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A look at Tabletop and iPad music-making with Paul Salva [Video]

August 20, 2011 |  2:10 pm

Paul Salva using Tabletop on an Apple iPad 2

Apple's iPad has led to the creation of hundreds of thousands of apps available in the iTunes App Store.

There are a ton of music related apps: slick keyboards, entertaining drum simulators and a growing selection of games that play off of music and rhythm.

And while that's all good and fun, musicians are increasingly looking to the iPad in creative ways to make serious music as well. The Gorillaz are a fine example of this, using more than a dozen different iPad apps to create their album "The Fall" in December. But the majority of those apps often seek to recreate one specific instrument.

Tabletop, a new iPad app from San Francisco-based start-up Retronyms, is taking a different approach.

Retronyms has built what amounts to a full-on digital version of on electronic musician's studio with keyboards, synthesizers, drum machines, samplers and sequencers, as well as various effects that can be used in isolation or in concert with one another to produce full-on songs entirely within the one app.

While Tabletop isn't the first to bring this idea into fruition -- savvy iPad owners can create songs in Apple's Garage Band -- it is one of the most customizable music making apps out there thus far.

TabletopscreenshotWhat Retronyms is trying to do with Tabletop is create a studio, an environment in which users will eventually be able to bring digital recreations of real-world hardware into the app as they see fit.

"We see Tabletop as more of a platform than just an app," said Keith Pishnery, who heads up artist outreach for Retronyms. "Normally when you buy an app, the app doesn't always change that much over time.

"What we really want Tabletop to be is an environment that people will use and stick with for a long time. We really do see it as a continually expanding platform that we can expand and add more devices to. And then musicians can route the devices in the app together however they want, and create new combinations and new music."

Among the devices available in Tabletop upon its release are Gridlok (an Akai MPC-style sampler can record from outside devices connected to the iPad), the M8RX: Tone Matrix (a sequencer similar to a Monome), the RS3 keyboard, the Mr. O master output, four-channel mixers and eught-channel mixers, the Spinback (a turntable) and the Recorder M2, which handles in-app recording.

Retronyms worked with electronic music producers and DJs such as S.F-based Exillon and L.A.-based Paul Salva, who heads up the independent label Frite Nite, to create demo songs for the app and help with Tabletop's sound design.

More of that sort of collaboration with musicians is coming, but Retronyms is also hoping to work with companies that make real-world hardware to create virtual versions of their devices in Tabletop, Pishnery said.

"The app as it exists now isn't even close to what we want Tabletop to be in the long-run," he said. "We're working on building more devices and hoping to add a lot of new stuff in the next couple months. And hopefully we'll have some stuff from some third-party partnerships coming soon too.

"We've already hit some of our goals and we're able to hit the top 10 in the music category within the first day and hit the top 3 in less than a week and we haven't even had TableTop out for a month yet. But we've got a lot more planned. We're just getting started."

Salva, who contributed some sound design, demo songs and helped with testing Tabletop, stopped by The Times' offices earlier this week to show off how he uses Tabletop and to talk a bit about how he sees tablets such as the iPad fitting into what musicians do as producers and in live performances.

Check out the video below to see Tabletop in action and to hear what Salva has to say, and let us know what you have to say in the comments. Are you a musician? Do you use any music making apps on the iPad? Is the iPad as a music maker a fad or a revolution?

[Correction 7:32 p.m.: An earlier verision of this story incorrectly said Tabletop's Recorder in-app device only recorded from an iPad's headphone jack. It actually records any in-app sounds, while recording from external devices and instrumens is handled by Tabletop's Gridlok sampler.]


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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo (top): Paul Salva using Tabletop on an Apple iPad 2. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times

Image (middle): A screenshot of Tabletop on an iPad. Credit: Retronyms

Video (bottom): Paul Salva talks Tabletop, the iPad and music making at The Times. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh and Nathan Olivarez-Giles/Los Angeles Times