Wizdom Music GeoShred (iPad Musical Instrument)
By Anderton |
The iPad can do apps—but with GeoShred, it does a musical instrument
by Craig Anderton
iPads are fun, and although I have lots of apps installed only some are real “keepers.” When it comes to making sounds, Propellerheads’ Figure is still the best way to kill a couple minutes while waiting for the train, and Cakewalk’s Z3TA+ iOS lets me do actual synthesis when the mood strikes. But my iPad gets most of its exercise reading news, checking the weather, and listening to internet radio. To put an iPad in the same category as a piano or, more tellingly, something with the expressiveness of a guitar is ridiculous…right?
Actually, no. Although GeoShred ($19.99, $14.99 limited-time introductory price) was just released on the App Store, I’ve been tracking its progress since I saw a beta at AES and couldn’t believe my ears. But that’s not what knocked me out: the truly amazing aspect was that I couldn’t believe my hands. GeoShred responded to nuances and gestures in a way that vaulted it into the musical instrument category. This was the first iPad “app” that made me want to plug its output into my computer, hit record, and start playing. Here’s why...and if you want to see why, jump to the videos at the end of this review.
Mode is just one of many adjustable parameters—GeoShred is far more versatile than it might appear at first blush.
IF YOU WANT A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT…
…get a musician involved. GeoShred is the result of a collaboration between Wizdom Music’s Jordan Rudess, keyboardist for the Grammy-nominated band Dream Theater, and the DSP audio modeling expertise of moForte, spearheaded by Dr. Julius O. Smith III. Although Rudess isn’t known as a guitarist, he does play it and “gets” what makes the guitar so special. Translating that to swiping your finger across glass may seem like an impossible goal, but that’s where moForte came in. For example, I asked Jordan and Julius about the responsiveness, which seemed unusually fast. Apparently that was one of the hardest things to get right, because not only is there audio latency, but also delays in converting touch to sound. Had they not been able to overcome that limitation, GeoShred would have been a cool app—not a responsive musical instrument.
BUT I’M GETTING AHEAD OF MYSELF
GeoShred arranges notes on a grid that defaults to six horizontal “strings,” each tuned a fourth apart. While not exactly like a guitar, guitarists will understand it and non-musicians will make sense of it. There are three main playing modes:
- Piano: This quantizes everything to half-steps, like a piano, and doesn’t allow for finger vibrato.
- Guitar: This behaves like a regular fretted guitar—you can tap, or slide discreetly, between notes, yet still wiggle your finger to perform vibrato.
- Slide: This turns off the quantization and is my favorite mode. It’s like a perfect slide guitar.
And this brings up something extremely clever—why you don’t need unerring accuracy to hit the right pitch in slide mode, yet can add vibrato so easily. Jordan explained that when you “land” anywhere on a note (as bounded within a note’s blue border) when sliding to it or touching, GeoShred will produce the note pitch accurately. However, once you’ve landed and produced the note, quantization goes away, which is why you can do finger vibrato. This is all transparent, fast, and feels totally natural. The note spacing is such that it’s easy to play chords, and this “intelligent quantization” means as you slide around the pitches will be right on—until you start wiggling your finger or sliding to other notes, and then you’re free to play “around” the pitch.
This is where GeoShred gets its first award for DSP above and beyond the call of reality itself. Feedback has always been an important component of my guitar playing, so I know feedback—how it feels, how to start it, that moment when the note “grabs” and goes into sustain, and the interplay of harmonics as you move the guitar around. With GeoShred, the X/Y pad toward the upper left does the magic; the default is set up so the X-axis is delay, and the Y-axis is feedback. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it doesn’t just sound like feedback, it feels like feedback.
There are also two other wonderful expressiveness options, Whammy (which snaps back to center pitch when released, so you can “paw” at the control to create fast, successive pitch bend changes) and Palm Mute, which—as you expect—changes the tonality and decay. A Stiffness slider changes the modeled characteristics of the strings, but that just hints at the sophistication—and accessibility—of the physical modeling engine at GeoShred’s core.
If GeoShred did only what I just described, it would justify the superlatives I’ve heaped on it, and that would be the end of the review. But we’ve only scratched the surface.
Dive into the second page, and you'll not only find effects, but a huge number of ways to configure the sophisticated physical modeling engine.
- Create and edit an FX chain with hex distortion, fuzz, 4-band EQ (2 bands of shelving, 2 boost/cut bands), echo, chorus, reverb and amp/cab—with three different tone stack and six cabinet options.
- Change the guitar’s characteristics: different pickups, different string materials, body type with variable parameters, even different bridges, including a sitar bridge. This is where GeoShred picks up another award for DSP excellence. An additional section, “Variances,” lets you make on-the-fly changes to strategic parameters. Not enough? Then enter the Expert page, with a seemingly endless scrollable selection of parameter groups (which you can then call up to modify additional parameters within the groups), but be careful…I’ve heard rumors that people have disappeared into Expert Page and never returned. Just sayin.’
- Alter basic configurations. You can change up the grid layout as much as you want—narrower, wider, more strings, more notes, different “string” tunings, number of “frets,” and more. How about an arpeggiator? Tap tempo? Playing chords from individual notes—with adjustable delay between successive notes? All of the above.
- Worm hole detector and time travel module. This allows jumping to different star systems, and…okay, I made that up. Maybe next rev.
Also note that GeoShred supports Inter-App Audio, Audiobus, and Air Turn for changing presets.
CONCLUSIONS (FOR REAL THIS TIME)
To explain every nuance of GeoShred properly would turn this from a review into the music software equivalent of War and Peace. So here are my main takeaways.
- GeoShred is unadulterated I’ve been playing it in my office and if people aren’t in the room, they think I’m playing guitar but can’t understand how I can get those sounds at such low volume levels. If they are in the room, everyone—without exception—has wanted to know where they can get it. When I let them play it, they smile.
- The interface reminds me of a video game, in that it has levels. The first level is what happens when you turn it on, and that by itself is really all you need. But then you can go to another level where you play with effects, a third level for configurations, and a fourth level where you can configure the configurations. It’s sort of like buying a vehicle that’s a tricycle for toddlers in the morning, a 10-speed bicycle for schoolkids in the afternoon, a luxury sedan in the evening for getting home from work, and a Ferrari Testarossa after midnight.
- GeoShred has remembered something Apple seems to have forgotten: everything should be obvious, nothing should be hidden, and gestures should be inviting. It’s mentally “plug and play” as well as physically.
- This is the first instrument I’ve seen that truly realizes the promise of physical modeling to such a refined degree. Granted, software like Creamware’s 6-String and A|A|S instruments like Chromaphone and Lounge Lizard set the bar high, but Geo is bringing modeling to the masses…whether they know it or not. And, I have it working on an iPad 2, where it’s typically using about half of the CPU. That is mind-boggling.
GeoShred is a breakthrough for the iPad. Some might think it’s the best evidence yet that there has indeed been reverse engineering of alien technology, but if that’s the case, then aliens play guitar…and worship Jimi Hendrix.
Launch demo video by Jordan Rudess
GeoShred User Tutorial from moForte
Here is a recent video from 14 year old Prog Rock Keyboardist, Kashyap Iyengar in New Delhi India. He has done some great things using GeoShred. Here is his take on the Beatles' classic, 'Within You Without You'
Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.