I’ve begun to dread the appearance of iPad jams in my inbox; you may feel the same way. When affordable digital synths were new in the 80s, there were various embarrassing videos as vendors like Casio showed off the new capabilities. Listen! Who needs a real trumpet when you can use a keyboard that sounds like a trumpet? Sort of! Not really! But – it sure is amazing for what it is! Kind of! It sounds awful, but it is cheap and fake! It took years for people to appreciate those instruments for what they actually were, and then on entirely different grounds. (I nabbed the first Casiotone I owned on eBay. Appreciate it as a uniquely digital instrument, and it sounds completely different. I think I like it more now than I did then.)

I could draw an analogy here, but we’re seeing the iPad fad repeat that exploitation of novelty verbatim.

All of this misses the beauty of digital technology. Tech is at its best as the presence of the device falls away, leaving musical instincts and expression. And at that point, it really doesn’t matter what you use. The iPad will be successful not when it’s front and center, but when it’s invisible.

So, I was pleasantly surprised as UK hip hop celebrity Tinchy Stryder and crew take over ten iPads at The Carphone Warehouse in London. After parades of dorky demos, this gang of young people owns those gadgets. Yes, they could probably have done the same with ten drum machines – that’s the point. Even the iPad’s somewhat primitive touch input sounds great, because this group of people plays together.

The video comes from Jon Morter, a musical personality who has of late become a kind of viral master, launching campaigns to send Rage Against the Machine to Christmas number 1, and to save BBC’s superb 6Music station when it was threatened by cuts.

In contrast to awkward string quartets and painful Christmas melodies, Tinchy Strider and friends bring the iPad what it’s sorely been needing – some chops.

The rest of us better get practicing. And while it flies in the face of viral engineering and videos, maybe the aim isn’t to be first. Maybe the aim should be to make the novelty wear off, and get back to music.

Thanks, Jon, for sending this our way.

  • Christopher Penrose

    I landed a Casio VL-Tone as a gift when it first came out and loved it for all the wrong reasons.  I loved its trumpet sound 🙂  I have been enjoying the iPad video hoopla, and have been withholding my own iPad video novelty (for fears confirmed by reading your article Peter!) from too many eyes until more serious video documentation of my synth materializes.  But I think it is possible that music loses enormously by taking itself too seriously.

  • Companies' marketing strategies sometimes get dangerously close to provoking the opposite effect to what they want. This video for instance, pushes me even farther from ever getting an iPad. Until now, I was thinking that using them to make music was a cool, DIY way of using an otherwise overrated snobby gadget. After this, there's no way any serious musician can use them without recalling the insanely bad improv portrayed in this video. I rather they would have faked it in post porduction, at least.

  • nice read peter, 

    and keen insight, i agree that the gimmick of ibands is silly but the power of multitouch and thousands of affordable/free apps will advance music.

  • Stan9fos

    PadMobs taking over Apple stores, jamming relentlessly while bemused civilians look on in wonder? Oh noes! Call the iThorities!

  • Seems like the real power of the ipad is its transformability – I don't own one, but I get the impression that switching from musical app to musical app (from instrument to instrument) has a lot less friction than on a laptop. So maybe an 'iBand' could be more flexible then, as a result of a technology standardization and ease of use? What do you all think

    Also, I'd be curious to see an iPad hooked up to a Korgpad or something like that – tactile control + big touch interface. Are videos of that somewhere?

  • james


    there's an ipad app for a pair of shure uhf-r?!

    weird that they could afford them but not someone to mix this….

  • personally, i am quite sick of preset music.

  • shim

    @cooptrol and @vincent: i couldn't agree more.
    @ peter: is there anyway you can segregate the "itouche-maxi" content so anyone fed up could perhaps click a tab just to see the cdm content with zero mention of it? please, for the love of robot zombie jeebus, i beg you.

