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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Every Commentary for 1.7.5 worldwide

Apple's interface makes it really, really hard to read all comments from all over the world; especially if including comments for any older versions. Non-US comments go unnoticed by me for a very long time. I am missing historical version comments (all the "bad" ones were for 1.6, but in the US most bad comments also mentioned that this was used on stage for 1.5). I care to some degree what others think, but judge based on my own results, the skill level of the people who do like what I am doing, and their results. This is my own playing, 4 overdubs:
Also note that this instrument came out in late April. Many thousands of people have Mugician and commented on it a long time ago in previous versions. These comments below don't even start until September.

The comments don't capture the uncommented ratings, which tell a more mixed story. I know all of the flaws in a deep way, so I have a love/hate relationship with my own instrument. If you look at most apps, they are a pretty good mix of good and bad written ratings. Unless there is something seriously wrong with the app, the unwritten ratings are usually significantly lower; possibly signifying the number of people who just don't understand the app and rated it upon an unceremonious uninstall. Bad written ratings seem to signify not just a dislike, but some actual anger at the developer, which is sometimes an otherwise happy user who feels broken by an upgrade.

Ironically, 1.7.5 is the buggiest release in some ways, but got the best response. I never found or heard about any real bugs from the time 1.7.5 was released for iOS3.2 until upgrade. Obviously 1.7.5 was only tested on iOS3.2 because of when it came out. But iOS4.2 causes bugs that never manifested before, probably related to the underlying environment supporting multi-tasking now. But here are all written 1.7.5 comments good and bad for the whole world, with ratings:


Excellent - ★★★★★

by Frushtuk - Version 1.7.5 - 23 January 2011

Perso j'adore le genre! Merci car en plus il est gratuit.

Waouh - ★★★★★

by M.arie. - Version 1.7.5 - 31 December 2010

J'aime beaucoup. C'est une super application !

Superbe. - ★★★★★

by Rogntudjuuuuuuu - Version 1.7.5 - 09 October 2010


Es ist ein echtes Musikinstrument - ★★★★★

by life's so dutyful - Version 1.7.5 - 01 February 2011

Mugician ist eine der wenigen Apps mit der es wirklich möglich ist Live-Musik zu machen! Die meisten Musik-Instrument-Apps scheitern daran dass sie versuchen wie bekannte Musikinstrumente auszusehen und dabei komplett auf einen praktischen Nutzen verzichten. Es gibt z.B. einige Rythmusmaschienen bei denen es leider nicht möglich ist das Tempo in Echtzeit anzupassen (um zu einer Band oder CD zu spielen). Sämtliche Trommelapps sind nicht einmal als Spielzeug geeignet da die Anschlagsverzögerungen viel zu gross sind. Mugician geht da einen anderen Weg und ist ein echtes Musikinstrument. Es reagiert sehr schnell und nutzt die gesamte Oberfläche zum polyphonen spielen. Chromatisch oder Microtonal (Glissando). Es ist neben Gitarre, Keyboard und Bass mein viertes Hauptinstrument geworden. Ich übe fast täglich darauf zu spielen und ganz nebenbei verbessert sich dadurch auch noch mein Gitarrenspiel. Wegen dieser App alleine hat sich der Kauf des iPad gelohnt! DANKE!!!

Pompeii - ★★★★★

by Gust@v - Version 1.7.5 - 27 January 2011

Pink Floyd let's greatings. Or Jean Michel Jarre at the Docks of London. Painted Music by Fingers. Fantastic.

Cooler Synthesizer - ★★★★★

by Danny the Fool - Version 1.7.5 - 27 December 2010

Die Bedienung ist zwar gewöhnungsbedürftig... aber das ist bei allen Musikinstrumenten so. ;-) Hier wird einmal nicht versucht, ein ungeeignetes Bedienkonzept auf den Touch Screen zu bringen, sondern es werden die Möglichkeiten des Interfaces mit etwas eigenem ausgenutzt. Tipp für Leute, die zu faul sind, die Doku zu lesen: Rechts unten den Finger über das Vorhängeschloss nach unten ziehen, um die Einstellungsmöglichkeiten freizuschalten. Die sind sinnvollerweise sonst gesperrt, damit man nicht aus Versehen seinen Sound komplett umstellt. Wer da mal ein weig rumgedreht hat, merkt schnell: Ein Spielzeug ist das hier nicht, jedenfalls nicht mehr als eine E-Gitarre eins ist.

super instrument - ★★★★★

by Pitsoft - Version 1.7.5 - 14 November 2010

sehr intuitiv spielbarer Synthesizer, bin noch am Entdecken -hierfür hätte ich auch bezahlt! Danke!


Fantastico! - ★★★★★

by ghiekorg - Version 1.7.5 - 25 September 2010

Assolutamente da avere. Iper consigliato a chiunque suoni!


the best - ★★★★★

by zvukofor - Version 1.7.5 - 09 October 2010

the best live performing instrument in a class, especially for guitar players


A musa! - ★★★★★

by Openmusicspain - Version 1.7.5 - 25 September 2010

This is the kind of app that adapte perfectly to the iPad surface. I play the recorder and use different devices to colour the sound, I will definitely use this great musical instrument in my concerts. Very glad to have stumbled upon it. And wath a pleasure being able to slide smoothly from one sound to another really understanding that music is a question of hearing a not a mechaniccal pressing of keys. Thank you very much for all your efforts.


Effort = rewards - ★★★★★

by Number 452 - Version 1.7.5 - 12 February 2011

Worth the cost of the iPad alone (ish). This is a great instrument and totally suited to the iPad. I love it. Like any instrument, you have to practice a bit, give it some time but has great potential. Coming to a stage near you soon no doubt.

