The software synthesizer has come full circle. What was once possible only with a mid-range desktop computer is now easily accomplished with a sub-$200 device that rests in your hand and sips power. That transformation, once something people regarded in some vague time in the future, is now one that’s very present. I expect a lot of the hand-wringing about the future (some of it from me) comes from the uncertainty about just what it’ll mean. For some small glimpse, though, it’s nice to get to talk to Propellerhead CEO Ernst Nathorst-Böös.

ReBirth is a tool that convinced a lot of people that computers could stand in for dedicated music hardware. Now that it’s on an iPhone or iPod touch or iPad, there’s no question we’ve reached a benchmark. Ernst was nice enough to send some thoughts on a Saturday evening. (I do think he used a QWERTY keyboard to do it, so please, let’s refrain from too many prognostications about how new devices will eliminate the need for furniture or oxygen, etc.) There are some interesting thoughts here, and I expect fuel for others contemplating what to do with new mobile devices. And yes, this is a direct port: believe it. There’s a lot these plucky mobile chips can do.

Peter: What made you guys decide to make the leap? How did it come about?

Ernst: We’ve been watching the iPhone/Touch/iPad development closely. Monitoring what others are doing, thinking about how it fits in what what we are trying to achieve. And honestly, I haven’t personally seen anything yet that really points to the future in the way I have seen it happen a couple of times before in my life (MIDI, computers, DAWS, the whole incredible transition we’ve been going through in the years since I started making music). It’ll happen, that’s for sure, it just hasn’t yet.

And Rebirth for iPhone is not that. It is a comeback of something that changed the scene as long as thirteen years ago. There’s a bit of nostalgia involved, but truth is, the program amazingly enough still beats the s*** out of a lot of what is going on iPhone right now, when it comes to inspiring you to create and experiment and actually make a whole track. Which is exactly what the app was about all the way back in 1997.

As for how it came about, the ReBirth idea had been lurking in the back of our heads since long and then the opportunity to work with Retronyms came about and – well, we just did it.

What’s the workflow like here? The audio output of these devices is okay, but not great. I see there’s a share button – how do you imagine people might use this? (How have folks around the Props office started using it?)

We imagine people using it in may ways. To kill some time on the bus. To try ideas and get inspired. To create beats and loops for other compositions. To work together with friends, collaborate and exchange ideas. And hopefully in ways we haven’t thought of. The sharing features we have now are very functional and straightforward. You just upload the doc and tell your friends about it so they can access it. However, it’s easy to dream up extensions to those and we will monitor closely how people use it and what they will be asking for.

I see that right now it just scales to the iPad; are you planning an iPad-native version?

We never comment on future releases, simply because we don’t want to disappoint anyone. But of course we are looking at the iPad. But there are a lots of things we want to do. The iPad is a slightly different beast, compared to the phone and Tocuh and we prefer to get it right rather than to be first.

How different is this from the original ReBirth, aside from the obvious difference of using touch? In terms of sounds and features, were you able to add anything? Did you have to compromise anywhere to make it run on these devices?

This is a 100% port. It sounds exactly the same and is completely file compatible. No compromises. We only omitted functional stuff, like being able to load any Mod. But no, nothing added either, except sharing. It’s cool that the iPhone doesn’t have a file system, but it also forces you to think differently and we don’t want to try to put round pegs in square holes.

I have to ask – are you concerned at all with all of these little widgets that this thing is hard to see?

We worked hard on the navigation, the zooming and panning, to make it feel natural. It was hard since there are so many controls on the screen (look at the 808!) and you need to move around quickly and fluently while never risking changes to the document. I really like how it turned out.

It seems to me that there’s a debate on about how interfaces should evolve. In some ways, it seems that we could use new UI elements with the advent of touch interfaces, not just replicate hardware. On the other hand, replicating hardware almost works better with touch access
than it does with a mouse. Is this something you think about, as well?

I completely agree. The hardware metaphor is serving us well, but it’s just one way to go. But on something like the iPhone and iPad it really makes a lot of sense, maybe even more than in a mouse controlled environment. However, if you ask me, those control surfaces that you connect to control aspects of the software you are already running on your computer just don’t cut it. Then a hardware control is actually better, at least in in my personal opinion. Apple’s devices are all integrated, touch interface and machinery in one, and that’s a completely different thing, very exciting for the future!

  • WOW! What an awesome release. I hope in an update we can get wifi MIDI sync (or, even better, MIDI control – so you could control ReBirth through your DAW, allowing you to use hardware controllers!)

