A little over two months ago I chanced across Audulus, an app for programming sound and music by connecting nodes and modules with virtual patch cables. While the visual programming aspect brings Max or PD to mind, with Audulus the approach is more closely modelled on (analogue) modular synthesis.
I hesitate at the comparison with Max since Audulus, in its focus on sound, is not as wide ranging (or complicated) as Max, nor is that the intention. Whatever the case, it has caught on with me in a way that Max for some reason never has. Part of that has to do with it existing on the iPad: Even though certain aspects of building patches may be more efficient on a Mac, I find the direct interaction with the interface on the iPad a nicer way to work. It’s great to be able ‘play’ a module or patch without the intermediary of an extra interface/controller.1
The best way to get an idea of Audulus is to see it in action. Here’s a short video of one of my first tryout patches, a pulse feed inspired by the slightly irregular clicks of our daughter’s milk bottle one sleep deprived morning during the first months of her life.
And here’s the (iPhone Voice Memo) recording of the original milk bottle clicks:
The Patch: Random numbers set the speed of a clock within a range of 0–20 Hz. That range can be further limited on the fly via a set of maximum and minimum knobs. Diving into the sub-patch behind the main UI reveals that the output of the clock is fed back to trigger a next sample-and-hold value (within the selected range) – and so it runs. Besides a pause switch I’ve included a counter that counts up to the Hz value of the clock before sending out the next trigger to the sample-and-hold – which makes for a slightly more stable pulse. A filter and two autopanners (the speed of one connected to the random values, and the other for limiting the stereo spread of the signal) are included for directly shaping the sound of the clock. There’s also a direct output for using the module to clock other modules.
The file can be downloaded here or on the Audulus forum.
Audulus is focused in what it is trying to do and I’ve found that that makes it conducive to getting on with making things. The visual polish of the interface makes it a pleasure to use and the coloured indication of signal flow in the patch cables is very useful for debugging and generally getting an idea of what is going on in complex patches. The modular approach means that one isn’t pushed in a certain mindset/direction in the way that one is when opening up a DAW, even when the DAW is as flexible as something like Ableton Live. It’s nice to fire up a blank Audulus infinite canvas and start building something without having to consider how small and contained or large and complicated it might turn out. There’s also something about it that takes me back to the fun of building oscillators by soldering together components on a home-etched circuit board as a ten year old.
The Audulus learning curve isn’t too steep and there’s an active community contributing a steady stream of patches and tutorials. Bimini Road, creator of the module library that comes with Audulus, has been churning out a nice set of 2 minute video tutorials and Tim Webb has put together a more extensive video introduction in three parts of about half an hour each:
Part One, Part Two, Part Three.
I also like the inbuilt help pop-ups of the iOS version rather than being shuttled off to Safari (as happens on the Mac), and on my iPad Air 2 I don’t have to dread the fans spinning into action as I do on my (admittedly a little long in the tooth) MacBook Pro. ↩