Launchkey and Thai Gong
We’re back in iOS land this week, with a fairly new instrument application from Novation (who normally specialise in hardware synths and MIDI controllers) called Launchkey. Unlike the other apps I’ve used in this challenge, this is not a music editing or recording system, but more of a traditional synthesiser, albeit one that makes good use of the iPad touch screen. There is a mini keyboard at the bottom of the screen with octave switches to step up and down the full keyboard range, as well as controls for the built-in arpeggiator; the keyboard is a bit on the fiddly side due to its size, but for most of these tracks I used a MIDI keyboard to control the actual playing of notes.
What makes this app stand out is the space at the top of the screen, where you see rotating nodes, each of which represents a set of parameters (e.g. chorus amount, filter, attack, etc.) as well as an addition set of virtual knobs that can be turned to affect those same parameters. Each node results in a very different sound, though based on the same waveform (different patches have different waveforms, further extending the range). As you touch the screen between the nodes, the sound balances each parameter depending on how close the nodes are, so if you move your finger between an aggressive lead guitar sound over to a more gentle acoustic sound, the effect is a subtle transforming of the parameters, like morphing between sounds. It is very intuitive and easy to get to grips with and some great sweeping sounds can result. In particular this synth is suited to long pieces where the gradual shift in tone can be fully appreciated – it isn’t something to use to play just one sound.
There are some drawbacks, for example there is no MIDI out facility, which is a shame as this would offer a great way to control other synths and is a simple approach to changing multiple parameters at once. Another minor problem is that the control knobs allow you to adjust the current sound only – as soon as you touch the screen near a node, the sound jumps to that set of parameters instead of slowly transforming, but this could also be seen as an advantage. It would be good to be able to adjust the node settings, too. Maybe in future versions?
The little Thai Gong came from the fantastic music shop, Gandharva Loka, based in Vienna’s ‘bohemian’ quarter. This is one of a small chain of music shops that has a wonderfully eclectic range of instruments from all around the world: from gongs and monochords to bagpipes and hurry-gurdies. As well as four shops in Austria, they also have branches in Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand and Canada. Their website alone is a great place to browse and find out about instruments you might never have heard of. Well worth a visit!
Now onto the music, with two pieces this week: one very short and one much longer. Firstly, the gong tolls a melancholy note as a fleeting counter-melody appears on the Launchkey, backed by a soft pad sound that modulates into nothingness.
A repeating chord progression sets the basis for this long, evolving electronic piece which is introduced and ends on the chimes of the gong. The bass line changes from soft to aggressive, delicate arpeggios sweep across the soundscape and sounds slowly transform, often hinting at melodies where there may be none.