  • I don't get the point. I was used to a more critical approach from you, that's actually what I really like about your posts, your way of seeing things. What exactly is so great about this video? It's basically an Apple ad, albeit maybe not an "official" one. I mean just look at their expression of disgust while they put the "normal" notebooks" away… and I fully agree with @cooptrol, the performance is pretty lousy.
    Finally I don't think the analogy with the Casio works. First: the iPad doesn't have a sound. Second: when the Casios came out everybody hated them, people bought them because they were cheap, while everybody seems to dream about buying an iPad, and they really are not that cheap.
    I must agree with you on one thing though, the iPad will be at it's best, when nobody will be talking about it anymore… i.e. when the hype will have weared off, but that's not going to happen anytime soon.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, if you want my critical opinion, I thought this was a perfectly reasonable jam of people playing soft synths and doing live vocals. The iPad is a platform for soft synths with touch input, and as such, is reasonably cheap and functional. But I'm not going to specifically discriminate the iPad because it's popular, or this video because it happens to be well shot. 

    And yeah, I don't think you can complain on one hand about the iPad getting special treatment, but on the other argue that the iPad should be specifically excluded from the crowd of other computing platforms that run software synths. They're the same thing, fundamentally. That's the whole point.

  • Christopher Penrose

    I think I understand the culture at work here. For many of you, your identity is tightly wrapped up in your instruments, musical or otherwise.  I behave similarly for all sorts of things.  

    There is a bit of negative fashion at work here. For many of you, the thought of holding an iPad, even in the most private quarters of your home, is a dire pact of consumer and cultural allegiance that you find appalling.  I felt the same way about cellular telephones for more than a decade —  it has mostly ended for me — and I am not suggesting that it end for you with respect to the iPad.

    But it is interesting that several of you have commented in a similar vein that "the iPad will be at its best when nobody will be talking about it anymore".  The iPad will not have changed at this point, but you will have. 

  • Jamsire

    I just hate this instant music stuff. Why get a Ph.D. in Composition if people who can barely pass consumer just turn on an iPad and >>make music<<? Again, I hate this stuff.

  • Jamsire

    I meant say consumer "MATH"

  • Peter Kirn

    @Jamshire: Yes, the unfortunate reality of music is that anyone can make it. 

    Side note: if I had any idea why one would or would not get a PhD in music composition, I probably wouldn't be completing a PhD in music composition. It's really best not to think about these things.

  • Christopher Penrose

    Not to continue in a condescending vein, but this it too close to home for me.   While I finished my orals (17 years ago lol), and am still technically a degree candidate, I never finished my dissertation for my Ph.D in music composition.  But some of what I learned on the way, is helping me to make software that will allow these very people you speak of to make music with an iPad.

    I really like the movie Ratatouille by the way.

  • Jamsire

    Peter (and Christopher – nice to meet) – I know what you're doing and I LOVE IT! I just get annoyed sometimes because I think these iPaddy things are beginning to make "making music" un-remarkable. I look forward to your electronic concerti – phase distortion minor.

  • 'I just get annoyed sometimes because I think these iPaddy things are beginning to make “making music” un-remarkable"

    If your goal is inflating your ego by putting notes together, yes this could be annoying.

    I don't see it as a bad thing at all. Anything that bridges the gap between our mind and other people's ears is a good thing, imo.

  • strunkdts

    iPersonally dont give a shit.

  • I mean, iPads are just another computer, and all computers are good for music. This video is just awful, the music is bad, the aesthetics are lame and tacky, and I can't believe this is UK's best hip hop act.

    The worst thing is: they are trying to sell us iPads using Tinchy, or Tinchy using iPads, either way, it was a bad choice.

  • Jamsire

    @Simon – I don't think learning or playing music (harmony, counterpoint, structure, etc.) is an >>ego<< thing. "Putting notes together" as you so simply put it is a skill – learned or natural and I certainly take offense to your comment as I (like millions of others) enjoy making music without having to "turn on an electrical object" to generate *sound*. I love playing classical guitar and I love programming Reaktor for sound design. If given the choice – playing classical will ALWAYS win – no ego. I can not consider someone who turns on an iPad music app and taps out a groovy beat a musician colleague of mine that I need bridge an invisible gap with, the same way that even though I am quite skilled with numbers, I still can't hang with an actuary.