Totally awesome - ★★★★★

by Zebs22000 - Version 1.7.5 - 12 February 2011

Words fail. Just download it if you have the slightest musical bone in your body. Can I press the 5 stars twice to give it 10 :-)

Top marks - ★★★★★

by - Version 1.7.5 - 21 January 2011

Support page explain the controls, just had a quick five minutes playing with it after that....which turned into an hour. This app and Morphwiz are amazing. Enough of typing this review im having another blast on the app! Dp

One Of The Best - ★★★★★

by Peri Urban - Version 1.7.5 - 04 December 2010

I love this app. Given the multi-touch capabilities of the iPad, there are precious few apps that make full use of them. I love the facility to alter timbre within each cell as you play. And it's astoundingly easy to create great sounding lead lines. This is one of the very few apps that responds to the human touch convincingly, and that makes it a precious gem amongst dull pebbles.

Yup, that's fixed it! - ★★★★★

by Rymix - Version 1.7.5 - 25 September 2010

Mugician has been through several iterations now, some for the better and others...less so. I think this latest update is the best yet. A wide range of sounds is possible, and best of all for me: the latency is down. I tend to play this instrument like a lead synth, so lots of fast, funky solos with a clean voice and not that much polyphony. This update makes my style of playing better and easier than ever. I don't go in for the ambient thing, so I can't really comment on all the sweepy, swoopy sounds this thing can make, but I expect that they're as brilliant as everything else. I think the only thing I'd like from a future update is finer control over volume/articulation/attack. It can be difficult to achieve expressive playing at times. Excellent fun, but beyond that Mugician is an extremely capable, serious music-making app. Try it today!


Fantastic - ★★★★★

by µαяί ♪ - Version 1.7.5 - 27 December 2010

Really great effects, fun, and a true iPad instrument with lots of potential, unlike the tiny keyboards that can only play a few notes.

Awesome music app - ★★★★★

by Legion303 - Version 1.7.5 - 25 December 2010

This app sounds amazing and is actually very intuitive if you take the time to play around with the various settings.

So Cool! - ★★★★★

by audio-addict - Version 1.7.5 - 14 December 2010

This is such a great app! Lightning fast, stable, and can be used in so many ways. I definitely would like to use this live once I'm more proficient. If you're not familiar with synths and stuff I imagine it'd be a little hard to understand. But with a little experimentation it's quite easy to figure out.

A 'real' iPad instrument. - ★★★★★

by Earl C Grey - Version 1.7.5 - 01 December 2010

I'm reminded of The Chapman Stick. You can try and describe Mugician as a cross between a keyboard and a string instrument, But that's not entirely accurate, and doesn't do it justice. Mugician is it's own musical animal, and as with picking-up anything beyond a Kazoo, it can bring you joy, as well as frustration. But with patience and persistence, you can make Mugician your own. You can solo around on the thing like Keith Emerson, do fretless arpeggios till the cows come home. The possibilities are literally endless. It's my favorite music app. Nothing else touches it. And it's free! But if you expect it to sound good without spending time practicing, it will sit on your iPad gathering dust, taking up room like grandpa's vintage Strat in the closet. Personally, I hope you don't download Mugician. I want it to be 'my' secret weapon in my musical arsenal. ...Why don't you just download one of the pretend iPad instruments instead, like 'Seline', and leave the practicing and headaches to crazy anal-retentive players like myself? (While were at it, I'll give you a few bucks for that vintage Strat, and take it off your hands too!). ;) An amazing instrument, not a toy. Thank You so much. I love it! Earl Grey ;{D>

Incredible - ★★★★★

by Mr. Wannabe - Version 1.7.5 - 27 November 2010

This is one of the coolest apps I've seen yet. Once I installed it, I couldn't quit playing with it. This has opened up a whole new world of electronic music for me and I'm looking forward to seeing more from the developer.

Very Impressed.. - ★★★★★

by fishanderson - Version 1.7.5 - 20 November 2010

I'm very impressed wtih this interface.. It's versatile, and fun to play with..

One word for this app - Superb - ★★★★★

by DnzDM - Version 1.7.5 - 18 November 2010

I play the guitar and this is something that caught my attention immediately. It's amazing in the revs that it produces, the best part, it's on a touch screen. Thanks Rob !

cool - ★★★★

by jonzo - Version 1.7.5 - 10 October 2010

I got the app and spent a long time on it. I tried to play the final countdown. it would be better if it had more instruments to use

Nice Update But Missing The Organ Sound! - ★★★★

by pran1 - Version 1.7.5 - 25 September 2010

Very nice update, but in 1.7 the organ sound u got when both the purple sliders were full and the red slider on zero were absolutely amazingly fantastic! Missing that great tone when both purple sliders r on full and red is zero on 1.75! Apart from that nice update!

Bravo! - ★★★★★

by salo - Version 1.7.5 - 25 September 2010

I've been a happy user of this app since way back on the day it was released (could see immediately it was an insta-buy) but this latest version is the best yet. I guess it's the latency difference, it feels even more responsive and musical to me now. Love it, thanks to Rob Fielding for creating a cool new instrument.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mugician Used On Gorillaz "The Fall"!

It's definitely in "Revolving Doors" (track 2). I suspect it's in track 3 and 10 as well. Somebody with better ears or inside knowlege could fill me in better. Many of the apps in the list aren't even instruments, and most of the other instruments are classic piano-style synths. So, I feel really good about this development. Validated.


I'm sticking to my story that the layout is the keyboard layout of the future. I'm pretty sure of it. Most musicians are guitarists, but all current electronic instruments are written for pianists. This layout is chromatically and microtonally "isomorphic", which means that it has as much symmetry as you could ask for to simplify the instrument. It also gives a very wide octave range for the very tiny iPad surface without creating other problems as a side effect.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Underoath's Disambiguation Album

Mugician finally appeared on an album on a major label.
To my great surprise, it's one of the top metalcore bands; the very intense "screamo" genre. And one that happens to be Christian at that, the most extreme metal I have ever heard come from a band that makes this claim. So, it's unique in a lot of ways. This band recently lost a drummer that was equated with the future of the band, but the album is *extremely* well received. It had a pure 5 star rating last I checked. The night of its release, they were hosting headbanger's ball on MTV2.

I lucked out and got in contact with Chris Dudley before they came to my state.
I travelled four hours to their show, where he comped me for tickets for my wife and myself. After the show we went out for dinner to mostly talk about the state of iOS based instruments, and exchange ideas.

