- The iPad and iPhone have encouraged music app developers to progress from creating programs that look like drawings of 'real' music hardware (Reason, for example); now we can ditch the middlemen—keyboard, mouse, or stylus—it's possible to come up with truly original designs that are actually useable and functional, not just futuristic for the sake of it.
With its glowing screen objects, and multi-touch interface, Konkreet Performer is undeniably one of the most eye candy-oriented music apps out there. It's a controller, which means that you can use it to operate music software running on your computer, but it doesn't make any sounds of its own. Unlike Griid and TouchAble, which are dedicated Ableton Live control apps, KP works with any software that receives MIDI or OSC.
That said, I actually started by using KP with Ableton Live on a MacBook Pro; because KP uses OSC to communicate, and Ableton Live doesn't recognise OSC, it's necessary to use another application to 'translate'—Konkreet Labs provide OSCulator templates that are preconfigured to work with Live. OSCulator is a great tool for connecting 'unusual' controllers. You might have seen it working with the Nintendo Wii Remote. Currently, Osculator's Mac-only, though there's a Windows version coming. At the moment, Windows users can achieve the same result using Pure Data and MIDI Yoke.
Once the downloads were out of the way, I connected the iPad and Mac to my WiFi network, then launched OSCulator first (with one of the presets I just downloaded), then Live, then KP on the iPad (it's important to do this in the right order). I also entered my computer's hostname in KP's preferences (more on that in a minute). Back in Live's MIDI Sync tab, I selected Konkreet as a Controller, then OSCulator Out as the MIDI From source.
KP launches straight into the Performance Screen. It looks like a field of stars, with four nodes that you can tap or drag around; in fact the whole 'galaxy' can be dragged and zoomed. The nodes send either MIDI CCs, or notes when tapped and moved, or both. There are eight buttons at the left of the screen, which capture and recall snapshots, and bank up/down buttons at the top of the screen; there are eight banks (8x8 = 64 recallable presets). There's also a ribbon controller along the bottom of the screen, which can be used for MIDI controls such as pitch bend, or even as a freaky little polyphonic keyboard. Double-tap the top right of the screen to access the Preferences Page; as I said earlier, this is where the computer's hostname has to be added (ie mycomputer.local.). This is also where you can edit the interface, changing the number of nodes (up to ten), and choosing up to three simultaneous 'graphical layers' to change the look of the thing. The ribbon controller can also be activated or deactivated from this page.
As I browsed through Live's instrument rack presets, I found that KP wasn't so inspiring with the more 'practical' sounds, but it really started to make sense with the spacey sounds of the Ambient and Evolving instrument racks. If you like the sounds of those presets, you'll get an idea of whether KP is right for you. As far as Live goes, the idea is that the nodes will automatically map to the macros in an instrument or effect rack, if you're using one, or the first four parameters in a device, so it's not necessary to be constantly reassigning controllers when you just want to browse through some sounds.
With the right sounds, KP feels very instrument-like, and then as you move on from the presets and create your own Live instruments and OSCulator assignments (you can even send keyboard commands), it feels even more like its own 'thing'. With Live instrument racks, it's possible to use the nodes to crossfade between instruments, and the banks and snapshots enable dramatic changes in texture—very cool. On the iPad, I used iOS4's multitasking to switch between Griid, for clip launching and mixing, and Konkreet, for more off-the-wall control jobs, which felt like a setup that encouraged creative performances.
Konkreet Labs also have Reaktor instruments available for download. Reaktor setup is simple, and totally cross-platform—because Reaktor supports OSC directly, all you have to do is enable OSC support in Reaktor's Preferences. Just like with Max/Max For Live, there's a lot of scope to build custom-built Reaktor instruments that'll make the most of KP. And you could also use KP to control external MIDI hardware—it'll have to be routed through software on your computer, but it'd still be amazing to use it as a touch interface for a hardware synth. Going further still, if you have the iPad Camera Connector accessory, a MIDI Mobilizer interface (line6.com), and a second iPad running a suitable synth app, you could perhaps even use KP to control the other iPad synth.
I don't see KP catching on with DJs, but for performers and sound designers, Konkreet Performer is great to use. If you're utilizing it for the right tasks, the futuristic interface totally makes sense, and is a refreshing change—there's not a fader or animated patch cable in sight. I really want to see video-out enabled on this app, so audiences can see what's going on (that's always a problem with iPad music). There's only one thing about KP that would maybe put you off: the price. £14.99 is a colossal amount of money in app-world. I do think we should be willing to pay more for the 'pro' music apps, but that's a big step up from paying £2.99 for GarageBand. It'd be a shame if an app as innovative and creative as KP is priced out of the market, because other apps make it look expensive. Leaving this aside, Konkreet Performer totally recommended for Live/Reaktor/Max users.
Ease of use: 3/5