    I'm done.

  • On the one hand, this kind of thing is good because it brings people together and all that, but on the other hand, it's just boring crap to listen to… utterly boring crap. New tools, same boring crap. Not to say that no one could or has used the iPad to make interesting music, but at least in this video, it ain't happening. 

  • Ld

    it's safe to say that

    a) talented musicians will always be able to express themselves through the means available to their generation.

    b) the ipad is a tool capable of being used to facilitate meaningful artistic expression.

    c) it is just as usable as a crutch, replacing precisely this meaningful artistic expression with something vacuous and superficial.

    d) the above video is an example of "c"

    d) this is not a good or a bad thing. it is the reality of all tools usable for artistic expression.

    e) if this video, which expresses valid and important views/realities, rubs you the wrong way — DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. 

    make music YOU think is good, sincere, original, uncompromising. 

    i, for one, am certainly trying to. 

    thanks for the (possibly inadvertant) motivation, peter. 

  • The ipad is a "new" instrument. Forget the traditional instrument apps like keyboards and drumpads etc. But check stuff like reactable, aura flux, soundYeah, Curtis, Noise io Pro, MorphWiz etc.., apps where your fingers have a new way of making music. Music tools that brings your hands closer to your ears and create a better harmony with what sounds about.
    As a graphist i draw music without to have to do it with a keyboard !!!
    That's what i love about the ipad.

    btw, as a graphist it's not because it's a "apple" i work on pc's and I hate wannabees who wear black clothes, cool glasses , a macbook pro and called themself designers.

  • James

    When we were at uni, everyone was playing with original music, making original sounds, programming new stuff, talking intelectually, NOT using presets, etc. We were NOT the people working in the music world.

    Around me now, at work, are people who play and write music for a living. It's their job. I can tell you that all this work has always been ABOUT PRESETS. "I need a Motif for this song because it has that pad sound."

    People who make a lot of cash normally end up with basically all the synths you can get. These all I would say are largely very similar, but the big difference is the people who programmed THE PRESETS in the factory.

    So in the real world I think it has always been about the presets, people dial in what they need quick, then get on with playing, writing and arranging. IPAD HAS NOT CHANGED THIS ALL OF A SUDDEN.

    Peter, it does seem that all of a sudden this video and/or story is well below par with everything else I've read here before. Do you think it's good because it's English and you're from the other side of the pond? Or maybe you have a promo deal with them?

  • AJ

    Love this debate, but aside from the main issue, can I just say @cooptrol, please don't think that Tinchy is the best that UK Hip-Hop has to offer – he's not, by a long shot. He's just been the consistently over-exposed and mass promoted (to armies of pre-teens and tweens, the rest of us just got caught in the crossfire) for a few years. Much good may it do him though, I think the kids have cottoned on to the fact that he's not all that great. Subsequently, I don't think he could sell a glass of water to a rich, thirsty guy in the desert, let alone a copy of his second album at the moment.

  • TJ

    Another fine example of the beauteous thing about digital music, interfaces, software … people aren't listening, they're making music.

    Anyone, at any level of skill, having a go at it. And, if they choose, recording it … with all the bells and whistles that were completely out-of-reach a generation ago.

    That's empowerment. I can only wish that synths were within my reach in the 80s – they weren't, unless I wanted to take a college course. Now there's great starter software like Garageband, and a whole range of new to classic gear out there. Anybody with a yearn can burn.

    Bravo. Merry Christmas. Have a go. And enjoy others enabled to do their thing without feeling threatened by it … *for now*. Because, somewhere out there, coming up, somewhere in the world, is someone who will blow your mind.

  • Well this post goes to the bone of the CDM paradox. It is a blog about music technology, an this involves two separate and sometimes opposite areas of human knowledge.

    Music is art, which involves philosphies, ideologies, popular expression, collective psychology, and a warful relationship with goods and money. Technology involves societal order, goods, money, usually physical objects, marketing and economy.