This is clearly a band that is rising in stature, and basking in the glory of a good release!

So, I kid you not when I say that this is an instrument designed for the real world. This does get used live and in the studios of people that make music for a living. Whatever Mugician's shortcomings, I always get kudos for stubbornly sticking to being expressive under the fingers. People that use this on stage give me kudos for cutting out the visual bull that will only be taxed back in latency. Other instruments will give you a gaggle of sampled sounds and on-board effects. But I suggest you think of it like an electric guitar before you run it through a pile of effects that you have chosen for the tune at hand.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Natural Microtonality

After extensive playing slowly with fretless mode, it is finally starting to sink in with respect to what is going on with natural microtonality (as seen in maqam). Instead of speaking in terms of cents, I will speak in terms of *pixels* in Mugician. Since the fret width is uniform due to it not being a real string instrument, this makes things easy. I will roll my eyes at suggestions to take measurements and pick some equal temperment that will allow frets, as these are the findings of my ears; which ultimately are how these temperments are attempting to approximate (or at least tame to some degree).

First turn up all the reverb and echo that you can stand, so that there is much resonating going on as you can make happen! Turn the yellow slider all the way up for full polyphony. Turn the gray slider all the way to 0 until the green frets disappear.

I am going to speak in terms of D Dorian mode, which means all white keys. In Maqam, this can be viewed as the standard central drone pitch. Arabic violins are tuned DGDG, with G tuned to a perfect fifth (not the piano fifth, the one that arises from sound physics) so that they resonate in a fifth chord on D. I couldn't tell you if that D is the piano D, but I will assume that it is.

First note that to make a real fifth, you have to push up 5 pixels or so (-5 for a fourth), and for minor third you need to go up about 5 pixels (towards quarterflat), and major third is a little too sharp and needs to go down by similar amount...about 5 pixels to quarterflat. Of course, octaves are always perfect. Knowing that, you get an intuition for how to bend these microtones in general.

First, we do the D minor pentatonic and ignore the quartertones for a moment. Play D and F together, then slide F up a few pixels until you get maximum resonance. Do this slowly so that the echo and reverb don't make this hard to hear.

D + 0 pixels
F + 6 pixels

This is a minor third interval adjusted to match up with physics. Play that F when you play F in your scale. Now play a fourth interval. Again, keep D fixed, but slide G around until you get maximum resonance.

D + 0 pixels
G - 5 pixels

Because that was a perfect fourth, a perfect fourth down is similar. So play first an octave down for this. Then do the same thing for G an octave up.

D + 0 pixels
A + 5 pixels

Note that F and G are approximately 10 pixels farther apart than normal. In short, when you play a fifth you should augment about 5 pixels. When playing a fourth, taking octaves into account you basically do the same thing and drop a fourth by 5 pixels.

Now for Equarterflat, the quarterflat would be exactly between E and E-flat, but...

D + 0 pixels
Equarterflat - 3 pixels

Flatten that quarterflat until it resonates at about 3 pixels. Likewise, Bquarterflat, because A was 5 pixels too high, do it relative to A. 5-3=2, so:

A + 5 pixels
Bquarterflat + 5 - 3 pixels
C + 5 + 5 - 3 pixels

The C wants to be higher in the context of A,Bquarterflat,C. This is all about drifting around until the notes resonate.

When coming down from D,

D + 0 pixels
C + 3 pixels
Bflat + 3 pixels

The descending scale wants a slightly lower C, and using the fully flat B still needs to be up a few pixels.

And when playing the tetrachord Hijaz, I have a feeling that this is correct:

D +0
Eflat + 5
F# - 3
G + 3

In this case, the perfect fourth is messed up... it's actually 6 pixels sharp. Or this:

D + 0
Equarterflat - 3
F + 5
F# + 3

With the common theme being to stretch the interval wider if it's a half-step until it resonates, or to shrink intervals that are larger than a whole step to the closest resonation point. These may not be right, but this is exactly the kind of thing that happens when fretless.

When playing a quartertone, when going up I want to do +3 pixels so that when I hit the minor third interval it's the same width as I would get if I did -3 pixels from the note below it. So the quartertone isn't exactly in the dead center... it's either a little above or below based on which note you want to emphasize.

Anyways... I don't know the math behind it other than knowing that it is related to creating the shortest standing wave (with respect to what?...not always obvious). The only thing I can assure is that it has *nothing* to do with how many equally spaced frets to have in an octave, as this number is actually infinity.

So I am beginning to see how in Maqam, the exact pitches depend on the tetrachord you are working in.

All this crazy microtonal stuff is just a consequence of what happens when you try to have perfect fifths and fourths...more generally, picking the closest standing wave that is shortest. If Mugician were tuned to *perfect* fourths, then each row would have to walk over 5 pixels from its current position, or tuned to perfect fifths would do the opposite (but might be useful for making the fretlessness 2 dimensional in the case of perfect fifths). Microtonality is inevitable when you try to handle resonance, sympathetics, and overtones. All of the equal temperments attempt to gloss over this with "$N tet is close enough" (where N is usually a large-ish prime number) when it's typically unable to play along with 12tet instruments and still isn't matching up with physics.

The point of this is *not* to figure out where frets and snapping need to be. The point is that you need to adjust to make perfect intervals (until sound give maximum resonance). Where these resonances happen is dependent upon any notes you already have down, or are still reverbing from previous play.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mugician 1.7.5 is out

All of the videos that I have been posting since 1.7 and calling "1.8" are fixes leading up to 1.7.5. I have had testers doing extensive testing since 1.7, but of course any changes whatsoever could totally invalidate that testing. The testers help me to make progress to a perfect sound, and I try no to mess up that course.

The last change to code was done on September 18. Most of these changes were related to getting latency down, so did not change the sound as seen in the videos, perhaps with the exception of the time it takes for the sound to ramp up (not the sustain phase).

