Creating any kind of art, whatever it is or however it’s done, needs talent. If you don’t have any, the finished result will only ever be mediocre, as if it comes out looking or sounding good, you have a talent, but up until that point failed to recognise it.
This is painfully true of every music or artistic app for the iPhone and the iPad. You see the pictures on the promotional App Store page, or see the videos on YouTube and think “wow, I’ve always wanted to be able to do that, and this app will make my dreams come true”.
So you download it and give it a try. Except your finished product isn’t anything like the developer’s examples of what should be possible. It’s unfortunate when this happens, but it’s a fact of life, you simply can’t be good at everything.
Several years ago, videos of something called the ReacTable did the rounds on YouTube, where a series of blocks were placed on a circular touchscreen, fiddled about with and amazing trance and dance music was produced. It’s still impressive today, but it remains a tool that will only ever sound good in the right hands. If I had a go, it would be a complete audio mess.
There’s a ReacTable app for the iPad, and the same applies – if you’re skilled, it’s probably lots of fun, but at £7, you’re going to have to be very sure of your abilities before hitting the download button.
Which brings me on to Feed, an alternative to ReacTable that does something similar, but at a price that even the musically challenged won’t mind handing over for a shot at creating something unique.
Unlike ReacTable, Feed uses the iPad’s microphone to record a clip of the sounds around it, whether it’s an instrument, someone’s voice, the cat meowing or just ambient noise, which can be played back, looped, scrubbed and generally played about with to your heart’s content.
If you already have a range of samples stored on your computer, then they’re easily synced with Feed too, using the same “File Sharing” method seen on apps such as Bluefire Reader.
When you first open the app, the screen is almost blank aside from a different coloured chip in each corner, and a red button in the centre. This is truly inspired design, as you’re immediately drawn to tap the button, which records whatever’s going on around you. You tap again, and it plays back, then you tap some more and other things happen, then it’s two hours after you started and you’re spinning multiple tracks quite often created from absolutely nothing. Feed demands to be played with, and the lack of a tutorial – unless you search for it – encourages you to experiment, which is exactly how it’s supposed to be used.
Controlling your recordings is simple, with looping them requiring the most effort to get right – it’s a two-fingered tap, but it never seemed to be very precise – otherwise it’s a swipe in the circle to raise or lower the pitch, then a pinch to increase or decrease the volume. When you’re done with one or more samples, drag them off screen to delete them. It makes more sense when you see Feed in action, so take a look at the promo video here.
The question is, can those without much musical skill – i.e. me – create anything of note, or do you need to be Deadmau5? It’s difficult to say. Actual music is tough, but twisted, creepy ambient noise that wouldn’t sound out of place in a David Lynch film is considerably easier to generate. The weirdness was assisted by some feedback on my iPad, which backed everything I recorded with a high pitched whine. If I switched on the TV and saw a soap opera where the characters were dressed up as rabbits, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
While my own efforts fell short of the app’s capabilities, others will know exactly how it will fit into their musical lives, and will probably create amazing pieces as soon as they pick it up. The good thing is, at £1.49, Feed is cheap enough to take a chance on, regardless of your ability, and as it’s absorbing, fun and almost infinitely customisable, you’ll get your money’s worth too.