On November 26, I switched our cell phone carrier to T-Mobile. Why? Better service than AT&T, and it was time to get modern phones — Android phones, specifically the HTC myTouch 4G. Android has long fascinated me as a platform, and I wanted phones capable of running all the fun applications I’ve longed to get my hands on, especially creative/artistic production apps.
MusicGrid is a step sequencer inspired by controllers like the Tenori-On, monome, and Tonematrix. It may not be able everything that those fancier controllers can, but it does let me easily lay down shapes, tones, and all kinds of ear-and-eye-pleasing patterns.
It’s a completely awesome way to unleash the creative musical juices sloshing around inside my head. Unlike the aforementioned controllers, MusicGrid generates its own tones. Just press play. Load up one of four synth sound types, and have fun.
This is important to me, as a neophyte composer. It lowers the learning curve. No need to setup complicated networking or plug in a bunch of different boxes. I’m a classically trained pianist, but nearly all my training has been in performance and sight-reading . . . not much in the way of composition or arrangement. No software-assisted creation, either, besides a few years of Finale way back in college. I’m completely lost when it comes to the world of complicated hardware/software setups. I have a piano with MIDI out, but that’s it. No Windows or Mac boxes to plug it into the way “everyone else” does, and no separate audio interfaces. Just a USB-to-MIDI cable that kinda works with my Thinkpad under Ubuntu, but setting up JACK nearly always ends in failure. It seems like you need so many different working bits of equipment before you can even think about sketching musical ideas. That’s always been my barrier to electronic music composition and arranging.
Sure, I’ve seen videos of artists performing on Tenori-Ons and Monomes, but they always had a buncha different
pieces of hardware to make it all work. With MusicGrid, anytime I feel like expressing an idea, I can just turn on my phone. Simple, straight, and it doesn’t get in the way of my creativity.
I’ve been wanting to get into electronic music for so long, to find ways of easily creating sequences, loops, and tones, and then stringing them together. MusicGrid is a really fun way to start doing just that. I spent 30 minutes tonight getting some awesome sequences going, getting a feel for what the app can do. It’s addicting.
There are four ways MusicGrid could be improved:
1. Save sequences/patterns. This way I could export ‘em to something else; there are a few loopers/sequencers/softsynths on Linux that I’ve been looking at. Just so I have a bigger screen to play with my MusicGrid creations.
2. Shift octaves. Needs more low-end oomph! Only three or four mid/high octaves are available.
3. Import tones/soundbanks. Let me use my own funky synth sounds. This would make MusicGrid a more complete pocket studio. Though really, as long as (1) exists, I could export MusicGrid patterns as MIDI data and assign some instrument or percussion to that desired synth sound, using a desktop application.
4. Hold/loop feature. I dunno what it’s called, but the ability to keep playing what’s onscreen and then add other loops or soundtypes just by pressing a button to switch.
Judging by the comments on the Market, I’m not alone with this wishlist. Still, the app was only released at the end of September, and it does so much for me as it is. Whether or not it will see any future updates, what I have right now is a totally free program that got my feet wet in the deep wide sea of electronic music. I’m not nearly as lost as I used to be. For the first time I’ve used a software-based instrument that didn’t end in frustration or require 2 weeks of reading internet HowTos beforehand. And I had fun doing it.