One of the guys doing testing had a vaguely described problem that sounded like it might be the all purples up and red all the way down setting, at full volume on a half-stack. Then one of the comments states that 1.7 was better at this setting. I am *really* puzzled by these comments, because I think the harmonic mix is completely unchanged for 1.7.5. One of the fixes that I had to do to 1.7 was that at this setting which supposedly sounded so "amazing" was, when you played a note down an "impulse" (audible clicking noise) happened... In fact, this setting was the one particular setting that I hated in 1.7! So the only thing I know of that is different at that setting was a bug. Is anybody seriously saying that they loved that? That makes no sense at all.
I thought that exactly this setting was completely useless in 1.7.

If you feel that I broke 1.7's organ sound, I would be curious to get a concrete explanation. I suppose that it's possible that I could have goofed and changed the harmonic mix, especially when I was reducing latency. Latency reduction changed a little bit of the code everywhere. One thing about Mugician that makes it interesting is that absolutely everything is inter-related. I can't fix the clean sound without changing the distorted sound. Visual doodads can create audible latency. There is next to nothing that doesn't affect the sound in some way. So I can't fix a particular sound in isolation. Even the stupidest little change invalidates a lot of testing, even though it takes testers days to a week to get back to me with feedback since the last line of code has changed.

As you can imagine, that's maddening from the perspective of trying to fix sound bugs without changing the sound. :-)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dream Theater, Rudess, Portnoy and Your iPad

If you own an iPad, and use it for music, then you are indebted to Jordan Rudess even if you don't know who he is. You are indebted to the band Dream Theater, who provides the day job that makes his attention possible. If you love your iPad, you should go to iTunes and go buy some Dream Theater and Jordan Rudess music for your collection. You should go buy his program Morphwiz, which is his own entry into the fray.

Like a Santa Clause with a different beard, he seems to be in so many places at once. He is the keyboardist for Dream Theater; composing, and on tour. He does work for social causes and benefits. He is a gauntlet through which all new instruments seem to require passage to succeed. He is a family guy with kids. He is the personal friend of many an iPad/iPhone programmer that works on an instrument, and has the pulse of everything that is happening in this area. He provides us with feedback from the real-world and motivation to do what we do, especially when it dawns upon us that the quest for a professionally useful instrument doesn't necessarily have anything to do with making an app with mass appeal that will bring in money for our efforts. When you spend forever getting that last 10% of the code right, you think to yourself that if you perfect the sound, then you can rely on Jordan to get it the publicity it needs to succeed - so you press on.

If you have ever come in to work one day to find that the best people - the people that you love most - have decided to leave, then you have some idea what comes next. Mourning is inevitable, but it is also destructive. Don't yearn for the past. Support the new brother that they bring in to fill the shoes of the one that they have lost. In some ways they might be a new band as they have to re-learn things with the changed formula; so be extra-supportive of these guys as they go through this. I don't know what this means for his current level of involvement with us - whether he starts picking the fruits of the research that has been going on with this platform, or he gets back to basics and re-focusing on piano and composing. If you have never heard of Dream Theater, then go check them out and know that they have contributed a lot to the iPhone and iPad platforms.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Mugician Manual - Deciphering The Heiroglyphics

Please at least read this, or at least the section that describes controls, or DO NOT download Mugician.

Contact me if you like Mugician, but need a build with pressure sensitivity (it's technically, "finger area" sensitivity. i have never been able to get a straight answer on whether i can just ship with it, especially now that 4.2 is out. So I don't ship with it enabled.)

Scroll to the bottom of this post for iOS4.2 issues that I have discovered (occasional sound skips,sound bug).

It lets me know that you actually care about the project when you scream in pain when something breaks.

Disregard the ratings whether they are good or bad. All that matters is actual results. Make your judgement based on what is possible. All of these videos are unprocessed line-in (including drum tracks) recordings. You can do

--> VitalyNewmansHighQualityPlaying <--


---> this <---

or if metal is m
ore your thing:

--> speedyMetal <--


--> slowMetal <--

with Mugician. Your instrument needs good latency/attack characteristics to make the speedy stuff work at all. You may well be a much better guitarist than me, then you can do *way* more than that with Mugician. Maybe some time in the future, you can do that with a typical iPad instrument. But not right now.

Mugician makes none of this easy; just possible! I promise that you will hate Mugician if you do not like to practice or study. I have removed everything from Mugician that could slow it down, so it's ugly and minimal for a great reason. The musicians that help me to test have an insatiable appetite for an even faster instrument. Everyone asks for more features, but the smallest amount of latency will make Mugician totally useless to good musicians!

Post 1.7 builds are being tested. It sounds roughly like this:

--> this. <--

What I believe to be a very low latency build. I am trying so hard to not alter the sound, but a little alteration is inevitable. Note that I am not playing chords here....

--> this <--

And the last tune I recorded. I am completely fretless on all Mugicians, using external effects, overdubbing and playing drums here:

--> here <--

(I'm a lefty guitarist, btw, so don't dispair if you are too
. You can play Mugician even though it has a right handed layout. You have an advantage in playing chords, while right handed players have an advantage in fretboard vision.)

The Video Tutorial is

---> Here <---


--> Microtonal Tutorial <--

When you watched that, this is "The Manual". I only started it on August 29, so feel free to comment on what needs to be added.

Mugician has been correctly described as an 11 string Fretless Bass Guitar synth. See the crazy picture of Al Caldwell playing an 11 string bass? That thing has frets on it! You can practice your way to very high levels of musicianship on Mugician. But that has nothing to do with whether or not it's "easy to play". It is a little easier than a real string instrument in that the fret width is uniform, but that's about it.

Table Of Contents

Expectation Management

Run away now if you want something that's easy to play!

Mugician gives you:

  • Too much octave range
  • The ability to play totally out of tune
  • A small amount of help on playing in key
  • A somewhat ugly interface
  • A small set of features that you must combine to make variety.
  • No bitmapped images to make you drool over the eye candy
  • Not a font anywhere - other than a few begrudgingly penciled in note names
  • I have never had a crash report, but the code is a seething mess of chaos, magic numbers, the intersection of a bunch of exponential curves and feedbacking into sound buffers. It could have been the sane approach of an electrical engineer, of which I am neither. But I am working on it. What this means to you is that I say "no" a lot; even to The Big Fish. This is something that I am a little apologetic about. I'm starting clean with a lessons learned instrument soon anyway.
Why Is Mugician Different?

