Music geeks have been buzzing about a new iOS development that Apple may not have envisioned, but which is nonetheless set to revolutionize the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch as music-making tools for dabblers and studio wizards alike.
The Open Music App Collaboration (OMAC), a growing alliance of music app developers, built a system to let music apps talk to each other, even though that meant cooperating with the competition. Now, their work is bearing fruit.
All of this is possible because app developers in the alliance devised a way to send MIDI signals from one iOS app to another, as well as a set of rules for how their apps should behave — for example, by disabling the audio engine within one app to free up processing power for another. This framework lets the interface of one app control the sounds in another, among other things, leading to new toys for music fans and powerful creation tools for musicians.
One might envision these apps working together like a series of guitar pedals, said Tempo Rubato developer (and NLog creator) Rolph Wöhrmann. An iOS musician can now combine “synths, sequencers, controller apps, and all kind[s] of new possible strange apps… to do whatever they like.”
The music community is taking notice.
“I hope you all realize that nLogmusic and Audanika started a revolution in iOS music making,” tweeted Databoy78, while Dream Theater keyboardist and Wizdom Music founder Jordan Rudess dubbed it “insanity in the app world.”
They’re right, if perhaps a bit overly enthusiastic. It might seem like a minor point of musical geekery to pass MIDI data from one app to another, but it will make the tablet and smartphone truly viable platforms for music-making by everyone from beginners just looking to make some noise, to pros crafting their next record from the comfort of their tour busses.
“I think all along a lot of people have thought, ‘Hey I’ve got this app and it does drum machines really well, and I have this other app and it does synthesis really well, and I’ve got this app that provides a really great way of performing chords and scales musically – how can I use them all together?’” Polychord co-creator Greg Wieber explained to Evolver.fm. “Before you needed two iPads.”
The inner workings of the system might be complex, but the developers involved with the project are focused on making it easy enough so that anyone will be able to make one music app “talk” to another.
“The connections are made automatically, and you can begin playing immediately,” said Wizdom Music lead developer Kevin Chartier, regarding the upcoming versions of his company’s SampleWiz and MorphWiz apps, which follow OMAC’s principles.
This idea of connecting and running multiple music apps at once is not entirely new, and has even been implemented in beat-oriented apps such as Finger Pro’s MoDrum. However, it has recently picked up serious steam due to the aforementioned videos and and the publication of Wöhrmann’s “Manifesto of Best Practices” on the topic, which spawned the formation of OMAC, which includes many of the top developers in the field including Wöhrmann, Chartier, Wieber, and some 65 others at the time of this writing.
The OMAC developers are dedicated to fostering ways to enhance the ways their apps communicate with each other, but have so far avoided trying to lay down any kind of standardized protocol. According to Wöhrmann, “It is not a new standard — no secret tricks, no NDAs, no bureaucracy, no committees or whatsoever. We are just try[ing] to use existing technology and APIs in new meaningful ways for app users.”
So how does Wöhrmann feel about Databoy78′s assertion that he and his collaborators have started a revolution?
“This word is maybe a bit too much, but at least it is big fun and gives music apps users the next level of music making experience,” he responded. “I believe we even haven’t fully realized the full potential of this. Exciting times.”