Friday, April 13, 2012

App review: Figure by Propellerheads

Propellerhead are synonymous with music-making software, Rebirth and Reason providing the core of their back catalogue for years, so it was with great interest their latest software was to be released on the iOS platform.  With only a reboot of Rebirth on the iPod / iPad, Propellerhead ditch the 'Re' naming and go with a different-yet-similar kind of app for its second release.

I'm not sure how the title 'Figure' fits in with the app.  With say, Angry Birds, you know what you're getting.  Here, I find the title to be vague and unmemorable.  Saying that, 'Reason' was always a strange choice too so at least they're consistent in that way.

Music is made by recording small loops and then re-recording over the top to give surprisingly rich layers of sound.  There are three instruments to choose from, drums, bass and lead and each can have a different sample set.  There is a nice array of customization for each instrument but little control over the actual notes played.  The pitch can be changed, as can beats to the bar and some nice effects, or tweaks, applied to each.  The usual stuff is there such as BPM, keys etc.

The interface is nice and clean.
The quality of the output is good, especially considering how easy it is to create.  The bass in particular produced some very deep, sub-bass wobbling effects that could easily fit into a Dubstep or D'n'B outfit - the drums need to be more powerful though.  The lead samples were a little same-y but by using the Tweaks tab, some variation could be experienced.  That's the key really, as an experimental dashboard for a leapfrog into something more substantial, it's really very good.  For longer pieces or even complete, structured songs, look elsewhere.

Scandalously, there is no export option nor save function of any kind.  If you've produced a nice arrangement or set of sounds, that's it, you have to remember how you got there to bring it back.  You can't put it in any other music package unless you can record direct from your iPod (or iPad).  You can't even save the arrangement.  This is the single biggest drawback and for now at least, a major flaw.  Reading online forums, it seems Propellerhead ARE going to put some kind of export in and hopefully this will be as part of a free upgrade.

Looking at Figure as a freehand musical 'doodling' tool on-the-go, it's a lot of fun, especially as it's priced in the first tier.  For 69 pence, it's a lot of bang for your buck.  It's a universal app so runs in half-mode on the iPad but even scaled up, it loses only a little of the definition thanks to its clean, intuitive interface.  I had it producing interesting beats within seconds and I'm no David Guetta (or whoever is current right now).

If Propellerheads history is anything to go by, expect to see upgrades and perhaps more sample and effect packs but don't quote me on that.  It comes recommended with that big proviso; It will create some wicked beats but don't buy expecting to use them in other software.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Movie review: Sanctum (2011)

James Cameron sure does like his water-based movies, lending his name as producer here to 2011's Sanctum.  While the Abyss is a (ho ho) water-mark for the genre and rightly billed as a classic, Titanic was over-flowing with sacchrine and has not aged particularly well.

Sanctum is much more low-key than either of those two earlier efforts (let's face it, *anything* is lower-key than Titanic) and while director Alister Grierson tries to make a decent fist of it, he can't overcome the clumsy plot, cardboard cut-out characters and lack of plausibility.

This looks more alien than it actually is.  There are no aliens in this film. Pity.

Some cave-divers get trapped in a big cave and they try to get out.  That's essentially the plot in a nutshell.  The fun is in trying to guess who's going to get boffed off next and in what particularly gruesome fashion.  Saying that, there's little gore and the films suspense comes from the claustrophobia from operating in such confined spaces.

A big plus is the cinematography which is quite wonderful and the views of the caves are majestic.  I don't care if they're CGI or not, they look fabulous and I only wish I were brave enough to see them.

Just swimming along, minding my own business ...

It all starts to fall down when we get to the plotting and characterization, both of which are over-shadowed by, and cannot hope to compete with, the cinematic vision.  Insanely stupid billionaire explorer?  Check.  Gruff, no-nonsense cave guide?  Check.  At logger-heads with his delinquent son?  Check.  Amiable side-kick who we all know is going to die at some point?  Check, it's all there.  Plotting is pushed forward by some stupidly obviously expositional beats.  Yes, yes, you're in a cave, it's dark and we all know that previously useless shark tooth torch necklace (yes, really) is going to make an appearance at *some* point.  "I'm not wearing a wet suit to keep me warm", declares the only female character, minutes before her shivering hands play a major part in the plot.


Ham-fisted doesn't even begin to describe it.

As seems to be the case nowadays, the 3D has forced everything else onto the back-seat.  I can't wait for a non-3D film and we might start to enjoy some real plot and characters.  Avatar, as good as it was, was effectively an amazing-looking cartoon set against an incredibly lightweight plot.  Sanctum is no different but with much less CGI and much less believable characters.

Ah, perhaps I'm missing the point as it did extremely well at the box office and more than recouped its production cost.  On the big screen it would work much better and I could perhaps be more forgiving but not so good on the small black and white portable we have at home.  Those large holes they are diving into are a metaphorical symbol of the script they've had to work with.  Combine your viewing with some kind of drinking game based on who's going to die next, it'll be much more fun, I promise.

Rating 4/10