My stuff and your stuff: I write books, produce music, rant a bit, and in the meantime review things other people have done. With words.
A quiet revolution:
here comes AUM!
There are some serious leaps being made in music technology. There are household names being made too. And on arguably the most exciting, revolutionary music production platform today, iOS, the rate of progression is quite startling.
Revolutionary is an apt term for people like Jonatan Liljedahl, the brain behind AudioShare – one of the most useful apps for any music producer – and the AUFX effects range among several notable others (I still can’t get my head around SECTOR); see, he really is one. Along with Sebastian Dittmann and Michael Tyson, creators of Audiobus, and developers like Erik Sigth, who deserve places in the history books, Liljedahl pushes the boundaries and helps to make the iPad and iPhone two of the most fertile areas of creativity around.
I’ll stop blowing smoke up his arse with this final comment and get to the point: AUM, named with no pizzazz perhaps, is a powerhouse that seals the deal for Liljedahl’s brand, Kymatica.
AUM at first may seem similar to Audiobus, the app that really did revolutionise iOS music production, and yes in some ways it is. But it’s more than that: AUM is actually a hybrid that combines the app-bridging functionality of Audiobus and the kindred features of his own AudioShare and then adds loads more to give us an all-in iOS ‘supervisor’.
At its heart, AUM is a powerful mixer. You add channels, assign stuff to them and then do what you want with the result – output them wherever you need to. It’s not a new concept, but it’s the way it’s done that matters here. There’s no confusion about assigning what goes where because it’s all neatly arranged for you, and essentially, easy to understand. Separate nodes and menus for the various functions mean you select what you want in each slot with no danger of trial and error because everything is clearly intended for defined functions.
AUM’s approach is to put everything together under one umbrella. Brilliantly it takes Inter-App Audio and Audiobus signals – and crucially smoother than either of those technologies work on their own, then allows you to heap layer upon layer of processing upon each. You can add as many channels as your device can handle, making this one of if not the best iOS performance apps ever.
If that’s not enough for you, you can send signals to one of eight busses, opening up even more possibilities for expression on the fly or ready to be sequenced. Chain FX on separate channels or bus them this way and that: it’s the app that brings desktop setups’ remaining advantages over iOS into sharp focus because really now there’s very little reason not to incorporate iOS or go for it 100 per cent.
Then there’s the MIDI section, where you can bring up a keyboard within AUM and assign various functions and parameters, doing everything you need without leaving the app.
Remarkable, really, and while not quite the revolution that Audiobus was, it’s still a revolution that furthers the functionality of the iOS platform, bringing another fine layer of inclusivity for people like me, whose setups are pure iOS, and everyone else too.
There’s no bloated presentation or fanfare with AUM either. It’s smooth, elegantly designed and intuitive. Within five minutes of first opening it up, I’d created three channels and a bus running a drumbeat alongside a couple of synth apps, each processed through three FX, while playing another synth connected by MIDI, recording the lot into Cubasis. There was minimal back and forth and, again, it’s all so smooth (on my iPad Air) with no stutter or glitching.
Closing everything down and reloading the project, it all comes right back with the settings as they were. Quickly. And if you want to make some notes on a project, there’s a handy notepad function too. It’s all hugely impressive.
The technology is robust and then some – there’s some wizardry that gives various syncing options, plus audio latency compensation which ensures ‘everything lines up at the end’.
To top it all off, all effects, filters and bus sends can be configured to be either pre- or post-fader, plus you have the ability to push stereo to mono and invert phases either way, and there’s plug-in support via Audio Unit Extensions. Ableton Link is in there too.
“The basic idea came from my own need of having a good mixer on iOS,” Liljedahl says. “I didn’t want to have to fire up a whole DAW app just for that, and I wanted it to be even more flexible than the mixers in the current DAWs.
“I also wanted it to be an IAA host good for live use, with well implemented host sync. While I was working on the app, Audio Unit extensions came along with iOS 9, so it was a natural decision to add support for that as well.
“If AudioShare is the Swiss Army knife for sound file management, I wanted AUM to be the same for live audio. I also, very early in the process, got a quite clear idea of how the user interface should look and feel. I wanted it to be clean and intuitive and allow for a fluid workflow.”
Given Liljedahl’s track record in keeping his apps up to speed with Apple’s technology, we can be sure he’s going to build on this already excellent framework, but it must be frustrating having Apple moving the goalposts with every update.
“It’s frustrating!” he says. “If it was only that new amazing stuff was added each year, it would be less of a pain, but as it is now, every major iOS update breaks something somewhere, and all apps need to be fixed and updated. And some things are unfixable for us third-party developers, and we’ll just have to sit and wait for Apple to fix it in their next iOS update.”
Of course it’s quite some undertaking for a one-man development outfit to maintain a growing roster of apps, but that hasn’t put Liljedahl off moving forward with new ideas. Indeed, aside from his own apps he remains business partners with Jesper Nordin (of ScaleGen and Gestrument fame) and promises to reveal something they’ve been working on in the near future.
“Yes, and I’ll be making updates to my existing apps,” he says. “For example, adding support for Ableton Link to SECTOR, and some time I’d like to turn all my AUFX apps into Audio Unit extensions. In the future, there will also be more AUFX apps added.”
So it seems Liljedahl will continue to ride the crest of the tech as it develops. Where does he see the future of iOS heading? “With the size and power of iPad Pro, I think iOS has become even more a relevant part of the music studio,” he says. “And it will just continue in that direction, as well as using it for fully mobile setups, as the capability of hardware and software keeps growing.”
In summary then, AUM sets out its stall as the next essential app from one of the pioneers of mobile music production. It’s really as simple as that. Take your iPlatform creations further and support a developer who is destined for even greater things.
Jonatan Liljedahl: all round nice chap, creator of some of the finest iOS apps for musicians, and his warm clothes.