I discovered an app called Caustic 3 which I installed on android. It is described as follows:
Caustic 3 is a music creation tool inspired by rack-mount synthesizers / samplers rigs.You can download it for free on google play but if you want to be able to save or export (important features!), you'll need to buy an upgrade key. At $9.99, this app is a steal.
Everything is real-time and optimized for mobile devices.
Caustic's design is informed by limitations of being a mobile app on a small screen. It makes up for the limitations by providing a "batteries included" experience, sane defaults/presets, and making everything you need a few presses away. Rather than give you absolutely everything, it gives you a well thought out subset of essentials and a stream-lined interface. It's not an environment of providing harsh limitations for the sake of it; limitations are either by necessity or to provide compromises that enhance your work-flow as you make music.
The app initially seems pretty unassuming, but looks are deceiving. Upon opening a new song, the app greets you with the following screen which prompts you with how to get started and links to tutorials/docs. Even without looking at the tutorials/docs, it is often easy to intuit what you should be doing.
|The "press the button" page|
|"Empty" rack page|
Below is an example of the rack page after adding various instruments:
|Rack page with machines inserted. Also note my difficulty taking screenshots without the view being obstructed by the volume slider.|
Most DAWs provide instruments via 3rd party plugins that you load, usually via VST. Caustic doesn't got this route. It gives you a limited number of built-in instruments. Once again, your choices all fit on a single page.
Initially this seems limiting only having a few selections, but there is a large amount of flexibility within each of the instruments provided. Also there is a lot of diversity of sound in the synths; they each have their own distinct style. Per the caustic website, here the synths available:
* Subsynth - Virtual analog subtractive synthesizerIn a way, calling this "limited" is all a matter of perspective. If you put all of the physical hardware equivalents of these in a room it would be considered a tragedy of excess.
* PCMSynth - Multi-sample wave synthesizer
* BassLine - 303-like monosynth
* BeatBox - 8-channel sampling drum machine
* PadSynth - Harmonic table pad synthesizer
* 8BitSynth - 8bit equation solver synthesizer
* Modular - Fully configurable and routable synthesizer
* Organ - Hammond-like tonewheel organ with rotary speaker
* Vocoder - 8-band harmonic vocoder
* FMSynth - DX-style 3-operator fm synthesizer
* KSSynth - Karplus-Strong string modeling synth
* SawSynth - Supersaw-type polysynth
Caustic is a pattern-based sequencer. You create patterns for each instrument slot and then arrange them in the sequencer view. This pattern-based work flow can really aide getting a song done fast.
|The pattern editor/sequencer|
From any given rack page, you can swipe up or down on the left border to switch between the different racks. There are options along the right to select patterns and copy/paste. Everything is close by.
To add a pattern, you simple tap an empty grid and it will prompt you on what pattern to add. There are a limited number of possible patterns (64), but honestly I have never needed anywhere close to the maximum number.
|Editing a pattern|
In the effects page, each channel can have a maximum of two effects. It is perhaps one of the harsher limits. I often find myself wanting to add more to a channel.
Similar to the instruments, you can to choose from a predefined number of effects that have been carefully selected and cover most of what you'll ever need.
One of the cool things about Caustic being completely self-contained is that you can share the project files with anyone. You have options for exporting to WAV or OGG. It even has the ability to export stem files if you want to load them up in another DAW. I can imagine it being a great way of "prototyping" songs.
Caustic manages to pack a lot of features without the interface feeling in anyway cramped or unwieldy. I've had fun using it.
If you are looking for infinite and unbounded flexibility, Caustic doesn't offer it. Its strength is in its willingness to trade away that flexibility for better design.
I'll have a EP coming out soon with some songs I've been working on.