First note that a png *screenshot* (95k) of Mugician (48k) is 2x larger than the software itself!
Mugician is tight and minimal, and cares about nothing other than expediency.

There are some sacred unwritten rules that you get pressured into following:
  • Look like an animated bitmap of a real instrument! Realistic! Familiarity!
  • Take a rounded-scissors approach to musicianship and help the user with scales, tuning, and timing!
  • It should not seem like the author is some dude that once had his shoes vomited on at a metal show.
Musicianship is a never-ending process that you should make a central part of your life, or just abandon. Real musicianship is hard. So you will see that I try to keep things expressive by making sure that there are as many dimensions of expression as I can cram into the given space, and that parameters are always reachable and easily combined in real-time. For me, expressivity always wins in the struggle with ease-of-use. I think of Violin as the most obvious example of this principle. For a real instrument, doing anything else leads to mediocrity.

I am glad to see that this attitude is starting to change in the app store now; and applaud moves towards instruments for professional musicians. In the real world, good playability is so far above familiarity in terms of usefulness that it should almost be coincidental if your instrument doesn't look like it came from Mars. After it takes over the world, then it won't seem so strange. Who was complaining that the iPad was nothing like a laptop?

The Ugly

Amost all written reviews are 5 star reviews. I had a bad release (1.6) that you may be aware of. But these are the three worst reviews ever, my only one and two star reviews:
  • * "Oh my gosh! I can't believe how much this amazingly cool and musically powerful app has been destroyed by the update today! ..."
  • ** "This was one of my BEST apps on the iPad and I was ALL praise for it until this absolutely HORRID update!!..."
  • "... It's not stageworthy anymore!!!" (ie: I am using 1.5 on stage!)
I thought about it a bit, and was flattered in the grand scheme of things. This was just one bad release, and they were right in their criticisms. Some of my critics helped me out. It's very uncommon for anybody to be using a real iPad instrument in a serious gig; and it is mine. Overall I get good reviews, in spite of the fact that even non-musical grandmas do download and rate it just because it's free.

The Fix

1.7 is out. The critical feedback I get on its sound is pretty good. I am not getting negative feedback on the bugs that I know of in 1.7. I submitted 1.7.2 to Apple to fix the sound issues that I know about (and have played with these fixes for a long time now). I am really pleased with the 1.7.2 sound. I have been told that its shortcomings are pretty minor: very slight latency, and the reverb is much improved - but not great.

Keep sending in the criticism! I will listen, especially if you will help me to make the fix happen, through testing or being usefully specific about what is terrible. It's usually the first time I hear from people using it. It lets me know that you actually care about the project when you scream in pain when something breaks. I respond to every email. However, I will love you more if you vent to me over email, rather than socking me with a one star rating for previously having the greatest instrument ever and then running away. (One star instruments make fart noises... C'mon!)

My Goals Beyond

If only two or three rock megastars use this instrument frequently and nobody else cares, then I have done what I set out to do. There are plenty of instruments out there that people play for a few days and move on to something else, but I am not interested in anything that won't be getting use in the real world. Real world instruments get an investment of hundreds of hours of practice by their owners. The big fish are the ones that change the sound of music, so I am trying to start there. I do intend to help change the sound of music by making microtonal (quartertone) play much more practical.

Now: Imagine you and your friends catching cheap flights to another country with nothing but your iPads in backpacks, which you have for other reasons. And do a gig by jacking into the local PA system when you arrive. That's the other thing I am up to. I already did something like this as a Manhattan day trip with Leon Gruenbaum's band, Genes and Machines.

Mugician is my personal instrument that I let other people play, and try out new things with. I'm not going to go so far as to say that I don't owe anybody anything because it's free; which is *not* true because a lot of people give me their precious time! And the one person who has given me the most time of all is the already ridiculously busy Jordan Rudess himself; I owe him something really good. (Note that if you buy a $2 app, then you really have the right to $2 worth of support...still next to nothing! :-) ) But I pick and choose my battles without a whole lot of fear about what anybody will think in the short term, and don't spend any time on stuff that only demotivates me. When I have an app that's for sale, I will behave more like a guy with a product.

Crazy Limitations

It originally had only two controls: distortion and reverb. At the time, contemplating a manual was an absurd idea. I was going to do this as a prototype to figure out what my real instrument needed to be. I avoided UIKit for the graphic part and went straight for the lowest-level OpenGL because I could just could not hit my latency numbers in my OSX instrument "Xstrument" until I started straight writing to the graphics card. It's ugly, but who in their right mind *really* cares about that. The only thing that I have cared about, or will care about, is the final sound of the person playing it: the end result of sound quality, ergonomics, and latency.

Mugician changes are wrapping up because I just can't keep adding controls all over the screen space... there is barely enough to make a workable instrument with keys large enough for your fingertips. In the real-world, a maze of menus is an abomination; if you can, make everything feel analog so that you can morph between any two settings.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Until you can download old versions of apps from Apple, it will only drive people crazy if they are trying to gig and I am constantly pushing Mugician updates and forcing them to deal with sound changes.

Just Shut Up And Describe The Heiroglyphics KTHXBYE


  • Overall Volume -
    When I added support for playing along with your iTunes music (yes, you can... just start a song from iTunes, exit iTunes and enter Mugician...quickly double-click the exit button to bring up the song to stop it, etc... it's standard iPad behavior for apps), I discovered that iTunes's volume control is in lockstep with the overall volume, meaning that I had no way to mix the volume level of iTunes with Mugician. Also, as a side effect, this volume control does some compression to prevent clipping. You can think of it as a volume control that's a very light distortion pedal that can distort the final sound - reverb, echoes, and all. Keep a bunch of gap-less mp3 drum tracks in your iTunes collection so that you can practice Mugician to drum tracks!
  • Reverb - I really expected professional musicians to roll their eyes at on-board effects, but it turned out that everybody thinks that having them on-board is important. I do agree with this sentiment from the standpoint of practicing, and playing with your practiced sound now. It's not a real reverb, but random echoes that are fed back into themselves. It's an animation of a ball bouncing around in a box... what reverb basically is.
  • Distortion - This is a typical "arctangent" distortion. It's compression. It smoothly turns sine waves into square waves, so the picture is a square wave.
  • Octave Harmonics - This is a component of the sound that is an octave overtone. It is critical to getting the sound to be guitar-like, or organs to sound reasonable.
  • FM Distortion - Rather than a compression distortion, this is a modulation of the frequencies to give a rich set of harmonics. It can act as a sort of wah sound. When you look at FM in an oscilliscope, it does in fact look like the picture. When you combine it with the other distortion, you can get a really meaty sound that you can't get out of a real instrument, because physical strings don't do FM. If you have the special build, then that feature is tied tightly to this value. It's the secret sauce of a simple but flexible sound.
  • Delay - For the sake of ethereal playing and practice, on-board delay is here. It's split into three parts. Tap out the rhythm on the first part, and it will flash in proportion to how far to the right the middle part is. That middle part is delay feedback. The third part to the right is the volume of this whole delay. However, don't look at the flash and count in your head when doing it, or you will be confused...Just count in your head while you tap and ignore the flashing. In 1.7 I have a minor issue in that it flashes at the right delay interval, but at some random point in the measure.
  • Pitch Rounding / Optional Frets - This was a Jordan Rudess suggestion that everyone had been trying to beat into me from day one. In fact, it's a lot like the pitch handling in his Morphwiz program - which you no doubt went out and bought! Mugician started out as a 100% fretless instrument, to make it a viable "microtonal" instrument. It had no frets, and it was up to you to play in tune, like a violinist. Obviously, that makes Mugician tough to learn, and the iPad's accuracy just isn't enough for this to be viable. So, at 0% play is completely fretless (good luck!) and no frets are drawn between the notes. Up to 25%, it snaps to the closest diatonic note if you are within a quartertone of it. It draws the frets green at this setting. It won't round if you move after initial hit, and if you completely miss the diatonic, it will just play exactly what you did. This allows you to play middle-eastern style quartertone scales more or less correctly - simplifying it by snapping non-quartertone pitches to the 12-tone equal temperment scale as a compromise approximation. Above 25% it's fretted, but how far the slider is determines how quickly it drifts to the closest diatonic. This greatly affects your ability to bend notes or to sound like you are moving your finger across frets.

    What on earth is this all about you say? Look at piano minor chords: B-flat D-flat, and E-flat G-flat. The black keys missing, if they existed as "red" keys would be a quartertone flat - and 5 black plus 2 red
    keys are a 7 note Arabic style scale that is not even tempered, while the white keys are the common 7 note western scale. It's more complicated than that, but this is how you should think of it at first. Approximate quartertone scales are not a freaky experiment, but something with a long history behind them, that you should have in your arsenal of scales. This is an especially interesting way to express yourself when the rest of the music is a simple pentatonic scale.

  • Polyphony Adjustment - This is another Jordan Rudess suggestion. Ugly drawing of music chords here? You betcha. Besides frets, the other thing you need to play fast is to be able to have a monotonic mode. Below 25%, it's monotonic play that stacks notes in the order played, so that you can use the multi-touch to play faster monotonic by doing trills and hammer-ons... a common string instrument technique. However, you can trill up or down because it's not a real string. Above 25% this applies per row, where a row is like a guitar string. Above 75% it's just totally polyphonic, which allows you to play compact chords that are impossible on a guitar, because you can play multiple notes on a string.
  • Preset and Lock - Presets are for the weak! But aren't we all! :-) Did you notice the red-flashing X on the lock when you start Mugician? This feature is necessary if you play an iPad on stage, have multiple apps, and need to switch between the apps quickly to get through a song. It is split into two parts. The left part is a slider to pick between 12 presets. When you slide it around, you pick a set of slider settings. Initially, all the controls are grayed out and not changeable. That's because they are SAVED TO DISK like that. The right side is the lock. Slide it down, and the colors turn on. So: slide lock shut to save current setting to disk and make it the one that comes up when you start Mugician. Slide the lock to the left to unlock it so that you can mess with the setting.

A lot of players play with one hand. Right-handed guitar players are typically doing everything with their picking (right) hand. Pianists seem to do the same. I play two-handed finger-tapping technique, which seems to be best way (I have tried everything).

I have a bit of an advantage in being left handed, because chords are easier to play with the left-hand due to the fifth being most playable with the middle finger when first and third are both on same string. But the fretboard vision is right-handed as most players are used to...just the upside-down fret-hand seems to make it less natural.

I play scales with two fingers on left hand, and one on right hand. I presume that right handed players do the opposite. Arpeggios are easier to play with the left hand as well due to finger posture.

Bugs - iOS 4.2
  1. Sometimes (rarely) when waking from sleep, the sound is gone! I have to exit and re-enter Mugician to get sound. This issue seems to affect a lot of instrument, not just Mugician, even some that were programmed with knowlege of 4.2 (ie: work on phone as well). Cheap Workaround: Just save sound where it is at if you don't mind saving at current settings, get out and and pop back into Mugician in a few seconds.
  2. Performance is not identical, and Mugician's reverb was written to use as much CPU to make the reverb beautiful as it could afford. The budget was computed for iOS3.2, but in iOS4.2 there are occasional skipping noises if reverb and echo are turned on during polyphonic play. If you run through an external effects unit to get your reverb and echoes, and turn Mugician's Reverb slider all the way to its lowest setting then you will no longer get skips, and get better latency as well. The only way to fix this that I can think of right now is to cheapen the reverb (make it sound a little worse) so that the sound never skips. The echo isn't as expensive as the reverb, so you can probably leave echo in and make the skips go away.
  3. If you are a pro: I have been saying it for a long time: use external reverb/echo/distortion when you are not practicing if possible. You will get a better sound, and have more effects available.
  1. Jeffrey Shaffer, White Rainbow (Adam Forkner), Michael Vick (the microtonal guitarist one), Travis Nicklow, Vitaly Newman, Leon Gruenbaum, and Jordan Rudess actively contributed sound vetting and feedback (or will be) for the 1.8 release. Others have gotten builds and tested (presumably without incidents to report?). Jean Babtiste Collinet has been invaluable in inumerable ways; so valuable that I had to take what I learned from him and start my new instrument Pythagoras based on it. (I hope to feature him in the center of the Pythagoras world when it's released.)
  2. Brandon Sullivan got me some cash for my efforts, and was the first to do so since Mugician went free. Jordan has paid me in many ways, including the tickets and backstage passes for the last day of Iron Maiden's US tour - it was a very happy coincidence that they were in my town at exactly the right moment. Chris Dudley did a similar favor for me as well.
  3. Thanks to some of my real world end users: Chris Dudley of Underoath, who used version 1.5 on his latest album and uses the latest version on stage. Steve Sweney used version 1.5 in a live show (I have no idea if he still uses it). There are lots of people telling me that they do or plan to use it recording and live - I just haven't seen the videos for myself though.

