For many musical artists, the frontier of reactive, interactive music has been a long time coming. RjDj, an app which we first saw as a series of interactive musical scenes on the iPhone, is now being expanded by its developers into a mini-ecosystem of interactive music tools for creation and distribution. I don’t think it’s likely to work for everyone – some artists may have their own ideas about how to distribute such work, or may take this concept in different directions for performance. But it’s nothing if not stimulating to watch.

Here’s the basic formula:

1. Authoring: The RJC1000 looks like an MPC-style drum pad, but it’s actually a tool for assembling scenes. (Currently Mac-only, but I believe built in Python so it could show up on other platforms.) In “expert mode,” you can write your own modules in the free patching environment Pd (Pure Data).

2. Playback: The RjDj on the iPhone and iPod touch, and now the Voyager app on iPad (top) provide “player” mechanisms – whether for your own performance, or as a way to distribute your work as “interactive albums” to listeners/users. Check out the RjDj apps for more. (Little Boots and AIR each did their own, exclusive artist app based on the same tech.) Lest you think this is all about Apple platforms, there’s also an “RjDjroid” Android app.

3. Network of music: The RjDj network is a means by which artists, for free, can get their work in the hands of users.

4. Open-source tools and patches you can steal use: Not everything the RjDj crew have done has been open sourced, which I have seen generate some disagreement. But there is some very nice stuff in the developer sandbox, a public API, and best of all, a brilliant Composers’ Pack chock full of Pd goodness. In fact, it’s probably the most useful set of Pd patches I’ve ever seen, a whole mess of useful macros for building usable instruments.

Check out the Voyager app, in particular. I love that it breaks out of the traditional interface paradigms — even those RjDj themselves are exploring with the MPC-style authoring tool. Voyager reimagines music listening not in lists of tracks or grids of beats, but in the liquid, alien landscapes of your dreams.

RjDj isn’t enough for you? With the open source tooling behind RjDj, there’s the possibility for an “ecosystem” beyond just the RjDj universe. (Pardon the use of that ecosystem word again. Let’s translate to “other good stuff could be happening,” or “general hoopla is involved,” or “see also: awesomeness.”) It means if you like the idea but not the implementation, you can try your own ideas. And it means, thanks to Pd’s ability to run just about anywhere (thanks to support for ARM architectures and Linux and not just the narrow world of x86 on Mac and Windows), the future isn’t dependent on one company’s vision. It can depend on yours.

I do think RjDj and the Pd development team that worked with them deserve some credit here, though. For the first time, we’ve seen an interactive “label” that’s devoted to making music dynamic and changing for the listener. If they’ve got it right, that means there’s far more to come.

And seriously. Go “steal” those patches. That’s the whole idea.

Here’s a look at the authoring app, in video demo form, running on the Mac:

Michael Breidenbrücker of RjDj has more to share with CDM. He writes us:

Scenes produced with the RJC1000 can currently be distributed into two different apps that have different interfaces and use cases. This is a strategy that we will increasingly apply. I think with the RJC1000 we have a very powerful authoring tool for reactive music. Music which is produced with the RJC1000 can be listened to or consumed in different ways on different RjDj apps. For example we implemented a very simple paging interface in our iPhone app because we think that is a good interface for the device. On the iPad though we did implement a drag and drop and twist and push interface for scene playback. The important point for the producer is that he only produces once and cans distribute his creation into several apps. The next app we are working on is a music game…

With the RJC1000 we are releasing a free authoring tool which is the tool to get your music into the RjDj network http://more.rjdj.me/make-music/ . We will continue development on new apps even on different platforms and the RJC1000 will increasingly be our main tool for that.

The RJC1000 runs on Pd (like everything we do ;-) which means it is a very powerful tool. You know we have started off with Pd as our main authoring tool but soon discovered that it is way too abstract for many musicians and their approach to music. I think with the RJC1000 we have found an elegant way to get musicians and producers on board and at the same time keep Pd very close.

Got questions? Made anything cool with those Pd patches and macros? Let us know.

  • http://www,joshmobley.com jmob

    I love/hate rjdj's stuff. the fact that you can't export audio to the desktop is a total deal breaker for me. No, they force you to upload low resolution mp3's to their website to "share" It's maddening to have such creative tools and no easy means to get the files off of the iphone/ipod touch without jail breaking. Your phone is the one device that must always be reliable. Hence, no jail breaking for me.

    This is a philosophical choice on they're part, not a technical one. Until they add real export functions, I just can't justify giving them my money.

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

    @jmob: Well, but that's exactly my point — I'm intrigued by what RjDj is doing, but there are so many open questions for how you could make reactive music work, in general. It's only going to work if people engage the problem.

    They've given everyone a gift in releasing some of this Pd stuff, and in raising these questions. Now, I hope we'll see a range of answers, not just the RjDj answer.

    For instance, I love the *idea* of the RJC app, but the way it's structured doesn't really work for me. So it's time to run with this notion of how to build meta-scenes of reactive musical materials. (In a way, even Ableton Live is one answer to that question.)

  • http://www,joshmobley.com jmob

    @peter right. I'm all about sharing patches and fostering a community. But… if I'm scoring a trailer and I snatch some dialogue and run it through rjdj, there is no way I can share that. Esp if it is a 5.1 mix and I can just snatch the Dialogue separate from the music, fx etc. To me, it's it's an open system thats closed to some of us.

    I downloaded the rjc1000 and as for as patches go, I could care less who uses them. Audio? not so much.

