Maybe the only kind of mixer you’ve ever used works solely for food, and your experience with LEDs has leaned closer to eco-friendly flashlights than giant, animatronic mouse heads. The world of electronic music isn’t built on more complicated principles than your high school band career, but it’s certainly a cultural niche that can feel pretty inaccessible.
Figure, a new ($1) app by Propellerhead Software, is designed to casually welcome newcomers to the world of synths and drum machines.
It presents the drum, bass, and lead tracks as what are essentially a series of aesthetically pleasing bar graphs. Over each bar is a knob to tweak each instrument’s rhythm (which are based on Euclidean patterns, a mainstay in simple beat creation). “Behind the scenes, there are algorithms at work that distribute these pulses as evenly as possible over a number of slots, in this case 16 slots,” explains Product Manager, Mobile Apps, Kalle Paulson.
But honestly, it doesn’t really matter if you cognitively understand these principles going in. What Figure does so well is borrow some of the best design from existing products and makes it accessible to anyone. Most notably, you can play notes in the same key just by tapping your way across a large trackpad (this idea was originally found in a specialty piece of equipment called a Kaossilator).
Such borrowed motifs allow any DJ to instantly recognize Figure’s functions, but because Figure only includes fundamentally intuitive controls that are extremely well-labeled, laymen won’t find themselves buried under esoteric frameworks.
“It’s nothing new,” admits Paulson, “but we think we’ve made it very accessible in a playful way. We thought there was a place for an app that let anyone make great music in two bus stops, but that is still really yours and really sounds great.” Within about a minute, I’d composed my first beat. Within three, I’d made it sound pretty darn good. So while I may never end up on stage at Ibiza, my iPhone doesn’t need to know that.