140 / curtis + thumb piano from m~fischer on Vimeo.

Synthesis geeks are creating some fun sonic toys for the iPhone. There’s no reason you couldn’t plug in an iPod touch or your phone into a mixer and use them in live or studio creations for a little variety. And as mobile platforms grow in capabilities, other platforms should be close behind. (Not to mention, you can always rescue an entire iPod or PDA and run Pd, often for just the few dollars an app costs!)

At top, the granular sampling app Curtis captures sound from a thumb piano. Curtis costs justs a dollar, but allows you to sample, then visually manipulate recorded sound, using granular techniques. A “smooth” synthesis engine is upcoming, but I rather like the lo-fi sound — hope you’ll allow us to switch engines with a toggle. As seen at Synthtopia.

the strange agency [makers of Curtis, other apps]

The app is named for Curtis Roads, who did much of the seminal research into making granular techniques a technical reality. See his book Microsound
for an excellent overview of compositional, historical, acoustical, theoretical, musical, and, well, every possible aspect of this influential sonic practice. Have a look at the documentary on Roads and granular music we saw last month.

Segue – one early practitioner of granular music was Iannis Xenakis!

iGendyn iPhone synth

iGendyn is a new, free mobile application built around the GENeral DYNamic stochastic synthesis approach of Xenakis: “Imagine a set of control points (CPs) which together define the shape of a time domain waveform; with each new cycle through this waveform, their relative positions are updated using probabilistic distributions.” And yes, that’s GENDYN as in General Dynamic – not, in fact, a character from The Lord of the Rings.

Got that? In the default algorithm, X is amplitude, Y determines how quickly you scan through control points to produce the sound, and tilt changes probability. In other words, whether you understand the underlying approach or not (and hearing is always better, anyway), you can tilt your iPhone around and explore networks of probabilistic sounds.

iGendyn Homepage
iTunes App Store Link

Author Dr. Nick Collins is co-editor of The SuperCollider Book, upcoming from MIT Press, as well as The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music. Thanks to Raub Roy for the tip!

Meanwhile, mother of all synth-geeky iPhone apps finally got its 1.1 update approved, so have a go with Jasuto 1.1 for a really terrific look at what modular synthesis could be. Jasuto also has a desktop VST version and the two will be able to integrate, so you have lots of possibilities here.