April 7, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Interview: How That Amazing Patatap Music App Was Made

patatap interviewYou might have played Patatap last week as it made its way around email, Facebook, Twitter, and other avenues.

If you haven’t, you probably should. People like this “portable animation and sound kit” that lets you “create melodies charged with moving shapes” on a touchscreen web browser (phone or tablet) or on a computer. In terms of technologies that help people make music even if they haven’t the faintest idea what they are doing, this web app perfectly straddles the line between “this sounds like music” and “it reacts to what I am doing.”

Most importantly, it sounds great and reacts fast. You can even play along with whatever other music you’re streaming in real time, if you use it on a computer, although it works great for messing around with on its own. If you have a modicum of experience with triggering electronic sounds rapidly, you can put together some pretty advanced stuff, although button mashing works well too, which helps explain why this thing became so popular so quickly.

To find out more about Patatap, we asked two of its creators, Jono Brandel (developer/designer) and Shawn James Seymour (the latter crafted the musical sounds with his Lullatone bandmate Yoshimi Seymour in Japan), some questions.

Eliot Van Buskirk, Evolver.fm: How did the idea for Patatap come to you?

Jono Brandel, Patatap developer and designer: It came out through tinkering with animations over the last couple of years. I created the animations to be used for visualizing music, however about 6 months ago I got in contact with composers Lullatone and it became clear we should repurpose them to create an instrument of sorts.

Evolver.fm: What would you say is the philosophy behind Patatap?

Brandel: We are interested in the mixing of aural and visual senses, and wanted to bring that to a format that anyone can enjoy.

Shawn James Seymore, Lullatone: We like that with Patatap, “making a composition” could mean composing as in a song or also composition as in the balance of objects in visual art.

Evolver.fm: Is it difficult to design something with which average, non-musical people can make something that sounds good? What’s the secret, if there is one?


The husband and wife duo Lullatone created the gorgeous sounds in Patatap.

Seymore: Thank you for noticing! One of the things we were most careful about was making sure that it could sound good no matters who was playing. The first move was to carve down all of the sounds into their shortest most simple form. Even though there are a lot of layers in most of the tones, we were careful to make sure they wouldn’t get muddy if someone pressed too many buttons at once.

Evolver.fm: How did you get the melodies and timbres to fit together so well?

Seymore: A big trick to split each set into 13 sounds with some kind of melodic element and 13 there are strictly rhythmic. We realized early that too many melodic elements made it hard to create tracks with room to breathe. Other than that, we just chose sounds for each set that we thought would work well together to make a song with a few random dudes thrown it to give it some spice!

Evolver.fm: How have you reacted to the popularity of Patatap? Did you expect this? And is there a way to monetize it, as they say?

Brandel: We weren’t expecting this at all! We hope people will support us through buying ancillary artifacts. We have a merchandise page on the website and they link to 3 albums of Lullatone’s and 2 posters of mine.

Evolver.fm: What about the technology? How is Patatap able to be so responsive via the web?

Brandel: Web technology is at a really interesting place where we can start to make projects like this. Today’s web technology, which harnesses processing power typically associated with native applications, lowers the barrier of entry for audience participation. In many ways, I think this is why the reception was so strong.

Evolver.fm: Are you working on any future music projects that you can tell us about?

Brandel: I’m collaborating with Warp Records at the moment. If you’re interested to know as soon as it comes out I update status of all my projects on Twitter frequently: @jonobr1.

Seymore: We are always recording new songs and albums. We already have some more ideas for new instruments to make with Jono in the future.

Check out some Patatap creations, replete with notation, or try it yourself.

Stay tuned for more digital music news, reviews, and analysis.