The iPhone and iPod Touch are getting their share of metronomes, guitar tuners, sonic toys, and even one fairly full-featured sample-based drum machine / arrangement tool (BeatMaker). But what about live synthesis? (short for Noise for iPhone) claims to be the “first” synth. (I believe, technically, that honor goes to Einar Andersson’s iPhone synth, but that isn’t yet an official iTunes app, and it’s relatively basic by comparison.)

We’re waiting for a video demo and audio samples, and the developer warns that even the image above is an “ugly beta,” not the real thing. But we do know that the synth will incorporate:

ESFM technology – Enhanced Subspace Frequency Modulation. It’s an improved version of FM which has been developed especially for iPhone, the architecture has been redesigned to allow maximum user-friendly approach to creating new sounds.

(The developer explains what that means below.)

There’s also preset storage, tap BPM sync, and gestures for real-time sonic modification. There’s a curious-looking grid (shown at bottom) for modulation.

Noise for iPhone [Official Site. Warning: disturbing, nightclub-style black and pink color scheme]

Price: US$6.99

Availability: Real soon now

Many readers, particularly some loyalists to earlier, less-hyped PDAs and mobile devices, have dismissed some of the recent iPhone creations as “toys” – and in many cases, I agree. But, while I’ll believe it when I see it, I’m encouraged that this instrument is doing something unique with its interface and synthesis method – that is, making the touch interface something interesting and essential to the sound. That’s the kind of territory I hoped would be explored that’s been mostly untapped so far.

And if you don’t have an iPhone, don’t feel left out: the developers promise a plug-in version soon, for computers – with lots of natural advantages, like the ability to drop right into Ableton Live or route through effects. (Hey, I knew there was some reason we were carrying around those 6-pound laptops, eh?)

Mini-Interview with Developer

Amidio’s Ilya Tretiakov tells CDM about what the heck ESFM is (okay, doesn’t involve a flux capacitor or hyperdrive, as I theorized), how the synth performs, and what the plug-in will be like: will be available in the form of VST plugin at the end of this year. It is not supposed to interact in any way with the iPhone version – users will have to use mouse or MIDI controllers for tweaking the parameters and playing sounds live. We’re also planning to make the AU version as well.

Regarding Enhanced Subspace Frequency Modulation (ESFM): Ordinary approach to Frequency Modulation (that’s having operators and FM matrix) is too complicated for a non-expert, making it very difficult to create new sounds (because often the user doesn’t feel what causes changes in the sound when he’s tweaking the parameters).

ESFM is the new approach to Frequency Modulation method (which is best suited for making noise-based sounds and sound effects) which allows editing presets in a very evident manner. Currently there are four
operators that comprise the sound: Brother, Sister (waveform oscillators), Noizer (multiband noise oscillator), Filter (active multifilter module). All the operators can modulate (modify the nature of) themselves or another operator in a static or dynamic (via LFO or user’s gestures / accelerometer) ratio, this allows to create an immerse range of sounds.

At this stage, is not intended to be polyphonic. The workchain looks like this: you fire up the Control Surface, and start sliding your fingers across the iPhone screen (just like in Korg’s Kaosspad or Kaossilator). Sounds are generally huge and massive, contain post-FX (especially my favorite "space  swooshes") and introducing polyphony seriously affects perfomance which is not acceptable for us.

I really like that it’s shipping not just as an iPhone app, but as a computer plug-in, as well. That’s not such an easy thing to do, and certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for everything, but I think this could become a trend in the long run for some synths. It’ll help, of course, if they’re synths that work well with making “swoosh” sounds with your finger gestures. (And incidentally, that may not only impact the Apple platforms, but future, smarter mobile platforms, as well. Mobile Linux soft synths, anyone?)

We’ll stay with this one as it develops.

Updated: The devs have posted a rough demo video: