The iPhone and iPod Touch are getting their share of metronomes, guitar tuners, sonic toys, and even one fairly full-featured sample-based drum machine / arrangement tool (BeatMaker). But what about live synthesis? Noise.io (short for Noise for iPhone) claims to be the “first” synth. (I believe, technically, that honor goes to Einar Andersson’s iPhone synth, but that isn’t yet an official iTunes app, and it’s relatively basic by comparison.)

We’re waiting for a video demo and audio samples, and the developer warns that even the image above is an “ugly beta,” not the real thing. But we do know that the synth will incorporate:

ESFM technology – Enhanced Subspace Frequency Modulation. It’s an improved version of FM which has been developed especially for iPhone, the architecture has been redesigned to allow maximum user-friendly approach to creating new sounds.

(The developer explains what that means below.)

There’s also preset storage, tap BPM sync, and gestures for real-time sonic modification. There’s a curious-looking grid (shown at bottom) for modulation.

Noise for iPhone [Official Site. Warning: disturbing, nightclub-style black and pink color scheme]

Price: US$6.99

Availability: Real soon now

Many readers, particularly some loyalists to earlier, less-hyped PDAs and mobile devices, have dismissed some of the recent iPhone creations as “toys” – and in many cases, I agree. But, while I’ll believe it when I see it, I’m encouraged that this instrument is doing something unique with its interface and synthesis method – that is, making the touch interface something interesting and essential to the sound. That’s the kind of territory I hoped would be explored that’s been mostly untapped so far.

And if you don’t have an iPhone, don’t feel left out: the developers promise a plug-in version soon, for computers – with lots of natural advantages, like the ability to drop right into Ableton Live or route through effects. (Hey, I knew there was some reason we were carrying around those 6-pound laptops, eh?)

Mini-Interview with Developer

Amidio’s Ilya Tretiakov tells CDM about what the heck ESFM is (okay, doesn’t involve a flux capacitor or hyperdrive, as I theorized), how the synth performs, and what the plug-in will be like:


Noise.io will be available in the form of VST plugin at the end of this year. It is not supposed to interact in any way with the iPhone version – users will have to use mouse or MIDI controllers for tweaking the parameters and playing sounds live. We’re also planning to make the AU version as well.

Regarding Enhanced Subspace Frequency Modulation (ESFM): Ordinary approach to Frequency Modulation (that’s having operators and FM matrix) is too complicated for a non-expert, making it very difficult to create new sounds (because often the user doesn’t feel what causes changes in the sound when he’s tweaking the parameters).

ESFM is the new approach to Frequency Modulation method (which is best suited for making noise-based sounds and sound effects) which allows editing presets in a very evident manner. Currently there are four
operators that comprise the sound: Brother, Sister (waveform oscillators), Noizer (multiband noise oscillator), Filter (active multifilter module). All the operators can modulate (modify the nature of) themselves or another operator in a static or dynamic (via LFO or user’s gestures / accelerometer) ratio, this allows to create an immerse range of sounds.

At this stage, Noise.io is not intended to be polyphonic. The workchain looks like this: you fire up the Control Surface, and start sliding your fingers across the iPhone screen (just like in Korg’s Kaosspad or Kaossilator). Sounds are generally huge and massive, contain post-FX (especially my favorite "space  swooshes") and introducing polyphony seriously affects perfomance which is not acceptable for us.

I really like that it’s shipping not just as an iPhone app, but as a computer plug-in, as well. That’s not such an easy thing to do, and certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for everything, but I think this could become a trend in the long run for some synths. It’ll help, of course, if they’re synths that work well with making “swoosh” sounds with your finger gestures. (And incidentally, that may not only impact the Apple platforms, but future, smarter mobile platforms, as well. Mobile Linux soft synths, anyone?)

We’ll stay with this one as it develops.