Bug Hunt!

1.7 is out! It should alleviate the 1.6 pain. I could have either held it for one more week of testing without changes, or did what I did - and released it as good enough for wider feedback.

I am collecting every imperfection that I find up on the tutorial channel. There are a few spots in the space of possible slider settings to avoid. Bug #1 is already fixed in my local setup. See the app support url for more details.

The plan is to release 1.8 long after the last bug is found, and to not change the sound so that you don't have to worry about doing an update to it. I will have to decline if you would like one more feature. 1.8 is supposed to simply polish what is there and move on to new ideas.

Like it? Then rate it!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mugician changes coming to a stop. Live on as a free app in the store.

Go no further until you watched the tutorial. Mugician 1.7 final(?) tutorial is here. I am waiting for Mugician 1.7 to be approved. Please look at my overall ratings and comments for all versions. Before this version, nobody has written less than a 4 star rating in a comment - in the almost 3 months since it came out. 1.6 isn't as great as 1.5, and the people who depend on Mugician to do gigs were especially angry about the 1.6 sound.

Mugician was never intended to be easy to use, but to be *expedient* and *expressive* when you get the hang of it. Those two goals are usually in conflict. So most of common questions are in the tutorial. There's a few things I missed - such as almost every setting does something special at the 0% setting. (Hey, did you ever read that manual that came with your guitar? Your amp? Ok. I don't feel so bad.)

I have been talking about a rewrite for a long time, but haven't had strong enough motivation to get away from this project until now. The plan is to create even better instruments with the little free-time I have.

Mugician is now my main instrument, so I'm eating the dogfood and putting it up on youtube. My guitars and basses are collecting dust in my basement at the moment. I think I did a pretty good job for knowing next to nothing about UIKit, OpenGLES2, or digital signal processing. I learned a lot, got a few scars, and got to meet and hang out with some of my rock heroes. You guys that made $1000 in exchange for extreme efforts got a worse result. :-) If I am going to hit the ground running with a paid app, I need to be well regarded and connected on the first day that the app is approved; something which I am now prepared for in spite of the 1.6 debacle.

In my opinion, most iPad instruments look much better than mine, sound okay (great sampled sounds but often too static), but totally ignore that sound element created by the ergonomics of the instrument. A lot of them now have good latency characteristics, especially if they aren't too interactive (ie: special beatboxes rather than instruments). Most of them seriously constrain your virtuosity by being too "helpful" (making you play in scale, making you play in tune, and even making you play in-time in some cases). My music is full of accidentals; *Quartertone* accidentals even. ... and don't get me started about beat-boxes and odd-time signatures.

Like having a distinct voice, you can't sound good on an instrument unless the instrument lets you fail in every way possible, because when you succeed on a hard instrument, you will sound different from another person who is also good at it. The possibility to get everything "wrong" is the core thing that allows innovation. Whenever the instrument helps, it also forces everyone that touches it to sound the same - so you have to be careful about providing too much of the wrong kind of help.

These instruments are all improving on this score quickly though. But I am pretty proud to say that some of the people who beat me the hardest over 1.6 did so because they were using 1.5 in gigs in front of large crowds - which is a rare thing that any iPad instrument can claim at the moment.


As a side note, when you rate an app in the store, you are not just expressing what you think of the current version. You are voting on the future existence of the app, and future contributions from the developer who did it. It's especially true when the app in question is in return for something intangible rather than money. By all means, I think that hopeless junk apps should be run out of town to make room for the things that are more promising.

I am grateful for those who ceased fire when I acknowledged that there was a problem, and contacted me. Some of them got help to get back to 1.5. Others helped me to get 1.7 together. Others just waited it out. I tried to address and digest the criticisms, as most of them acknowledged that it's not a condemnation of the project as a whole. If you socked me in the ratings for 1.6, I only ask that you come back and rate 1.7 to even things out for me.

Anybody who liked the 1.5 sound should like the 1.7 sound. If you still hate 1.7, but liked 1.5... then make sure that the full-stereo isn't making your rig sound wierd, if it's not that, then CONTACT ME. As an example: Some settings are allowed to be moved up to absurd levels - like the right purple slider that controls FM based distortion. Tone that thing down if you get too much high-end. If it sounds cheesy, then send me an email, and I might have a trick to help.
Another example is that the heaviest metal sound isn't necessarily to just kick all the sliders to the top.

And as always... You REALLY SHOULD contact me if you use this on stage. I might be able to provide you with a giant improvement in your sound, or turn your feedback into your ideal instrument on another project.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jordan Rudess Playing Mugician

Jordan Rudess, keyboardist for Dream Theater, owner of Morphwiz


(code by Kevin Chartier) playing my instrument Mugician here:


He has been TREMENDOUSLY helpful, and kind with his time. All professionally useful instruments on the store have his involvement.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mugician Review in Japanese

I had a few brief conversations with this guy when he gave me feedback about what he thought needed fixing in Mugician, but he seemed to like it:


I ran the external text though Google translate, but can't translate the text in the video. Can anybody give me a gist for the Mugician review (last review where he is playing it)?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mugician Pro work started

As a start, I am modifying current Mugician code to be "Mugician Pro". I got some issue that's keeping the store version of Mugician from cleanly installing "Mugician Pro" at the same time.

