The Playground

The Simply Music blog

MSO Learn, Discovr Music, MadPad – App Reviews

Found in: Reviews

MSO Learn
iPhone, iPad

The orchestra is the world’s most powerful, complex and expressive musical instrument, or at least that’s how it feels when you’re witnessing all its parts coming together in a great performance, as if it’s a living, autonomous organism. Of course, it’s really made up of a collection of instruments and their expert operators. This app has been created by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as a guide to the orchestra and its players. It’s both entertaining and educational, giving us a personal insight into the real people who make the orchestra work, and a look at the instruments. Senior players from the various sections of the orchestra talk about the experience of being a musician and a little about themselves. It feels a bit like a fan magazine as they tell us about their favorite restaurants or most embarrassing performance moments, but it serves to remind us that these serious-looking besuited musicians are as human as the rest of us when they confess they also happen to love show tunes or 80s power ballads. You can also zoom into each section of the orchestra and learn about each instrument. A valuable feature is Recommended Listening, which takes you to iTunes links to great performances of important pieces. I’d have liked the Instruments section to be a little more comprehensive. For example, it doesn’t look at the individual instruments in the percussion section. Overall, though, this is a great way for young musicians to picture themselves as part of this wonderful musical machine, as well as an opportunity for music lovers of any age to educate themselves about how enthralling orchestral music can be.

Discovr Music
iPhone, iPad

This app from Australian developer Filter Squad is an intuitive way to expand your knowledge of music. Search for an artist you like and a diagram appears with other artists in some way connected to them. Tap on the picture of one of those connected artists and the diagram grows like a cell colony under a microscope, giving you a chance to look further afield. Double-tap on any artist and you go to a biography, sample songs, links to iTunes, YouTube, blogs, reviews and other resources, and you can also share your finds on Twitter, Facebook and email, and create favorites. I tried to stump it but found it even had a decent coverage of areas like classical, world and modern art music. If you’re a bit of a music nerd like me, this provides hours of fascinating exploration, and plenty of cause for discussion, too. A search on the Beatles draws a connection with Jimi Hendrix and the Beau Brummels but not the Beach Boys. How are the connections chosen? I’m not sure, but it’s all about expanding your knowledge and exploring paths you didn’t know existed.

iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

From Smule, the makers of the hugely popular Ocarina, comes this clever app which, at the very least, is an opportunity for lots of bizarre and funny attempts at music, but could also be a genuine creative tool. All you need to do is find anything that makes a noise – a saucepan, a crunchy carrot, a purring cat – point your camera at it and hit Record. An image of the sound source appears on a grid. Tapping on the image plays its sound. Gather a full set of images, tap out a pattern and you have your own found-sound composition. It’s amazing how many interesting sounds can be made by everyday objects, and how musical the results can be, and of course you can even record actual musical instruments. Before you know it, you’re your own Pomplamoose. You can record your song and create mixes, including the ability to create loops and change pitches and volumes. You can then share it via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or email, and access others’ creations.

Just one note: because of its lack of a camera, the iPad 1 can play and edit shared tracks, but can’t record new tracks.

Of course, there’s always more you could do. It would be great to add a few further features of a typical sequencing app such as Garage Band, especially quantization (correcting rhythmic errors). Smule are famous for adding live sharing to some of their apps, including duetting. It’d be fun to hook up with others for online jams. Maybe that will be part of an update in the future, but as it is, this is an enormously fun app.