  • http://www.rjdj.me michael

    hi jmob and peter

    this is michael from RjDj. We thought about the recording export issue for quite a while and also discussed it with artists and labels producing RjDj scenes. Naturally they see the issue of exporting recordings to the desktop with very mixed feelings and the consent we found is that the recordings are exported and shared via RjDj.me. We think this is a great compromise and are actually very happy to have all the labels (also the majors) on board with this solution. Unfortunately this is not covering your use case but it is covering the use cases of the majority of RjDj users. We would love to offer better quality of the uploads and are working on different encoding methods. I hope you will see some updates soon.

  • http://disquiet.com Marc Weidenbaum

    Thanks for the RjDj coverage. I don't think there's a single sound-related app on my iPod Touch I use more often, with the exception of the Music app that syncs with iTunes — and even then there are days, as long as a week, when I just listen to (perhaps the more appropriate word is "through") RjDj.

    The only RjDj scenes I've found of interest are the ones that process sound in real time, but those I have found addictive. I hope that one of them will at some point have something special to it that will draw in a broader audience and kick up interest in the software.

    But for the time being, there's just nothing like an afternoon spent with a scene such as RjDj's Echelon while on the bus or walking around downtown or at the gym.

  • http://www.joshmobley.com Jmob

    @michael, thanks for responding. I am not talking about the artist versions of your software. Indeed, the exporting would present all kinds of legal issuses. I don't own those. I own trippy and whatever the first one was. I had asked a few times before the artist series were ever released why there was no exporting and never got an answer.

    So again, if you remove the artist versions from the equation, there is no real reason not to have exporting other than you refuse to do it. And this, my friend makes your applications a closed enviorment. Flip the switch and I will use your apps and support you through future purchases. If that's not going to happen then your apps are cool, but useless to me.

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  • http://www.rjdj.me michael

    @Jmob

    most of the artist scenes (e.g. AIR and little boots) are also available on the RjDj app. Trippy is also an artist app… i totally understand your point but as i said above, i think the upload function is a great compromise.

  • Frank

    @jmob wrote: "if I’m scoring a trailer and I snatch some dialogue and run it through rjdj, there is no way I can share that."

    I don't really see RjDj being the tool of choice when scoring a trailer or something for 5.1 sound. For this I would rather use Pd directly from the RjDj ComposerPack or through the RJC1000 on a laptop, because I can run it at a decent higher samplerate and I can use better microphones than on the iPhone.

    I don't think the obligatory MP3 compression of RjDj's current upload model makes things any worse that the obligatory half-CD-quality samplerate you have to run on the slow iThing.

    I admit a laptop is not as mobile as an iPhone, but even when mobility is required, there is better hardware for high-quality mobile recording available and it doesn't even have to be expensive (every portable recorder in the $100-150 range has better mics than an iPhone).

    I would vote for "private" uploads that don't show up on the RjDj.me page automatically, but I think, that's in store anyway.

  • http://www.joshmobley.com Jmob

    @Michael, time to move on then. Echolon is the scene I like… At least I think that's the one. It uses the mic to make generative patterns based on the input. It's been so long since I used these apps I'm not sure what the scene names are. They were wild. I wish you luch

    @frank not at all. We use everthing at our disposal to create a rich sonic pallate. Why should rjdj be any different.

  • http://www,joshmobley.com jmob

    ouch, bad spelling. sorry, was using my iphone.

  • http://www.martin-brinkmann.de martin brinkmann

    i am a little surprised that the missing

    high(er)-quality export" is actually a drm issue.

    i thought it was just due to the concept of

    rjdj beeing a medium for experiencing

    "reative music", and not a production tool.

    since it is easiely possible to use the scenes

    on other hardware (as long as they are released

    as "open source") i don't care too much.

  • J. Phoenix

    Forgive me if I'm stating something obvious, but if you really wanted to use a patch in RjDj as a "production tool", couldn't you simply record the audio directly from its headphone output? That's only an adapter and a DI box away.

    I think the creativity aspect to RjDj lies within the ability to create a musical work which is not going to sound the same to any of the users experiencing it in the moment–and in that sense I can see some artists being frustrated by having their patch's output rendered for the world.

    I know that if I'd created something that dynamically evolved in relationship to input, generating something unique each time, I would be somewhat disappointed to find some kid's momentary captured experience was what everyone equated my work to, instead of experiencing the patch for themselves.

    Not that it should stop anyone from recording anyways. Nothing ever has, has it?

    But if you wanted to use RjDj as a sort of effect, I don't think internal rendering is a good argument for "closed platform" anymore than choosing not using a Casio SK-1 because the device won't spit out a .wav file on command and then complain about it.

    My own hope would be for RjDj to be ported to Android, and for me to be able to produce patches on my Linux machines, but I gotta be honest…I like the RjDj concept enough to look for a used iPhone and a used Mac just to participate if I had to.

    I just wonder how utterly vindicated Brian Eno feels about generative music's role in the future.

  • http://rjdj.me/ Frank

    @J. Phoenix: "My own hope would be for RjDj to be ported to Android, and for me to be able to produce patches on my Linux machines …"

    Phoenix, you would be amazed to hear, that many scenes are actually produced on Linux! "World Quantizer" was made there, all my scenes (Smile, Gridwalker, …) are made on Linux and RjDj's Chris McCormick is a Linux guy at heart as well.

    Testing scenes on iDevices can be handled on Linux as well, as you can use the web upload. The only problem left is device management, like getting new app versions, where you are forced to run iTunes.

    Personally I don't even own a Mac and I don't intend to buy one either.

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