The first thing I am adding is some FM synthesis capability - to give a much warmer and tweakable underlying tone before it mashes through the distortion. Since space is so scarce, I am taking the whole bottom row for sliders. Interestingly, no range is lost since the leftmost item on first row above the controls is already the lowest note. You only give up having an alternate fingering for the bottom 5 bass notes in that case; a tradeoff I could see coming.

Anyway, the plan is to at least put up Mugician Pro as a bug-fix branch of the free version with enough new features as would be commonly useful. I do plan on keeping this instrument simple.

I am not going to get into the game of trying to entice people to buy with more complexity. Every wierd new feature will only be used by a small number of purchasers, and I will end up with a big ball of goo trying to rope a lot of people by catering to all of them. You may note that there is not a single letter of text in this app. When I really have to put that first one on, I have failed in simplicity.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


The link below is entertaining for sure. But look beyond the entertainment aspect of what he is doing for a moment and think about it seriously. A wearable iPad mount that can host external effects and a wireless out is a VERY GOOD THING:

Gizmodo Features Mantaray iTar

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mugician Tutorial

Demo video using the older 1.0 Mugician. It shows off the kind of new music (microtonal metal) that becomes possible with Mugician:


Send me links of you playing better than me. I think I can make free Mugician work as long as I can keep the more skilled players coming back, willing to pay for a version with specific tweaks and enhancements that they need to advance.

New Strategy

I am confident that this form-factor is the most practical layout for an iPad instrument, and one of the few that makes fretless music reasonably easy. There will be multiple instruments that pick up this form factor in the future - it's the only thing that really works with the iPad in terms of ergonomics. I am going to let this version go free until I can figure out how to drive demand - and possibly post a "pro" version (that gets updates) for the people that want to support my efforts with purchases.

Idea: Most people have the free version, post videos of their skills. The more dedicated players might be buying more advanced Mugician-like instruments - like a +10 skill mad broadsword...

I float around #100 (10/day) in music with any price, but hit #4 (2000/day) while it was free; so maybe building a community around this blog and youtube will work. The distribution is exponentially clustered around the top, so being at #100 seems kind of pointless.

The plan is to attempt to aggregate videos of people playing this instrument, getting better as more people practice it. To build a community around this kind of instrument - which could end up being a different app which is similar.

My Existing Mugician Site

My site on AppEngine, which I realize you may not be able to access without signing in to Google:


Mugician Microtonal Technique

There isn't one specific thing about Mugician that makes it special or unique. But what does work well is a combination of things:

  • Keep latency low at all costs. An instrument with perceptible latency is most likely useless to a skilled musician.
  • Go fretless, and put up with the initial learning curve that it imposes. If I cave in to requests to make it snap (ie: autotune) to notes, then I am suddenly back to something that sounds too electronic. At that point, everybody want's a post-processor to "humanize" the tone. It also takes away what is superior to this layout: microtonal things that are readily available to singers and violinists - in a keyboard-ish layout.
  • Make the spots for a finger about the size of a finger, so that you can play fast. This makes two-handed finger-tapping technique work really well.
  • Use the time-honored guitar (fourths) layout, rather than the piano layout. There is precedent for this inside and outside the app store, btw.
  • Make the instrument as stateless as possible. You don't want to be going crazy in a solo and have everything blank out on you with a window that you need to close.
  • A practical, flexible sound. If you are a working musician, especially a metal musician, then flexible distortion and reverb are going to be the cornerstone of your sound. I didn't go the route of sin/saw/tri/square waves. That is stuff that is done mainly because it was easy in hardware; not so much because it sounded better than overdriven tube amps. I didn't go the route of samples either, because they end up being too specific; leading you to needing a gui with a librarary of discrete samples to choose from, and no continuous blending of them.
  • All change is continuous, from voicing to expression and fretlessness.
What can you do with Mugician that you won't be doing with your guitar any time soon? Microtonal scales! The emergence of touch computers will reverse the auto-tune trend within a few years; because it will change the instruments that people play on. Progressive music has already gone down the path of everything you can do with 12 tones, the most bizarre time signatures you can count, and will be exploring this too.

This is a video that I quickly hacked up in order to show the latest version of Mugician to a reviewer. I am kind of out of practice as a musician. I presume there are a lot of people that can do better than my demo playing. But here is a clip:


You will notice in the video that usually when I put a finger down, the note turns Green. That color is used for when you play "in-tune" with the nearest semi-tone. When you see red dots, that is when it is "out-of-tune" with the nearest semi-tones. These are not necessarily mistakes, but important tones to have.

When sound is viewed in terms of physics, the black and white keys are actually out of tune by any reasonable definition of what the tones should be. Vibrating bodies have overtones that are integer ratios to the fundamental tone. Most microtonal systems adjust the fourths and fifths to be perfect, so they don't match piano. Just intonation tries to place notes such that there are small integer ratios - an effect similar to what you hear when playing around with analog electronics. They can be somewhat close to the standard tones, but they can't exactly match because the 12 tone system is a completely artificial approximation of the physics behind the sound.

Microtonal music, which was typically formulated before the 12 tone system, therefore usually features such tones. Middle Eastern music is the most obvious place to find practical uses for quartertones, where notes are in between what would normally be the black and white keys. In a lot of ways, heavy metal is a bad imitation of these scales, crippled by the fact that they are playing guitars with frets on them.


This isn't the only example of microtonal music, but to be sure, this is where you should start if you want to learn how it usually arises in practice. It mostly boils down to when you play a minor scale, you stretch the third and sixth interval to be ambiguous between major and minor. The core pentatonic scale is still there; but now there is a note exactly half-way in between its wide intervals. When you play in a style with a lot of accidentals, using these in the right places gives you options you never have on any fretted instrument.

My hope for Mugician is to help break open new music genres, and take fretless metal ensembles into the mainstream. The more an instrument does for you, the less you can hope to become really good at it. If you can't play out of tune, then that's one dimension of your personality that disappears; ditto for fixing your rhythm. By the time the computer fixes everything, you can't tell who is who by ear alone.