One of the joys of being an independent musician now is the huge variety of new ways people are finding to turn our smart devices into entirely new musical instruments. These days, being able to drum on your iPad is already old hat.
How about, instead, a $5 app that lets you turn anything into a drum machine?
For our Musical App of the Month, we pick Beep Street’s Impaktor (Universal, $4.99), one of the most clever new gimmicks for a music app we’ve seen in awhile and practically a must-have toy for the price.
All The World’s Your Drumkit
What is Impaktor? Simply put, it utilizes the microphone on your iOS 5+ device to translate nearby vibrations into drum pad hits. Turn it on, place it on a table, and that table just became a drumming surface.
I was honestly impressed at how well it worked when I first tried it out – the default settings were just about right for my desk. One downside is that, since it uses the mic, headphones are recommended. Otherwise, you get too much feedback. (More on that in a bit.) However, it does have complete recording options – feel free to lay down a track while banging on the dinner table if you really want!
The app comes with a very generous number of pre-set sounds, somewhere over a hundred grouped into various categories. You also have full access to the usual array of dials that fans of analog synths have come to expect, so you’re free to craft your own custom sounds as well.
The majority, appropriately enough, are drum sounds, but there are a few that would be suitable for various ambient, industrial, or postrock production styles.
Toy or Tool?
Now, it’s not perfect. The way it decides what voice or pitch to play on each hit seems to be a bit haphazard. You’ll likely have to practice for awhile to be able to play it accurately and, like a Theremin, a billion environmental elements are going to affect its performance each time.
This app has gotten a lot of positive press, and a lot of the reviews are talking about its use as a tool. That’s something I’m not entirely convinced about – although at least, banging on a desk is a lot easier than tapping on your iPad. Response was reasonably good, but I don’t think I would trust it to lay a real track unless I was shooting for something seriously grunge.
The real appeal I see for Impaktor, in terms of production, is among the experimental crowd. Remember the feedback loop I mentioned earlier? If you turn up the sensitivity high enough and give it a powered speaker, it plays itself. You can get some really interesting emergent and generative material going.
For awhile, I had it making noises straight out of Forbidden Planet. Then I tried giving myself a generated soundtrack while typing this, but that started sounding like Coil way too quickly.
Also, I’d imagine several devices all playing each other at once would be fascinating.
And the vibration sensitivity? When dialed all the way up, it was jamming along with my laptop’s hard drive – from five feet away. The potential for “found” music by pointing this at environmental objects is seriously tempting!
If Rhythm Be The Food Of Life, Bang On
It’s loads of fun, it’s got huge potential for experimental discoveries, and it’s at a price even a busker could swing. Impaktor is an easy purchase for anyone who has even a little interest in making music with their iOS device.