A Music App for Every Occasion 

From four-tracks to fart sounds, the iPhone's got our ear.

No one needs an iPhone. This is the first and most important thing to consider about Apple's iPhone, in fact, because there's simply nothing cool about owning a necessity. Toothbrush? Socks? Not cool. Roomba? Slap Chop? Slightly cooler, perhaps. But the iPhone is second to none in the world of must-have gadgets, both by virtue of its prohibitive price ($199, plus steep monthly fees), slick design, and abundance of entirely useless features.

Some of these features are built into the device, but most are produced by outside developers and bestowed upon Apple for distribution via iTunes. These downloadable applications ("apps") escalate the iPhone's overall frivolity, and hence desirability, to heretofore-unseen levels — surpassing that of even the iPod. Apple's application development schema has been a huge success, resulting in tens of thousands of new programs that are, to varying degrees, completely unnecessary. Among them are at least 1,500 music-related apps, which should be judged not on the basis of how they make our lives better, but on how they make them more fun. Here are ten that do just that, or at least die trying.

Pandora: The net's best music recommendation engine, based in Oakland, goes handheld: tell Pandora which artist or genre you like, and hear more of the same. The underground rap channel opened with the Roots' "Guns Are Drawn," followed by Dilated Peoples' "No Retreat." Smashing Pumpkins radio warmed up with "Cherub Rock," then transitioned to Nirvana's "In Bloom." While songs are playing, peruse artist bios and attempt to decipher Pandora's inner workings (to wit: "We're playing this track because it features danceable beats, a poetic rap delivery, the use of chordal patterning, a dry recording sound ..."). Like, totally. Free

Bandloop: Say you're wandering the streets alone at night — not for a warm meal, a place to crash, or even just a friend. All you want is live music. But how to find it? Simply bust out the Bandloop app and breathe a sigh of relief. Enter your zip code or use the search function to pinpoint your exact location. Up comes a map showing every concert for that evening and the next day. Touch the screen for more information including venue contact info and artist web sites. The interface is solid, but the listings for smaller clubs could stand to be beefed up. Free

PocketGuitar: For those who rue the day the guitar went Guitar Hero, behold: PocketGuitar. Or not. While this simulator boasts enough bells and whistles (six guitar types, including a ukulele; effects such as distortion, delay, and chorus; string bends, hammer-ons, and note slides) to woo any guitar aficionado, cumbersome playability renders them moot. It's nearly impossible to quickly position your fingers on the screen in the shape of a chord you're used to playing, and getting sound from the strum of an open chord is even trickier. You can move up and down the neck, but only four frets at a time. I managed to play "Ode to Joy" and promptly got bored. $0.99

Bloom: Get lost in your very own ambient Brian Eno track! Produced by Eno and musician/software designer Peter Chilvers, Bloom is a simple, almost Zen-like app that allows the user to create an ambient soundscape based upon looped piano notes with a long delay time. Tap the screen to produce a note. A pastel-colored circle appears that will simultaneously expand and dissolve into the background, like a ripple in a placid lake. From top to bottom, the notes range from high to low, and there are nine moods to play with, which subtly modify the tone. They're all profoundly calming. $3.99

Fart Piano: Why create a fart sound generator for the iPhone? The question, dear reader, is why not? Fart apps happen to be some of the hottest downloads Apple offers, led by Pull My Finger and its nemesis iFart Mobile (a 99-cent program that raked in around $10,000 per day at its peak last December). Fart Piano is one of the fifty-odd fart followers available. Using a keyboard interface, it provides a complete octave of farts in three different modes: Dry, Wet, and Sampler, which maximizes the element of surprise. I played "Ode to Joy" on this one and wasn't bored a bit. Free

Ocarina: At its welcome screen, Ocarina offers to teach you how to play — but who needs instructions when you can just wing it? Blow into the mouthpiece and place your fingers over the four "holes" on the screen to produce sound. It's a gimmick, a party trick; not something you'll spend much time with — unless you start an iPhone band (which, mind you, has been done). That's until you dig in to bonus features like the global map that allows you to listen in on other users' recorded streams. Turns out it's a sophisticated, polished app with remarkable flexibility. $0.99

DigiDrummer Lite: Professional drum machines are complex devices with steep learning curves. Hence DigiDrummer Lite, a free iPhone app that dumbs-down the drum machine about as far as it'll go: eight pads (two toms, crash, ride, kick, snare, and open/closed high hat) and the ability to record and play back. The program's interface, responsiveness, and sound quality are about as good as one could ask from an iPhone. Getting the hang of it? Upgrade to DigiDrummer Micro ($0.99) for eight different drum sets and improved functionality, or full DigiDrummer ($1.99) for 26 sets, a custom kit maker, an overdubbing mode, a beat library, and more. Free

DeadMau5: Make like a DJ with this alluring app featuring beats by Toronto house DJ Joel Zimmerman, aka DeadMau5. It's pre-loaded with five four-bar loops (there's no way to produce more of your own) and features an innovative interface allowing the user to cross-fade between two parallel tracks; adjust effects including loop, filter, flange, and delay; and modify speed from 108 beats per minute to a blistering 148. DeadMau5 is nearly idiot-proof, and I have it on good authority that you can run this bad boy through a PA and cull a rockin' fifteen-minute DJ set from your phone. $2.99

FourTrack: Only an idiot would spend $10 on an iPhone app. Well, sure, unless that app is FourTrack and the idiot in question is also a musician. Then it just might make sense to buy this elementary yet intuitive four-track recording program — it could come in handy for demoing songs or recording new ideas on the go. Without any real instruments handy, I put it to the test: a fork hitting a plate, snapping fingers, low humming, and a little singing. After a few adjustments to level and channel (the only editing options available), my mini-song sounded just fine. No harm in saving it for future enjoyment. $9.99

Shazam: The most magical app of all. Hold your phone up to a sound source (including a live concert, if the studio version is similar), and after ten to fifteen seconds it'll tell you all you need to know. Curtis Mayfield's 1970 song "Move on Up," playing on my computer speakers, was promptly pegged. Pinback's cover of Camper van Beethoven's "Wasted," was tagged as "Wasted)," with erroneous artist name the O.C. Mix 6. Shazam still earns props for recognizing this obscure cover, and with a database of more than eight million songs delivers far more hits than misses. Free


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