iPad App – NodeBeat

NodeBeat is a generative music app. I first learned about this app at the electro-music festival in 2012 from LuxSeeker, another electro performer. Like many generative apps, NodeBeat is a bit abstract, and takes some getting used to. Half the fun is exploring the interface. What do we mean by generative music?

You can look up a formal definition elsewhere on the web I am sure, but for me, generative music is a way to tap into a subconscious sonic world using certain parameters set up by the technique. There are all sorts of analog and digital generative music, but most of them have one thing in common – you are giving up some control. How much control, and under what conditions (rhythm, key, melody, tempo, etc) may vary.

Using a minimalist approach of three basic icons (Square, Circle and Dot), the player can develop rhythmic and chordal patterns on a colorful screen. Over top of this, the player can solo using a set scale (many are provided). Yeah, pretty abstract, and without a complete tutorial it is difficult to describe. So let’s just listen to some examples.

First we’ll hear a fully formed backing part created by moving the Square, Circle and Dot elements around until I liked the result. This is called “Hungarian Bedtime”. I’ll explain why in just a bit.

So yeah, it’s nice but needs something more… which is where the melodic options come in. NodeBeat uses a pre-set ribbon controller type scale system that makes it possible to play without making any real mistakes. This can be seen as a crutch in some ways, but there are many ways to configure this so that it is more challenging. The important part is that NodeBeat is fun, and lets you create something quickly.

In addition to settings for the key you are playing in, you can change the octave relative to the octaves on a traditional keyboard. You can also select from a variety of preset scales, and one of those is Hungarian Folk. I selected this one for my example because – in my acoustic capacity – I have actually played with a Hungarian folk group. So here’s the results with a little melody line and some bass added:

So it isn’t brilliant, and that’s not really the point. In fact, you only become self-conscious when you start to record this stuff. Speaking of which, there is an on-board record option, but it only lets you do one layer of melody playing on top. I prefer to use an off-board recorder so I can separate rhythmic and melodic elements. The melodic “instruments” are different type of synth sounds based on wave forms, and they can be played by themselves without the rhythm. So you could conceivably use NodeBeat as its own instrument, taking the best performances from the best sounds or sections of your loop.

NodeBeat will recognize multiple contacts on the screen, so you can play melody and bass at the same time. So this piece will likely evolve into something more with practice. The reason I called it Hungarian Bedtime was that the scale and the groove were very soothing, and then it really was bedtime and I didn’t get any of my first experiments on tape. So now I am going back to flesh out the idea.

This is a deep – if simple – app. There’s gravity and MIDI features I am not getting into right now simply because I have a lot of other apps I want to get to. But I have already got $3.99 of fun out of it and can see it being used on my electro-radio show, either live, or in prepared pieces. If you take this app to bed with you and a good set of headphones, beware: you may not actually sleep!