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.

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