January 17, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Gliss Creates Music Like MS Paint: Just Draw What You Want to Hear

gliss drawing sequencer synthesizer iphone app gorillazAudio sequencers typically work the same way. Most of these tools, favored by DJs and electronic musicians, organize sound on a grid with time on the horizontal axis and notes on the vertical axis.

Gliss ($3, iPhone or iPad) bends that tried-and-true convention. The resulting app feels altogether new, despite elements that will feel familiar to anybody who’s taken a crack at making music on a computer.

Our first clue that this isn’t just another sequencer was the interface: charmingly lo-fi graphics that look like Microsoft Paint meets Asteroids, with none of the usual sequencer trappings (play, stop, record, etc.) and no multiple tracks of audio. Instead, you’re greeted with an empty black space, a smattering of colored dots, and somewhat cryptic menu options.

The Gliss app invites you to draw what you’d like to hear. Yes, it’s that simple.

A cursor constantly scans the screen to interpret your drawings. Each of the five colors in your palette represents a different type of sound. Other than that, the old sequencer rules still apply, in that the cursor moves horizontally in time while the vertical position of each squiggle dictates its pitch.

gliss drawing music synthesizer sampler sequencerThis “drawing music” concept is cool, but, surprisingly, it’s not new. People have wrestled with the idea for half a century (see Daphne Oram’s “Oramics” machine).

Things really get more interesting when you activate Gliss’s simulated gravity. Tilting the phone left and right makes the cursor “fall” accordingly, enabling you to play your music forward or backward, fast or slow, rather than in a linear progression. Tilting the phone makes your drawings also fall to either side of the screen, changing the sound’s pitch.

We’ve seen other apps employ similar effects, and with good reason. It’s an interesting approach to sound that’s perfectly suited to the portability and accelerometer capabilities of iOS devices, which essentially let you fingerpaint with sound. More importantly, it’s a blast to play around with.

Beyond these basic functions, Gliss has a slew of tweaks and settings for power users — too many to discuss here in detail. We almost wish the app were pared down in order to flatten the learning curve; suffice it to say that if you’re interested in serious music production in addition to having a bit of fun, Gliss is more than capable.

Don’t believe us? Ask Damon Albarn, of Blur and Gorillaz fame. He liked Gliss so much he played it on his last album.