Now airport lounge layover-ready and musical – the Android platform. A hip-hop release that used these handheld tools exclusively is a good window into what’s out there. Photo (CC-BY) Laihiuyeung Ryanne.

From an eBay-purchased Atari ST to your phone, you really can make electronic music however you like, wherever you like. Generally, I’ve therefore been skeptical of gimmicks like all-iPad albums, particularly as it seems fairly obvious that such things should be possible. On the other hand, albums produced entirely with less-obvious, less-popular options may lead to more unexpected solutions. And they can both prove my ultimate thesis: you should use whatever makes you happy. If a few extra tools help with that, superb.

Plus, who am I to walk away from potential flame bait?

In this case, an all-Android album from Philadelphia DJ/MC COOLOUT aka Christopher Davis carries another surprise: it’s a damn solid hip-hop album. Some quirky flare from COOLOUT is amplified by the lo-fi aesthetic of the recording technique, making use of the internal mic on an Android phone. With creative sound design, it’s firmly rooted in hip hop, but takes a nicely experimental direction.

I find that it’s fun listening, and whether it’s your musical taste or not, the listof apps the artist has compiled will be a godsend to anyone who’s got an Android phone and is looking for ways to make it more musical.

The album is free, and a no-brainer download – it’s some really good stuff. (See also a non-Android remix of music from the excellent label Stones Throw.

There’s some musical thinking behind these choices here – Android becomes a return to what the artist loved about simple digital samplers of yore. COOLOUT tells CDM:

I used a couple of different workflows. The cool thing about Android is that most of the audio apps aren’t as feature-heavy as iOS. Coming from the days of using mono 12-bit samplers with no effects, it was easy to use all the techniques of layering and chopping I’ve known for years. Most times, the instrumental track was completed fully on the phone and I then tracked the vocals in a standard DAW later using the Android device as a microphone. There were no outside instruments used and I tried to stay away from standard plug-ins. It was hard resisting the temptation, but I wanted to represent the sound of Android as much as possible. I only used outside compression on the vocals, all the other effects like delay and filters were from Android apps. If Froyo didn’t have such huge audio latency I probably could have tracked the vocals all on the device.

Another great thing about recording using an Android device is that I was able to write all my lyrics in Google Docs (shout out to Count Bass D for putting me up on that) and have them directly in front of me while recording vocals.

Technical note – it’s not so much Froyo (the Android OS release) that adds latency as a lack of low-latency performance from handsets. The API also lacks the structure you might like for low-latency applications, though if you’re a developer, check out the AndroidWrapper class Peter Brinkmann wrote for libpd for Android, which presents a useful workaround for any audio app.

COOLOUT music is good stuff; see the full site (including the Android album, via Bandcamp):

The apps (with Android Market links, though there are other ways of getting to them, too):

Virtual Amp
Electrum Drum Machine
Jasuto Modular
Ethereal Dialpad [see CDM coverage]
Guitar: Solo Lite
Brainwave Tuner
Musical Bubbles
Silicon Oxide [retro virtual analog drum machine]
Buddhist Instruments, Tone Dialer (I think that’s this one)

A look at some of those apps…

Brainwave Tuner:

Electrum Drum Machine:


Silicon Drum Machine:

Our previous round-up of Android apps – well worth doing, I thought, because these apps have been harder to track down than those for iOS:
Useful Music Tools for Your Android Phone, and a New Sketchpad Joins Groovebox

…and earlier this month, a Game Boy (and iOS) favorite making its way to an all-Android release:
Nanoloop Comes to Android, with its Lovely, Minimal Music Idea-Making Interface

And, of course, if it is iOS you’re interested in (or you swing both ways), you can find all our coverage:

Or for all things music mobile – regardless of platform, don’t miss the exceptional, 24/7 online news channel for mobile music apps, the fire hose of news for this growing genre:

  • Adrian

    Really nice sound! Very impressive, particularly the vocals – I'm amazed the clarity and depth he could get out of a mobile device's microphone, but perhaps I'm still stuck in the mindset of phones having terrible inputs.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, the *mics* actually aren't too shabby. You just usually hear them through horrible digital compression over the phone network. 🙂

  • DUDE THIS IS A REALLY NICE TREAT. Very impressive, minimal, and musically effective. It demonstrates that the tools are less important than the musicality as this artist really makes effective and emotionally charged hip hop. Awesome post. I wish he used some nano loop though. What mic did he use? The vocals do have some outside plug ins though and you can tell he or some one else is very good at mixing vocals.