    For all us Mac nerds, ReBirth no longer works, thanks to Apple discontinuing the Classic environment… so this would let us use it in a live performance type situation. Also, it's great because it gives you realtime synthesis (IE no rendering to audio) without using up a bunch of CPU cycles on your main rig…

  • wax

    business wise, its great to see the Props develop a revenue stream from a product they have been giving away for free for a couple of years now!

    now if only I could afford an apple product

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  • Andrew

    I have to put my view across here: This is dreadful. I owned rebirth and reason v1-4 so respect what the propellerheads do but this…..

    The interface is obviously not right for the iphone. Yes you zoom in but the scaling of the graphics is poor.

    So I double tap to zoom in and try programming some notes, that;s ok. Try changing some knobs – ok as well. Try two at a time – ahhhh I can't as it pinches to zoom in or out. Rubbish!

    Program some drums….. not so good. Selecting drum parts on the 909 is fiddly and I keep zooming in and out as it thinks I am double tapping.

    I get a sensible zoom to be able to select drum parts and now I can't scroll around by just touching – I must hold a scroll button down! Completely un-intuitive.

    This could have been absolutely great. I love technobox from audiorealism but having 2 303s and 2 drum machines is so much better but this thing is just doing my head in.

  • grainmachine

    I haven't tried it yet, but I do know Rebirth's interface very well & I also know the iPhone's screensize very well too ! … and given the "tiny widgets" / "rubbish zooming" issues referred to by Peter & Andrew etc – it seems that this would be just so much more suited to an iPad screen size than a phone.
    that Props waited for the iPad release to put it out … scaled for the iPhone … seems more than a little odd. But then Props are a rather eccentric company, so …

    But who knows … could there be another "Reason" to get an iPad coming sometime soon ? !!! 😉

  • dyscode

    I agree with Andrew. The iphone GUI just looks like a headache. Maybe this will work on an iPad,
    aka bigger screen.

    besides that
    has some decent software emulation of X0X fun.

  • leslie

    Works just fine for me, but than again I do not have an iPad…
    I can see shortcomings of this design, but I am sure that Props will address theses in future developments … 😉

  • Jeremy

    I agree about the interface not working on the smaller devices. Even though I thought it may be the case I purchased anyway for my iPod to see how they handled the UI and it's somehow worse then I imagined. It's almost impossible to zoom and pan around without hitting random buttons and when zoomed in the graphics are pretty sketchy looking – especially with some of the mods. It's cool to see that the propellerheads are targeting these type of devices, but this release was a huge let down for me.

  • Motion

    I was just cleaning out the loft a couple of days ago and was chucking/routing out old junk, ribbons, ISA cards etc from my old PC's and the all the rest I have used over the years, old boxes from virtual soft gathering cobwebs, Wavelab 2…Rebirth 1…oh the onward and upward march of tech makes me have a few moments of reflection…updates and high bandwidth downloads that have long superceded the physical form factor in many instances merrily thrown into the dump pile gathering a sizeable proporton on the floor…so much digital detritus…oh! the memories!…I recall my use of Seer systems Reality, Steinberg Neon et al.I cast my mind back to 1997 and recall the mention of this Rebirth on the net…do I still need my hardware?…I decide to bag the demo…yes a fully functioning demo…what's more I'm hot to trot…28.8kbps dial up modem, what a beaut!, P75, 8 meg ram, Soundblaster!

    What wonderful technological times we live in I thought, even though I was subjected to the misery of sub 1kB download speeds for the entire download…it was a humid evening, the window was wide open which I sat right next to…hours later…no corruption…installed it, played it…its a revelation!…the cool of the night air had arrived, I selfishly jammed into the wee small hours, neigbours and local wild life wanted to kill me in the ensuing days…I bought it as soon as it was available…just l'il old me and a PC…the shit you could do…even upload/email your tunes and have others play them on their copy since it was just a Rebirth file format…then came the smasher…many will recall the horror!…what's that?, the 909/808 uses samples how dare they…redeeming factors brought much creative value…the mod…you could import your own samples and doctor the graphics…adaptation was the new spice of creative and extended life.

