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Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Cantor" for iOS

The app formerly known as "AlephOne" was submitted to Apple last night.  It may or may not get approved, as it is using the finger-area sensing that a few other apps are using; though it has been very difficult to get absolute clarity on whether finger-area sensing gotten through dynamic, but public, APIs is admissable.  It was once a very important part of the feel of the app Geo Synthesizer's playability, which suffered mightily when we pulled that feature out to be on the safe side (it wasn't my account that was at stake).  I now believe that it totally is admissable (as I have been informally told), and that most developers are just not trying it out of little more than fear.  I decided to just jump into the app mosh pit.  It is generally good advice to never release "Beta" software into the app store, but that assumes that you have unbounded time to work on apps and that you won't go work on something else in any case.  I never uttered the name "Cantor" and used AlephOne because when I had used the name "Pythagoras" for my last app, that name was taken by the time I tried an allocate a spot for it in the store.

The test builds are here:

It is being shipped somewhat early (If it was "done" then there would never be any updates!).  So, where is Cantor?
  • Wavetable synthesis engine - but it demands that you span MIDI channels to use it internally.  Using Waveable synthesis allows me to address per-finger filtering and anti-aliasing issues.  There is not a lot of sound variety right now.  But that's why it's a simple $2 app for now.  I have some testers that think that the MIDI support alone is very valuable and will never use the internal engine, but there will always be people that will never try the MIDI.
  • Like Geo Synthesizer, it has octave auto, for very fast soloing.  This instrument is just as playable on the phone as it is on the iPad if you play it that way.  
  • MIDI with polyphonic bending (note ties, channel cycling, etc).  A lot of synths won't be able to deal with this.  But Kontakt4, Korg Karma, Nord (N2?), ThumbJam, SampleWiz, Arctic, etc all work with it to some degree because they at least do real multi-timbral pitch handling.  ThumbJam, SampleWiz, Arctic specifically recognize the note tie that I added custom to MIDI to work around legato and bend width issues in MIDI.  Generally, you create many adjacent channels (more than 4) with identical patches, and set their bend widths very high, to either 12 or 24 semitones.  It will channel hop around to get all the pitch bending right.  MIDI does not "just work".  It's horribly broken for almost every non-piano instrument scenario when it comes to pitch handling.  This works around that, but it's not pretty.
  • Looper - Audio copy doesn't work yet, but I have it half implemented.
  • Moveable frets to let you define your own scales, which includes exact pitch locations and the number of frets per octave.
  • Common microtonal scale shapes already setup:  Diatonic, Pentatonic, 12ET chromatic, Pseudo Maqam Bayati (ie: 12ET with a quartertone and the quartertone above and below it by a fourth - not quite the unwieldly full 24ET), Pythagorean, Just (Pythagorean with perfect maj/min thirds as a subset of 53ET), 19ET, 31ET, 53ET, or just fretless.  None of these are named, as you simply pick a shape and use the circle of fifths to center it on one of the 12ET base notes.
As Geo Synthesizer was a rewrite of Mugician (that was Pythagoras for a while), Cantor is a rewrite of Geo Synthesizer (and was called AlephOne for a while).  The videos of it in use are here:

This app has nothing at all to do with beat making, sequencing, DAWs, or iPad-only workflows.  I'm a microtonal metalhead.  It's a pocketable instrument that's as playable as a guitar or a piano for a lot of uses.  It should be reliable and simple, for you to plug into an effects processor or a computer *like* a guitar or hardware synth.  I tried initially to ship this without any audio engine at all, as a pure MIDI controller.  But the current state of MIDI with respect to continuous pitch instruments is still bad.  I only implemented an internal engine to demonstrate a full exercise of the playability parameters.  For example: this is ThumbJam in Omni mode on the JR Zendrix patch (it's different from most Omni-modes on most synths... it's done correctly with respect to pitch handling):

If you write a MIDI synth and have issues getting Cantor to control it with full expression, then send me an email.

Please keep your money if you will only give it a low rating based on a missing feature.   See the videos and see what it does; and pass on buying it if you think it needs to do a lot more.  Generally, I cannot respond to feature requests via low ratings like "2 stars when X is added".  I wrote this for my own needs, in my spare time, to solve my own problem of needing a microtonal instrument, and don't sell enough to service any kind of hassles beyond that.  But please let me know if you use it for real and something is actually broken, or about things that are actually impossible to do correctly instead.  Specifically: I won't add in uneven tunings like guitar because they don't solve a problem that I have, and I cannot add in a mini multi-track on account of reliability and memory consumption (though I might get export of current loop to clipboard working in an update), and I won't spend a lot of time on the sound engine when MIDI is available.  If you need these things, then what you are saying is that MIDI itself is broken (ie: in all apps), which I can't spend more time on, (ie: other apps can already record MIDI output, and MIDI is recognized by background synths - but interpreting MIDI gives sonically unreliable results, etc.). 

Why "Cantor"?

Geog Cantor was a mathematician who essentially went insane contemplating infinity, specifically, contemplating the continuum.  Though history regards him well, he was regarded as a crank by a lot of his peers:

Coincidentally, a "Cantor" is kind of like the lead musician in a church's music setup; an interesting meaning when thinking of an instrument designed to deal with intonation issues that weighed heavily on the church organ builders in the time before they all gave up on correct sound (with respect to numerology and aligning music with physical laws) and went to tempered instruments.