    The clash is inevitable from time to time. Sometimes CDM has promotion deals with some products (I'm not saying this is the case), which is completely understandable and necessary for CDM (and Peter) to exist. As intellecutally demanding as we readers must be to keep the high level of the music/technology debate, we must sometimes tolerate this necessity of propagating brands. 

    I don't regret my opinions about the video, I stand for them, but I have understood things like this are also part of the music technology, for good or for bad.

  • @Peter Kirn: Just to be clear: I really am not against iPad related videos, I mean there are great apps, and people using them in a very interesting way. It's just that you really surprised me with this one. Personally I don't see anyhing special about this video. Sure it's well made, maybe a bit too polished and clean (in contrast to the music) which makes it look more like an ad and less like people spontaneously getting together to make music. 

    I perfectly agree that the iPad is just another computing platform and should be treated like that. In fact my critique was not about the iPad but about the video.

  • So for the cost of 30 grooveboxes, I too could have a wonky jam that really isn't any better than what a couple guys could manage on one or two grooveboxes. The only nice thing I will admit about this setup is the extreme portability… no AC adapters, no 30lbs battery packs, no TS/TRS cables.

  • I agree with much of the discontent about this video and the post – even though I am myself quite keen to get an iPad to see what I can do with it as a controller. But my main gripe is with your characterisation of these performers having chops, and even worse that we better get practising – what?? So these people can bang out some dyads, simple bass lines and some basic drum patterns with their fingers and this is supposed to be an enthralling performance? I'm sorry Peter – I'm really quite surprised to you expressing these views – I really thought you had higher standards. There are so many things I'd like to pick up on in these comments – but I could go on for days – over and out.

  • as someone said earlier, ipad is just a computer. true. but if we compare its specs to a 500 dollar laptop in the case of up to date electronic music making, it well sucks.
    it's a time machine. but not to the future, but to back to 1998, when a PC was able to run only one instance of a soft synth…

    there are two things that can be useful in digital music making: portability and the touch screen. please let me know if anyone can take other advantage of any other aspect of the ipad. maybe cheap software? well, we got a whole bunch of high quality freeware audio software on a PC. 

    i think people should use ipad for digital music making if their priority is portability and touch interface over multitasking. good luck.

  • BellectroniQ

    Well I enjoyed it. You think people watching without phd's and/or production knowledge are worrying about presets? No they're possibly, hopefully seeing what's possible with an iPad, something reasonably affordable and maybe which a lot of people already own and don't realise how much of a great tool they can become with regards making music. I wish my mates had iPads so I could get a jam on with 'em!

  • Michael Hill

    What's the brunette doing? Either her iPad is too hot to touch or she's got some magical theremin app on there…?

  • Peter Kirn

    Look, it was the first non-terrible iPad ensemble video I'd seen. I don't really know anything about the artist or the retailer here. I usually find I can respect music that's outside my own idiom or tastes; this happens to be generally outside both, but seems to me to be well-executed. You're entitled to your opinion, whatever the reason. Saying it immediately means I have some iPad-selling agenda or got paid off — well, that sure as hell isn't giving me a lot of credit, no.

  • It's funny all these people talking badly about these jams. The ipads been around for what? a year maybe? How long does it take your average person to learn to play a guitar or a keyboard? How about a whole lot of them playing different instruments at the same time in together? Yeah they're not ipad virtuosos but then… who possibility could be? 

  • possibly*

  • pol

    Hi peeps,erm…got any good riffs? Well get an ipad if ur that desperate.erm… erm…technology is fun innit?

  • I appreciated the post.
    I find it just as much of a trend to post a negative comment about something popular than it is to blog about it.
    But I do prefer blog posts that i can dismiss if not interested, to comments which can deviate & even ruin the conversation about what the blog post is about, for the sake of pointing out (the often obvious) over and over again

    What i am glad about though is that the video, despite any taste differences, was a good example of what can be done with an iPad. Not to mention that it was also well filmed, edited & had great sound quality, which sadly too many youtube videos are/have not.

  • biff meany

    You nerds can go bang out your microtonal xenakis line noise experiement on your momome in your tree fort with the "no girls" sign.  Maybe Dieter from the AV club will stop by later with his Sun Ra t-shirt and trenchcoat. This was a pretty good jam.