    I'd been proudly wearing my Props RIP teeshirt on occasions in the last couple of years…I even had it on under my sweatshirt while I was mucking out the old crap, in retrospect it must have been a sign…the tee shirt, the handling of the box…it was a sign…I see yesterday a mention on the net that Rebirth had been Reborn on IPhone/Touch…5 minutes later I'm shimmying and hand gesturing across the living room floor all bluetoothed up and filter sweeping as I go…I catch the gaze of disapproval from my son as my phenomenal dad dancing skills come to a frenzied peak….he only knows too well what's to come at the next school do, the laugh of it all is, he can't remember when he jigged to my earlier efforts all those years ago…if only he knew…sentimental and nostalgic…you betcha…there's a tear…birth (17 05 97), death (01 09 05), rebirth (1 5 10), it's still alive, it wont die, it cant die.

    It's a nod to something quite special for me and makes me feel all cosy…now I've got you in my shirt pocket next to my heart…just where you have and always should be.

    13 years have just passed.Thank you.

    F******! A! to the big P and TG Virus, your'e the man.

    PS Ernst if you happen to be reading this…are you still having problems with the infamous Song Pack 13? Hopefully you are, as I had 2 of the crappest tunes in there ever 😉

  • Jonathan

    I also agree with Andrew.
    The navigation on this sucks and it makes it annoying to get ideas across.

    Simple fix:
    1. Offer a new way to navigate, like device specific view-locks. This way is not up to the user to line up the device I'm working on.

    Also the graphics need to be improved. The resolution is currently awful.

    Besides those two complaints, I really like this app! I hope they fix it.

  • Jonathan

    (grammar fix for above, sorry)

    Simple fix:
    1. Offer a new way to navigate, like device specific lockable views. This way it is not up to the user to line up the individual device they are working with within RB.

  • Jane S

    I don t understand the hyping of this.
    Audiorealism 's Mike Janney did an iphone app with a 303 , 909 and 808 already a year ago. It s interface is much easier to use than this rebirth port.
    Ok not two 303 s but only one and no pcf and compressor on the technobox from audiorealism but the GUI of Rebirth is not workable on an iphone. Maybe on an ipad it is ok though.
    Still maybe it will prove to be of any use use in traffic jams , waiting hours for connecting fligths or other situations…..;-)

    Still have my original vintage copy in hardbox of my Rebirth. Would have been much better if they spend the time to make this usable on my 8 core mac pro!

  • "Covering" something doesn't mean "hyping" it, necessarily.

    I'm not convinced that ReBirth is the best app for everyone on the mobile device. It isn't the best for me, for a couple of reasons – I can run ReBirth on my laptop and patch it with other programs, and other mobile platforms for me have interfaces I find easier to read and the ability to export back to the laptop. That's just me; for others, it may work quite well — and everything good about ReBirth is otherwise here.

    But because it is a direct port, I think we have a really strong benchmark of what the iPhone means for both performance and user interface. In a way, it's a gift to those trying to figure out what these gadgets mean that they didn't change anything. So on one hand, you can see that the lowly iPhone can do what your computer did when the soft synth revolution began. On the other, the fact that some people aren't entirely happy about the UI or the export workflow illustrates some of the limitations and adaptations necessitated by these devices.

  • jasonswe

    Now wait a sec. It is definitely worth the price regardless of any faults. I've been working in it since yesterday. Like all iPhone apps it TAKES TIME to adjust and develop a flow. One tip is to not forget the Pan button in the lower corner. I find that I have one finger on this nearly constantly. It may not be the most convenient situation but it makes it to where I can navigate the interface much better than when not using pan and relying exclusively on the zoom features. I've already dumped a couple loops made while waiting in various places and I've just about got enough tracks to start trying out piecing together a 'song'. I will say this. If you have never USED Rebirth before this will present a bit of a headache at first, but those of us who have used the software earlier on will slip in a bit more comfortably upon getting better with navigation. All that said, I do believe it would be quite a trick to manipulate this version in a live setting. One would have to be quite proficient with moving around the interface, however as a little jam and loop utility, it is exactly as I recall. This is a great way to pass some time while commuting etc.
    Thanks Propellerheads! Excellent idea..lovin it.

