requires iOS7 or later, includes both Audiobus and IAA support and is priced at UK£2.49. It can, however, also be used to process live audio input and has a short looper recording function so you can capture a sample (up to 15 seconds in length) and then loop and process that in various ways.

The design ethic is very much for real-time experimentation though, whether that’s in a live performance context or for manipulating audio in the studio, that’s up to the user. And, given that the live performance environment can, even at the best of times, be a bit chaotic, the interface attempts to keep things simple.

In essence though, what WretchUp does is a combination of pitch-shifted delay with feedback and filtering… but don’t expect things to be too subtle here… this is an app for the more experimental audio mangler. If you like to keep things clean and pristine then WretchUp is perhaps not the app for you.

Wretch in your face

With an eye on live use, the interface is a fairly simple affair featuring five large swipe-able control strips; Base Frequency, Delay Time, Feedback 1, Filter and Feedback 2. In use, all you do is supply WretchUp with an audio input and then tweak the controls to taste. This is very much a case of ‘experiment and see what happens’… and sometimes its great, sometimes it’s baffling and sometimes it is downright scary.

It can, if listened to at volume, also get pretty wild so take care with the levels in your headphones or monitor speakers. What it never is, however, is predictable or conventional :-)

WretchUp offers a couple of different 'input' modes for triggering the effects.

WretchUp offers a couple of different ‘input’ modes for triggering the effects.

In terms of audio input, you can use the iOS hardware’s own mic or an audio signal via suitably connected audio hardware. With Audiobus or IAA, you can obviously feed the app with audio from other iOS apps (I had a lot of fun using WretchUp as an effect app applied to drums or guitars, although they didn’t sound much like drums or guitars once the app had finished with them).

The app offers two ‘input’ modes and these can be switched via the Live Input option. Essentially you can toggle the input as locked (on all the time) or unlocked. In the latter state, the app only receives audio once you tap/swipe on one of the controls; swipe for a second time and, when you remove your finger, you get silence. When ‘locked’, the app receives audio all the time. You can also adjust the input level at the top of this particular screen.

These two different input options are useful in different contexts, but it might also have been nice to have a ‘bypass’ option. This would allow you to simply pass the audio through the app unprocessed when required. Maybe that’s a candidate for a future update?

Round and round

The other key feature of the app is the Looper option. Here you can record short audio samples directly into the app and then trigger the sample top loop and adjust its playback speed. You can then flip back to the main screen and start tweaking the sound further. No, it’s no LoopyHD beater, but its a nice feature in an app that’s designed for sonic mayhem.

WretchUp includes a looper function.

WretchUp includes a looper function.

At the top of the Looper screen is the Loop Mix control. This is also swipe-able and allows you to blend the unprocessed audio sample with the processed version (a wet/dry control). You can also trigger reverse playback of the loop if you wish. Again, add in some suitable processing from the main screen and whatever sound you started with some becomes something completely different.

Play nicely?

In use, WretchUp is – in terms of the control set at least – very easy to get to grips with. That’s not the same, however, as saying it’s easy to control; it’s not… but that’s kind of the point of the app… It produces weird and sometimes wonderful noise and it’s up to you whether you think you can make that work in a musical context or for some sound design project. If you like odd electronic noises and have an experimental nature, then I suspect WretchUp will appeal, particularly if you like to process audio live and on the fly.

WretchUp worked nicely (in a technical sense!) when used within Audiobus - the sound was still pretty bonkers though.

WretchUp worked nicely (in a technical sense!) when used within Audiobus – the sound was still pretty bonkers though.

Used stand-alone, with Audiobus or as an IAA effect within Cubasis, I had no technical issues; WretchUp behaved very nicely. It might be designed with live, real-time performance in mind, but it is easy to use within a recording context if that’s more your thing.

WretchUp could also be used as an IAA effects app within Cubasis.

WretchUp could also be used as an IAA effects app within Cubasis.

In summary

iOS is blessed with some effect ‘creative’ audio processing apps with the likes of Turnado, Effectrix, birdStepper and Deregulator (amongst a few others) all capable of transforming your nice polite audio into something less polite and more out there. If anything, WretchUp is even further out there :-)

WretchUp is not as versatile as something like Turnado not as controllable as something like Effectrix. It is perhaps a bit more of a one trick pony than these apps but that trick is going to be suitably chaotic and sonically challenging to appeal to many electronic music producers or sound designers. It is also very easy to use (if not control) and, for those looking to scare significant numbers of the paying public at their gigs (that is, use the app live), then it would be a lot of fun.

For those that like a quiet life, WretchUp is not an obvious choice… but if you like the occasional dose of sonic mayhem, then this is an app that will let you make it. At UK£2.49, it’s not such a stretch even if just for occasional use. Enjoy… but do use responsibly :-)

WretchUp


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