Percussa micro super signal processor

Being expressive and productive creatively is all about finding a workflow that fits you. Form factor is part of that, because location matters. (I discovered this when trying unsuccessfully to operate my MacBook on a bus to Boston this week that wouldn’t accommodate my knees. Mobile devices suddenly had more appeal.) Naturally, not everyone has the same needs or interests. So today, we have some survey data on how readers feel about mobile tech, as well as an update to the iPhone/iPod touch Beatmaker app that could have a big impact on how you use that device in conjunction with your primary laptop or desktop computer.

This site has always been about making music with computers and digital technology. Today, we increasingly have access to powerful computers in mobile form factors. But, despite the simple fact that all of these are ultimately computers, I’ve quickly learned that mobile music production is a divisive issue. Some of you are as passionate about hating mobile tech as others of you are about loving it, perhaps propelled by a strong uptick of iPhone hype and accompanying resentment. Don’t worry — I won’t be swayed too much by either group; I’m committed to computers in all forms, tiny and large, and accompanying digital synths. And analog synths. And, really, anything that makes sound.

That said, the survey results we did on mobile tech are very interesting. Story topics for CDM aren’t a popularity contest, but your responses do reveal a lot. (The best reading turns out to be the write-in portion.)

First up, here’s a look at what mobile platforms people own. I expect the survey is somewhat self-selecting (some of you in the “none of the above” category likely didn’t respond), but note how the game platforms dominate.

That’s platforms you already own. But which are you interested in reading about? The margin on each device increases significantly. (Sony’s PSP doubles; Linux triples.) So that demonstrates that people are interested in learning about the larger landscape, and may be basing future purchase decisions on what’s available for music creation. (It also appeared that stronger support for PSP and Linux came from Europe than North America, possibly in part due to painfully-inflated costs for iPod touch and iPhone in that market.)

Zany Write-In Response

Okay, enough demographics. The best part of doing the poll was getting your write-in responses.
Google’s Android platform unsurprisingly got a number of write-in votes; GP2X got fewer, but I expect people just (rightfully) answered “Linux.” We did get some interesting responses, though:

Mobile device suggestions:

  • Boss Micro BR
  • Buddha Machine
  • Graphing calculators (careful; with the readers here, you might get your wish
  • Korg Kaossilator
  • MPC 500
  • Psion organizers
  • “steam powered”
  • Yamaha QY100
  • Speak and Spell
  • PlayStation 1 (that’s mobile?)
  • Nokia N-gage (but now I know you’re joking)

And then there was the hater/lover argument:
“PLEASE GIVE THE IPHONE A REST! BORING YUPPIE TOY. soz for capitals.”
“Not all of us have tiny little girlie fingers!!!” (ouch!)
“The above statement should be “I really couldn’t care less.” As it happens, I am interested in all of them, so I really could care less.”
“mobile audio coverage is getting ridiculous”
“Just keep it to a minimum, guys =)” (Well, it is by definition miniature, right?)
“more iphone!!!! screw the haters”
“Everything. If there’s something new and interesting done with a C64, it could be worth going out to buy a setup.”
“every – f***ing – thing !”

At least someone said “whatever, it’s all good.” Sir, you may be alone in your calm attitude, but the editorial staff appreciates it. Meanwhile, I’ll be exercising my tiny girlie fingers over a variety of devices. (They give me uncanny accuracy in touch apps. So there.)

BeatMaker Update and Workflow

A new BeatMaker video (below)

One of the biggest objections — and a fair one — boils down to “but how do you use this in real life?” The “it’s a toy” argument is a legitimate one if it means you have software you play around with, but that you can’t use as an instrument effectively or work into your own music. (By that token, for instance, my toy piano is actually a valuable instrument.)

So it’s big news that, as many people had hoped, Intua’s BeatMaker has added MIDI export. That means you can assemble ideas and patterns on BeatMaker and bring them into your desktop music software of choice. I’m already hearing from people using this with Ableton Live. This isn’t a new feature — Windows Mobile and Palm apps have offered the same thing — but it’s a big part of the draw of these devices. BeatMaker also has an improved manual, more videos, and Bonjour support:

intua.net

Intua’s Mathieu also tells us “We’re working on the new BeatMaker killer-update now. Should be interesting !” Indeed.

For the record, that means some of the interesting workflow possibilities now available include the likes of:

  • Building MIDI patterns and audio loops for use elsewhere (PSP Rhythm, PSP; BeatMaker, iPhone/iPod; many others)
  • Building complete tracks using unusual synths (PSPSEQ, PSP)
  • Working on drum patterns, with samples, in a round-trip with desktop software (iDrum, iPhone/iPod)
  • Using your mobile device as a touch/stylus controller, etc. (DSMI, DS; various tools, iPhone/iPod)

All good stuff. Of course, by the same token, there are clear disadvantages of mobile devices — cramped screen space and controls, limited processing power, a lack of full-sized and full-fidelity audio I/O, and the like. But that’s why I’ve always felt conventional form factor computers aren’t really going anywhere. They work really well; these augment what they can do.