  • salamanderanagram

    i can only hope that props is looking at this as a way to make a quick buck that they can use to develop a product i care about :p

    rebirth has been free for so long and fits the paradigm of a computer so much better i don't see the point in paying for a lesser version…

  • William Parham

    OK… I don't get it. Why spend all that time to port ReBirth over to a platform that is not really suited for it? Why not spend the time to port it over to OSX instead? I bout ReBirth when it first came out. I used it frequently. But I have made the switch to Mac and lost the ability to use ReBirth. If the Props would port it to OSX I would gladly throw them another hundred bucks or so. Even with the free version for the Windows kids. (I run a Mac, I'm used to paying for stuff that other people get for free.) Unless they only did it to "learn" the iPod/Pad/Touch platform, it makes no sense to make a toy when they could have made a useful product. I'm sure the Props still get frequent emails about a native OSX port of ReBirth. I have to call this a useless product for real music making. Now on the bus to work it might be fun… But I've got too many potholes in the streets here. iPod apps are a bitch to use…

  • genjutsushi

    Just the same as i remember, though it seems to have problems with multitouch – tweaking the cutoff and delay wasnt really a goer.

    Sizewise and GUI – perfect for iPad, but just too small on the iPhone / Touch screen as its a complete port with all the irritations relating to a 'virtual' screen representation.

    Still, best sounding iPhone app ive found yet. Just got that 'something' missing from the others (Bebot excepted – thats got an animated robot!)

  • clark

    wish i could get rebirth to run on windows 7. i'm not cool enough for an iphone.

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  • Tim Toady

    I bought it but yeah OSX port please! Right now there's no way to get the sound out if you are on OSX?!

  • rebirtho

    wish i could get rebirth to run on windows 7. i’m not cool enough for an iphone.

    May 2, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

    Installer ReBirth sur Windows Vista 32/64 et Windows7

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  • I'm using it on an iPad and love it…but it would be a lot easier on the eyes if it was iPad native resolution. Tried it on my Touch too, iPad is the way to go. Propeller Heads have always frustrated and excited everyone, let's just give thanks for some cheap fun! Reason please!

  • apoclypse

    Yeah. This sucks. The interface is clunky, navigation is shit and the resolution on text and and widgets looks freaking awful. Not worth the time to even port if they weren't going to do it justice. Frankly if you are looking for something useful look elsewhere, if you are looking for something you will open once to show your friends that you have ReBirth on an iphone then buy it, otherwise don't even waste your time. Its not even good as a proof of concept, imo. Its probably one of the laziest ports I've seen on the iphone and that is saying a lot.

    I never thought I would ever be disappointed with an Propellerheads release. I guess there is a first time for everything. I actually feel a bit gipped.

  • @apoclypse: It's not a Propellerheads app — the port was done by Retronyms. All this talk is enough to make me grab the original and take it for a spin again…

  • Is there any hope to see a Reason alike in a tablet pc?

  • ihav2p

    mac users: rebirth runs very well under darwine. its free–try it out. it's as fast as running natively on pc.

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  • Damon

    I agree, it is fiddly, but for $7 (aprox) and some squinty fingers, it is pretty much all there.

  • Oki. So I've bought and played with it a bit.

    the interface is odd, that's true. I'm sure people who don't have expirience with the original rebirth are going to have an EXTREEMLY steep learning curve.

    as someone who had a major rebirth addiction, back in the day, and knows the ins and outs alwready – the app is pretty awesome. It took a few moments to realise the scrolling is done by touching a scroll tool + moving another finger, and I agree that the decision to allow only manipulation of one parameter is strange on a multi touch device.

    on the whole, in the few minutes you get the feeling that making music with this app is like trying to perform root canal surgery through the rectum, but after you get the hang of it, it's as addictive as I remembered the original rebirth was.

    It's a case of the perills of (almost) direct porting between two different UI paradigms. It works, but it could be SO MUCH BETTER. It's pretty clear the nathorst-boos thinks so too.

    I wonder whats next.

  • Pellucid

    I didn't jump on the ReBirth bandwagon back in 1997 – being a gear snob, there's "no way" I'd consider such a thing. But, 13 years later, on the iPhone, I have to say not only is this thing fun as hell, it sounds amazing, too! "1997 me" was in the wrong.

    Okay, sure, all that zooming is fiddly, and the graphics can look pretty rough, but, as everyone's said, this is a direct port of an app from the '90's. Once you've accepted that (and parted with your six measly bucks) it's nothing less than a blast

  • Niiice!

    Now I GOT to get that iPhone.. just for the Rebirth's sake lol 🙂

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  • andrew zero

    after spending 4 hours with it today, i think its a good start. definately needs some tweaking to be of any serious use.

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  • joh smith

    Can't someone find or make a program that will allow this to work on windows 7? Why is this so fricken hard to do? This ap along with reason is so over with anyways. There's no way to write anything that doesn't sound like it's already out there.