I have resisted getting an iPad because nothing intrigued me quite enough to warrant the cost—until now. As soon as I heard about FLUX:FX I began thinking about picking up yet another Apple device.
The app was jointly developed by Adrian Belew, engineer Daniel Rowland, mobile strategists MOBGEN and software developers, Elephantcandy—working together under the rubric NOIISE. It processes audio signals, but calling FLUX:FX a sound-processing app is like calling Adrian Belew a guitar player—superficially true, but far from the whole picture.
At the launch party for Belew’s FLUX (a separate music player app), Nick Mueller from Mobgen gave me a demo of this revolutionary new way to mangle guitar tones. I soon found myself at the Apple Store, buying an iPad and soon after installing FLUX:FX. A full review is down the line, but here are my quick first impressions.
I plugged a guitar into my new iPad Air 2 using iRig HD from IK Multimedia. I find playing with headphones uninspiring—wires tangling, no air moving—so I ran a stereo cable from the iPad headphone output to a pair of amps (a Little Walter 50 Watt and a Fender Blues Junior).
FLUX:FX downloaded and fired up easily. It performed surprisingly glitch free for something just released. The sound is outstanding; it is almost analog in its warmth. Operation is very intuitive, especially considering how deep this app goes. Over 30 effects are available to be placed, up to five at a time, into the signal chain. Placing and ordering effects is a simple drag and drop process. Modern sounds, like stutter looping, bitcrushing and ring modulation are abundant. The fun begins with the multitude of ways parameters can be modulated in real time, from the x/y pad to a gesture recording sequencer.
The presets are mind-blowing—and potentially speaker or eardrum blowing as well, so ride herd on those levels. Replacing the effects in any preset was easy enough; I could then rename and save it as my own.
For guitarists, there is always the issue of having to sacrifice the use of one hand to control the x/y control on a device like this. Even if you don’t have a built-in sustainer like Adrian Belew, FLUX:FX offers many work-arounds to this guitar-centric issue.
MIDI—FLUX:FX accepts MIDI control, so you can conceivably turn effects on and off with a MIDI foot controller pedal, while controlling the x/y functions with expression pedals. I also envision being able to manipulate the x/y axes with a Source Audio Hot Hand. That too can require taking the picking hand off the instrument, but it means freedom from having to be near the iPad, and looks more dramatic than fondling an iOS device. Alternately, you could attach the Hot Hand to the strings behind the nut, as I do when using an EBow. This allows you to wave the neck around while playing for simultaneously visual and sonic drama.
Delay: If you don’t want to deal with MIDI, You can put one of FLUX:FX’s delays at the beginning of the chain, set it for a long feedback, and then take your hand off the guitar to manipulate the sound of the delayed notes.
Looping: You could place the app after a hardware looper like a Boomerang or Line 6 DL4, a software one like Ableton Live, or an iOS device like Loopy (did I mention FLUX:FX was immediately Audiobus compatible?), and then manipulate the sound of the loop. FLUX:FX also contains its own short looping effects that I have yet to explore in full.
Sequencing: FLUX:FX contains a sequencer that will reproduce previously played or entered x/y commands. This creates some of the app’s most striking effects. A simple start command can begin the sequence, leaving you free to play with both hands.
The more I played with FLUX:FX the more interesting it got. On a second session I discovered, in addition to being able to set any effect parameter to x or y, I could set it to an envelope, so it varied with my attack. For example, the ring modulator’s LFO tempo can be set to go faster when you attack the guitar harder with your pick. This opens up an enormous world of expressiveness within this universe of ultra-modern sounds.
These are just initial impressions, (for a more info, you can watch Rowland’s videos at the Noiise YouTube site) but so far, I see this amazing app as an indispensible guitarist’s tool for creating forward thinking, experimental, and just plain cool music or sound design, in live performance and/or the studio. It is available as of December 17th at the Apple Store, and at $19.99 seems cheap for a game changing experience.