    By the way, for those complaining that the production values are too slick, this sort of video can be made with an inexpensive DSLR and iMovie these days.

  • LeMel

    Who would have thought in one post I would gain two more all-time favorite quotes:

    "Yes, the unfortunate reality of music is that anyone can make it." – Peter Kirn

    "You nerds can go bang out your microtonal xenakis line noise experiement on your momome in your tree fort with the “no girls” sign.  Maybe Dieter from the AV club will stop by later with his Sun Ra t-shirt and trenchcoat. This was a pretty good jam." – biff meany


    Look, I lived through the computerization of graphic design. All the exact same negative things were said about computers vs. traditional production back then. At some point, the computer disappeared into the background – well, *became* the background is more accurate.

    Funny thing is, Apple had invented that one too.

    Want to hear it in stereo? Listen to newspapers kvetch about the end of journalism, and publishers (and readers) moan about the end of books. Photographers with film vs. digital. Etc, etc. Any introduction of a technology that replaces a specialized surface with a generic neutral one seems to follow the same storyboard.

    Yeah, interesting debate, but haven't we done this all before? Unless I'm missing something, shouldn't  we already know how it turns out? Is everyone here that young?

  • ipad 2 might make a reasonable point why we should use them for music production, i think the specs are just too low now… hello multitask?
    but by that time, cheaper and stronger "ipad clone" tablet PCs will take over the market anyway.

  • if they had done this video with normal tablet PCs and with a less known musician, no one would have flamed and trolled in the comments. why? because it's a promotional video for the retailer chain and for apple, not to mention tinchy.
    i suppose the majority of readers just don't consume them.

  • Dioxide

    "But it is interesting that several of you have commented in a similar vein that “the iPad will be at its best when nobody will be talking about it anymore”.  The iPad will not have changed at this point, but you will have."

    That's a great point and applies to so many other things also. People are irrational as ever.

  • So let's move on to some more constructive discussion then…

    "Any introduction of a technology that replaces a specialized surface with a generic neutral one seems to follow the same storyboard."
    I think that's the actual problem, seeing any new technology as a replacement for the old one. No technology completely replaces an old one, we just get more options. The industry wants us to think that a new technology can completely replace the old one, because that's how they can sell it. In reality people still listen to vinyl, cds, some even to cassettes, despite mp3, itunes, mobile phones and all the rest. I'm really glad I don't have to do layouts on a light table anymore but I still draw by hand despite having a computer and the Adobe CS, and I still shoot polaroids to get that particular style.
    So the iPad is just one more device which will have some use for certain tasks… but it won't replace anything.

    You sure Apple invented the computer? You sure they even invented the iPad? Invention seems to be another quite blurred concept nowadays…

  • hahaha, you just made me think about an uncle of mine who still has tons of cassettes in his car that he buys (wherever he can find them) and listens regularly while driving!
    I agree though, advertisement has always confused people with false realities. I don't like it either, but it's something everyone need to live with.

    Apple has not "invented" the computer. The "computer" has been invented years before Apple as a company was born. As an example into apple history, they took "the idea" of an UI from Xerox.
    They did invent the "iPad", but not the tablet per se OR touch interfaces. I don't think it matters too much who invented what to make music. What if 2 people have the same idea and make the same product, who is going to believe who? Is it going to matter to the consumer?

    I can be hard to talk about inventions, especially in the electronics space because of it's rapid growth, diversity and idea generation. In a product like the iPad, it's not 1 invention by one person. It's a collaboration of many people generating ideas to create 1 product. A lot of those people don't even work within the company that creates it, the ideas merely get used.
    So who invented it?

  • LeMel

    Oh, brother.

    I'm not saying that Apple invented the computer. Their product, the Macintosh, was ground zero for the computerization – and by extension the democratization – of design (so don't lecture me on the Quantel Paintbox, etc. ).

    Yes, traditional methods flourish. People still do letterpress typography. And record reel to reel from analog boards. I never claimed the iPad would wipe out anything. Why is it whenever someone says "this is going to change the game" they get accused of this weird zero-sum thinking?