Updated: The noise.io devs have posted a rough demo video:

  • http://toilville.com peter

    Im not surpised they are using fm, probably much less cost cpu wise. I also like people arent trying to cramp traditional synth ideas into the ihpone platform, and instead are trying to make a iphone appropriate instrument. And the price is sure nice.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yeah, I have to admit, despite the garish interface, this is the first one that actually makes me start to get interested in the platform.

    Of course, I could also see ideas like this (easily modulated FM, that is) being incorporated into DIY, standalone hardware synths with onboard sensors. Hmmm…

  • http://noise.io Ilya Tretiakov

    Hello, I'm one of the Noise.io developers,

    Many thanks for your positive feedback. I myself have been into making electronic music for about 10 years, and Noise.io is the instrument I've always been lacking.

    We at Amidio also do not approve of the fact that most of current iPhone music apps are basically not suited for professional use. Moreover, those apps are overpriced. We intend to stop this tendency, by introducing a synth, which can take a deserving position in every musician's studio.

    Regarding garish interface: One of the main Noise.io purposes is being a companion to DJs perfoming live.

    Modern dance music uses noise-based effects quite a lot, so we thought it would be quite nice if a DJ could plug his iPhone into mixer and accompany his mixes with live effects (serving as transitions and a kind of a future-gen music instrument). That's why the colors are vivid: to better see them in the dark :-)

    Maybe we will introduce skinning support right after the initial release.

  • john z

    kudos for the way the UI controls the machine.

    i'm all for being able to see things in the dark

    easily..but i agree with Mr. Kirn:

    purple and a starfield?

    another skin ASAP!

    the sequencer page looks much better..

    anyway, here's to you and your Co., Ilya.

    i will certainly download a copy!

  • velocipede

    I think the interface looks fine. Not everything needs to be stark and serious looking.

    I wonder if there will be any way to play a series of notes live or with a sequencer or arpeggiator.

  • http://noise.io Ilya Tretiakov

    Currently Noise.io's primary aim is creation of non-musically tempered sounds and effects.

    Anyway, there will be support for playing single keys, but researches show that's not too usable.

    We see it in this way: leave playing keys to the keyboards, and iPhone synth for extracting sounds that are changed in realtime – with your jestures.

  • poorsod

    TBH I'm more interested in Iphone controllers… before I upgraded to 2.0 I had mrmr and aka-remote on my Touch, and I'm very interested in seeing that concept redeveloped in a more robust way (MIDI please!). It would make a cool addition to an Ableton-based live show.

  • john z

    …i agree, poorsod, midi controllers for iphones!

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  • Alex

    I wonder why no one cares about audio quality…everyone speaks about Nintendo DS synths and I-Phone music "madness" but no one ever mentioned the actual quality of the audio hardware inside these portable gadgets…is it relative to a professional audio interface? Has it got lower latency or better DACs etc?

    I'm not convinced for the use of an i-phone as a professional music instrument..maybe it has some controlling potentials..

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Alex: obviously, no, the fidelity of what comes out of the DACs / headphone jack is nowhere near what you'd get from a high-end audio interface. (Latency is another issue — in this case the *input* interface may be the biggest issue. Because these devices don't have to run an OS, low-latency performance should actually be quite good.)

    The original Game Boy scene was really about what was unique in that sound, and people even mod the hardware to get better-quality output. This is more about fun. But I think there's nothing wrong with occasionally using something that's lo-fi and seeing what you can do with it musically. It's not as though you're using these as your primary recording device.

  • http://www.jamstudio.com Doug Edwards

    Wow this is pretty amazing. If the iPhone ran Flash it could run jamstudio.com – the online music factory where you create songs and backing tracks in minutes using a complete virtual band. Does Jobs saying Flash is not fast enough actually mean the iPhone hardware is slow?

  • tomh

    The proximity sensor (which turns off the iPhone's screen when the phone is placed near your face during a call) should be used as a kind of Theremin sensor!

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