  • renderful

    This dude shows me up using less than $50-100 of Android apps, when I've got $1,000s spent on hardware and software. I LOVE IT. I love the nod he makes in his comments back to early 90s digital workflows. Great stuff, Peter! Thanks.

  • I have been going absolutely bonkers over nanoloop on my Droid. Just last night I was thinking that for the very first time it felt like I was making actual, decent music, solely within my phone. All it took was the right app.

  • loopstationzebra

    It's almost painful seeing a MacBook next to that Droid. That Droid also has no business sitting on something as exquisite and timeless as Mies' Barcelona chairs. lol.

  • Peter Kirn

    @loopstationzebra: Um, you know that's not actually what Android looks like, right? 🙂

    Anyway, the correct companion for a Barcelona chair is a *typewriter*

  • I'm in the same situation as renderful over here 😛

  • That's kinda neat, but it also demonstrates that you can get away with using the simplest tools as long as you can stuff it with ready-made drum samples and PCMs in general– sounds that were not originally generated or recorded "in the box" so to speak.

    On one hand it's impressive that someone slogged through the workflow of stringing together a bunch of Android apps, singing through a phone mic processed with Android effects, and wound up with something very presentable.

    On the other hand, the nerd novelty factor is diminished because it's not all "in the box"– you can get this sound from anything that can arrange stock PCMs in time, so I take issue with it being a pure representation of "the Android sound" or whatever. A more novel Android album would stick to softsynths, and sampling through the phone mic for all its PCM sounds, rather than CD-quality kick/snare/hat PCMs imported by the artist, or (pre-)imported by the developer of the app being used.

    I don't blame the artist or anyone though– he did what he had to to make a nice-sounding album in the face of constraints. It might be impossible for a device or software that primarily arranges arbitrary PCMs in a simple way to claim to have a "sound", in the same sense as a synth (TR-808, TB-303, etc.) or something with a fixed, limited sample set (TR-909). Otherwise it's like saying that Microsoft Windows has "a sound" as a music production platform.

  • @renzu

    I feel you, but I think the idea of Android having a 'sound' is fair because Android has a 'workflow.' And, when the interface supplants the instrument, or when they are effectively the same (software apps, lots of hardware gear, computers, etc and so on) and a major creative decision is the _system_ one creates music on, I'd argue that those design choices help form the aesthetic space in which the work is made.

    And props to DJ/MC COOLOUT, I'm seriously humbled/inspired by your project. Plus, I just found out TuNe-YaRdS (however it is) first album…recorded on dictaphone!

  • Peter Kirn

    Right, and all sorts of gear uses wavetables sampled from something else, so that'd be a bit extreme. I think the main point is workflow – if you have a way of doing stuff on your phone, then that changes the contexts in which you can work on music. It's not important to everyone – plenty of people are happy going to their desktop computer to begin working, or even (still) going to a separate, physical studio that's where they do work. But definitely, the appeal of the handhelds has long been people who want to get away from that. That was the case long before anyone had heard iOS or Android (which is part of why the word "Palm" is in the "Palm Sound" blog above).

  • loopstationzebra

    @Peter, lol.

  • Whoa, has RjDj been released for Droid or am I missing something? The PureData site seems to be down for me…

  • Android aside that's good stuff! I'm very picky when it comes to hip-hop and i really like this. 
    I also like the barcelona chair but prefer eames if available.

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, one way to get RjDj scenes onto Android is to use our projects and source code:

    Try ScenePlayer. There was also a beta version of Rj for Android, but I'm not sure of the status of that.

    I'd like to see better Pd player capabilities for Android, though – stay tuned on that.

  • Kim Prouty

    @renzu "Microsoft Windows has “a sound” as a music production platform"

    Windows does have its own distinct sound mostly due to the software available to it, but also due to hardware. I prefer windows for music creation and so does Kissy Sell Out as you will gather from this video
    But he prefers because of the mouse… lol.

