June 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Niclas Tamas Leads An Orchestra Through His iPhone

Budapest Dream Orchestra

Niclas Tamas is redefining what's musically possible on an iPhone.

Niclas Tamas does not front your typical chamber orchestra. As the sole creative force behind Budapest Dream Orchestra, the Uppsala, Sweden, resident crafts nü-jazz ambiance using not violins and cellos, but three iPhone apps that mimic the sound of organic instruments.

Though still somewhat of an underground treasure, Tamas holds at least one significant claim to fame: He says he was first to record an entire full-length album using nothing but an iPhone. With third LP Naked Pavement dropping in May, the Swedish mad scientist can now turn his attention towards Ocean Suburbs, the first album in his “element series,” a conceptual tour of the earth’s core elements — earth, wind, fire, and water — that he plans to release in the fall.

Evolver.fm spoke with Tamas from his home in Uppsala about the apps he uses, the freedom that comes with making music on a handheld device, and how he came up with that not-so-crazy name.

Chase Hoffberger, Evolver.fm: Can you take us through your first foray into iPhone music making?

Niclas Tamas, Budapest Dream Orchestra: About 18 months ago I got my first iPhone. I’ve been using Mac computers since 1986. I wanted to something more with my iPhone than just texting and calling people up, so I found iSequence, which was the first app that I used to record music. It’s a piano and mixing app, and it’s very easy to use, but you can create amazing things.

I have a pretty solid background in music: I was going to be a concert pianist, but I had to give that up when I was around 20 because I have panic stage fright. I have a technical background working with computers since 1978, so that helped, but I hadn’t played anything until I got this iPhone. It was a real creative awakening for me.

Evolver.fm: How did you go from recording sounds to producing a full-length album?

Tamas: I think that “Gloria Winter” [listen below] was the first tune that I really finished and mixed on the iPhone. Once that was done, I thought, “Why don’t I just make a record?” People had made songs on an iPhone before, but I had never seen anyone actually make an album. I made a few more tunes — I think seven are on the first album — published Last Train to Vienna, and got a few positive reviews.


Evolver.fm: You record music using three apps: iSequence, iHolophone, and Music Studio. What can you do with each app?

Tamas: Well, we’ve already talked about iSequence, which is great for tracking ideas because it’s so simply laid out. Then I found Music Studio, which is a more advanced app because you can edit separate notes for pitch and modulation. You can also record live on a keyboard within the app, so I don’t record anything externally. I’m only using the iPhone.

iSequence is ideal for sketching down ideas and quickly producing tunes, but I used both Music Studio and iSequence on the second album, Winter’s Tale. I didn’t want to give up iSequence because in some aspects it’s really way better than the other apps that I’ve been using. One thing that I like about iSequence is that it’s very intuitive, so it’s a great app to start out with.

iHolophone is an app that you can play live music on. Within the app, you can create patterns from the sound library — rhythm patterns, for instance — and then you can import WAV files and replay them. I’ve done a variation of “Happy Birthday” for friends and recorded a few other tracks, but what I really want to do is make my own backgrounds with my other kind of music and then use iHolophone to perform live for an audience. I could import the backing tracks for the song into iHolophone, play that, and then perform the song live.

Evolver.fm: How do you integrate these apps into each other?

Tamas: There is a possibility of copy and paste. You can copy and paste between the two apps. But in my experience, it’s better to jot the ideas down on a piece of paper and then re-record the music in Music Studio.

Evolver: Have you considered using an app like Drop Box for file storage?

Tamas: These programs don’t support Drop Box; you can’t read the files. You have to have some support for each file, and for me, that’s at the top of my wish list. NanoStudio is very good because they support SoundCloud.


Evolver.fm: Are there any other apps you’ve played around with or considered incorporating into your repertoire?

Tamas: Yes, ProChords. I think it’s a Danish professor who’s developed this app. You strike a chord and then get a number of suggestions based on 5,000 different songs that he’s analyzed and compared the chord progressions. So you get suggestions, rated five stars down to one star, of which chord you should choose to follow the one that you’re playing at the moment.

Evolver.fm: What kind of expectations do you have for yourself as an artist in terms of getting your work out there and into the public eye?

Tamas: I want to go far with this, but it’s about my music and my way of expressing myself. I’ve chosen to do it on an iPhone because I always like to do things differently. The iPhone is such an incredible thing. I measured, for one week, what I was using my iPhone for; two percent for talking to people, ten percent for texting, and the rest is music. I carry this little thing around all day. It’s always with me in my pocket, and when I sleep it’s less than a meter from my head. I can sit in a bus, I can sit in a hotel lobby, I can sit in my taxi when I’m waiting for a run. As long as I have headphones and batteries, I can make music.


You really do have a full production studio in your pocket. If you compare prices, it doesn’t compare. You can spend thousands of dollars and synthesizers and equalizers, but you have the same opportunity to carry all those in your pocket right now.

Evolver.fm: We’re dying to know how you came up with the name [Budapest Dream Orchestra].

Tamas: My parents are from Hungary, but they came to Sweden in 1956 when the Soviets invaded Hungary. They had to flee because my father was on the death list. They ended up here in Sweden, and I’m born and raised here. I have two sisters and one brother, and my brother moved back to Hungary a few years ago. We spend every summer in Hungary.

I always wanted to play in an orchestra. I have this secret dream of playing the saxophone. I adore John Coltrane, and when I grew up, I dreamed of playing the saxophone in a big band. So I thought, “I can create my own orchestra right now.”

What I really want to do, if I get the opportunity, is to perform “Shopping Cart Romance” live, using 16 different iPhones. There are 16 different instruments on that piece, and I’d love to perform it live using nothing but iPhones.