Friday, 3 October 2014

Propellorhead's Figure

So Propellorhead Software made a EDM "toy" for iPhones, iPod touches and I imagine, Android devices too.
A week or two worth of playing around has lead me to the conclusion that it is a fun programme that takes all the misery (and learning) out of making basic EDM sounding sounds.

The user has basic controls over three elements "Drum" Bass" and "Lead" All three of which are randomly selected pre-made patches, which the user is free to alter (along predefined effects) swap out completely, or just immediately begin messing around.

The setting for the track itself (key, tempo etc) is also randomly selected and can be found under "Song" tab. This section controls tempo, key and a master shuffle (called "Shuffle"). It also has a Tonality pad, which lets you change block harmony and a bar setting for increasing the amount of bars over which the track loops (max 8 bars).

The upside to the programme by a long way is how damn easy it is to use. You could give it to a 9 year old with no other instruction other then to "play" with it for for a few days which they will easily do with no help needed.
Just as importantly, in a couple of week they would have a practical understanding of several key EDM terms and a rough idea of how they work. It keeps strongly with propellorhead ethos of not only being user friendly, but also taking the misery out of learning proper entry level EDM. Once you outgrow the software, you're not marooned with a lexicon of cartoon, dumbed down terms.

The down side is, making a full piece of music with this programme is not just unlikely, it's physically impossible.
The longest "loop" you can set the programme to run is 8 bars and along those 8 bars it is capable only of playing what you have previously recorded live on loop mixed with what you are performing live now. The only other options are deleting or "clearing" a piece of performed data or turning down all of "drums" "bass" or "lead" in the mix window. There is no window for one-touch sequencing changes; switching from one recorded lick to another, or an individual piece of percussion off or on.
In other words it is an EDM loop pedal, with limited functionality.

It would be possible but cumbersome to record a live performance which you could then edit in separate software, but in reality the most you'll ever get from this programme is a 30 second long loop of generic EDM.

Exporting sounds showed evidence of over-thinking and "don't worry, we have it all figured out" on Propellorhead's part.
You may export (an automatically mastered version) of your loop directly to iTunes, Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, Audiocopy and email but there seems to be no way to export a plain un-mastered audio file of your track. This seems to be an almost spitefully short sighted system for cutting this programme off from the rest of the music technology world.

In general it's an easy to use, absolutely self contained, EDM loop pedal.
Use it if you want a toy that effortlessly teaches you the ropes of EDM, but keep in mind that it isn't an EDM "instrument" and it goes out of it's way to NOT function as one.

As I walked down the street a few days ago a third, more curious function for 'Figure' became apparent.
The speed with which you can go from "New track" to "Music" is so quick that Figure can literally be used as a substitute for listening to your music collection. Why listen to your iTunes, when you can literally whip something up in less then 30 seconds and jam until your fed up, click new, new jam. It makes casual improvisation an option for personal entertainment on 5 minute train journey, which on such a small screen, is probably it's best trick.

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