  • awesome. fyi – the new update to fourtracks now has latency compensation, so tracking vocals on the device is much easier.

    Now if only I had an ogg->wav converter to get my nanoloop exports into fourtracks…

  • Fun from beginning to end and that's what counts even if it's a demo on a tascam 4 track or from electric lady studio A. it reminds me whole albums done on re-birth, or rubber ducky, or hammer head music executable win 95 apps and all the dos MOD music makers would scream. i miss making entire projects using just 12bit samplers and bouncing tracks from cassette decks to cassettes decks. and when ADAT came along? wow! Salute…make music with the tools of your choice.

  • anechoic

    excellent article Peter! thanks for sharing the apps/links too 🙂

  • Of course all this all-android, all-ipad, or also one-synth album things are things that appeal to the musical geek. It's all about the music in the end. So if this thing is used as a marketing gag, it's a bit boring…
    Nonetheless, to those who create music, and don't just listen to it, it's interesting to see how music is made, and that you can achieve the same result following different paths, each of which has its pros and cons.
    Personally I find it interesting to see this kind of album coming out now, because it fills a gab. Now we know that you can use Android to make music, and that's great! 
    About it having a sound… well, that's really a complex discussion. But I thing it's also a useless one. I'm not sure the specific workflow produces a certain sound, but the workflow is what it is all about, it's all about how confortable you are with the instrument of your choice, and how invisible it gets in the production. because I thing the best tool is the one you don't see or hear in the end-product.

  • Thanks guys. For the record The Rise isnt all based on outside samples… on the first track the music is all Chordbot and the second track is a RJDJ loop of me singing. i just added drums from electrum and played basslines using virtualsynthesizer. I didnt use nanoloop because it was released when i made the beats…next time.

  • I meant to say wasn't released.

  • shorter pockets

    I don't give a fuck what you made it on, this is good hiphop music.

  • dO

    Wow, amazing….
    his voice sounds a bit like NAS in my opinion…. but great work

  • This is outstanding work, a job very well done. I've been playing around with mobile music production for a couple years now, here's one of my latest, a full iPhone produced song AND music video:&nbsp ;

  • Johan

    Love this album for what it is! Checked out the other releases on bandcamp and spotify, really good stuff!

  • Kindly Copperfeel

    Great article and well deserved coverage for quite a novel idea, especially in the field of hip hop, which tends to be very close minded to it's creative tools.

    My only gripe is the comment, "and whether it’s your musical taste or not", which is one of the usual disclaimers given whenever hip hop is discussed outside of its usual confines. The only other major musical genre that ever gets similar treatment is metal.

    I feel that, once you state that it's hip hop, folks know what they're in for, listening wise. And those who are so extremely averse to hip hop probably won't even continue reading, so no need to say anything to "keep" them reading.

    I'm pretty sure Peter meant no harm, but, it just kind of bothers me when that's done. Makes me feel like, hip hop and rap are some of the highest selling genres in the world and have been for quite some time. SOMEONE is buying it, so, why are things like disclaimers still needed?

  • Peter Kirn

    @Kindly Copperfeel: See this week's readers complaining about Brian Eno and Radiohead. That wasn't a disclaimer for the sake of hip-hop — merely the idea that, even if people don't like this particular music (which some people don't, irrespective of its genre), they can still get some tips on apps. You cut out the whole context of what I was saying.

    And believe me, this being the Internet, people are happy to spread the hate around every genre and artist ever. 😉

  • fladd

    Nice music!
    Can anyone give me some hints on what these "layering techniques" are that are mentioned by the artist?
    I often hear them in relation to 90s sample based music and I always wonder what it means exactly.

  • @fladd here's some simple applications of layering:

    1. stacking samples to make up for the lack of EQ or filters…you need more high or low end on a snare…no worries…just layer a different sample with that characteristic.

    2. using the front or end of a different sample to add attack or decay.

    basically just finding ways to mix sounds to make new textures.

  • Jenae Williamsen

    The whole Common and Drake situation,has made me think about of why Hip Hop rivalry is healthy. new Hip Hop artistsjust don’t have that spark that classic hip hop artists had.