    There, now that my good name is cleared…

  • Gull A Bull

    Wow, what a cheesy advertisement.
    Which is exactly what it is by the way. It's shot & hosted by 'the carphone warehouse' , who's youtube channel is 'eyeopeners'

    As for the 'jam' itself. Surely the heavy editing of the ad is some clue that the 'jam' is too ?

    This is a polished advertisment, not a genuine 'jam' by any stretch. To say this is a refreshing change from the not-so-great, but genuine, jams landing in your inbox is missing the point in an enormous fashion. Perhaps you've been hitting the egg-nog a little early ?

  • cr33p33

    Indeed this jam could have been done on most hardware with audio out ie PDA, Mobile phone, netbook, PC from 1990, Casiotone etc. It does seem its being lauded purely because its on an iPad, sorry 10 iPads which are just overpriced touch interfaces
    (£4,290 for all 10!)
    Seriously…whats the angle?

  • cr33p33

    …and the true 'democratisers' of computer technology are the countless PC componant manufacturers and Microsoft..certainly not Apple lol

  • Peter Kirn

    I wonder what this comment thread would be like if people read what I wrote?

    Let me map this out for you.
    Me: "Oh, no… another iPad jam. It's probably awful."
    "Hmm, nope, actually that's pretty decent. Maybe if I hang some disclaimers on it, people will appreciate this is a gang of people who can make music as an ensemble using iPads, and that, really, the iPads *do* indeed look like just another software synth platform."

  • Paul

    iPads.. Great at doing what we had already been doing with computers for the past 10 years or so. Just in a tidy repackaged portable format. So no real reason to disrespect them beyond any other computer. As thats all they are, computers.

    This video however is not "Really Good" at all, and doesn't show the iPad in it's best light. Honestly.. Tinchy Stryder?? Will we even remember who he was in a year or two's time? I hope not anyway.. Damn, a hell of a lot of people don't even know who he is now. This video was likely a grim introduction for them..

  • shim

    @peter kirn: personally, i think these vapid lifestyle oriented ads degrade this blog. i understand that you were just trying to point out the ipad's potential usefulness and not the ad itself but this ad's "tone", let's call it, destroys whatever positive tech application message you were trying to achieve. (an FYI heads up to the advertisers…some people do find this manner of content intensely insulting, btw)
    i remember a similar tone festered regarding a certain half-baked vocal processor ad you posted awhile back. the point is: these kind of ads and content have little positive outcome with this crowd.

    many others will disagree, but since the iphone posts started (and now the ipad) the CDM content has suffered. i have gone from daily visits to CDM to maybe once a week.

  • Peter Kirn

    @shim: What other "vapid lifestyle-oriented ads"? Maybe if you visited the site more regularly, you'd actually have some clue what I ran on it.

    The feedback I hear overwhelmingly is that comment trolling is what degrades the site. I'd personally prefer if you didn't visit at all. 

    If you can't stand the music, you can't stand the music. Lord knows there's PLENTY of music other people hold in high esteem that I can't stand. There's a time for criticism. But this is just comment trolling — plain and simple. It's a waste of everyone's time — far more of a waste than this post allegedly was.

    Rant finished.

  • continuous

    Just not engaging music. I visit the site daily, dig the iPad etc. but the content of the performance was not interesting at all.

  • Shane

    Where was the good bit?

  • Bendish


    British Hip Hop? Jokes.

    Straight Kak Up In This.

  • iPad = wicked
    Tinch – iPad – performance = nothing special

    I'd rather watch virtual grass grow… if the musical content was even half worth listening to and the timing and sound levels even close to right then just maybe I wouldn't be kicking myself checking this post out (it had loads of comments so I stupidly thought it might be good!)… curiosity ey…

  • There's two far better than average vocalists over what is otherwise average musical noodling. The more people do this, the better I feel about playing analog keyboards, guitar, bass and hiring drummers. That doesnt mean that cool add-ins won't come in and enhance the sound, but noone's going to be replacing the greats of music history, and no, JayZ is not a great.