NodeBeat is the kind of experimental music application that’s thriving in the age of the multi-touch tablet. Its dynamic interface and sound are built on the foundation of free and open source software tools regularly covered here on CDMusic and Motion. OpenFrameworks, the Processing-like C++ library, handles the UI, as libpd, the embeddable version of graphical media environment Pure Data, manages the sound.

What you get is an open-ended plane on which you can graphically array sequences, far away from the standard grid, for generative and sequenced music. It’s good fun, which made it a hit on iOS. Developer Seth Sandler, working with Justin Windle, did a brilliant job. Then, earlier this month, NodeBeat made the jump to Android, with additional porting work by Laurence Muller. Android has been getting tablets that can hold their own — I’ve enjoyed my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, for instance. But the platform has remained severely starved of applications in contrast to iOS, but at least in place of quantity, there’s some quality: this application being one, tools like Mikrosonic’s RD3 or Reactable orControl or Nanoloop qualifying, too. (I’m not delusional; this does not make it at this point any serious competition for iOS, but it does demonstrate potential for developers. And I’ve already had the chance to use Reactable and Control in live performance, personally.)

That is, NodeBeat was temporarily available on Google’s Android Market. Then, without warning, Google suspended developer Seth Sandler’s seller account. This led to an extended discussion with Seth, other developers, and myself as we watched events unfold, ironically on Google’s own Google+. (Yes, that Google product works, despite what you’ve heard.)

It’s back now, so please, go buy and review it if you get the chance. If you’ve got a compatible Android, you’ve got truly no excuse as it’s a delightful app, and it holds up even in the crowded iOS platform:
NodeBeat @ Android Market
http://nodebeat.com/ (iOS and all versions; there’s even a free, desktop version with source code!)

Okay? Bought it? Good. Now it’s time to talk about how bad this is for a developer.

The account suspension on the Market represents a series of obvious flaws. First, of course, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place – Google support eventually acknowledged the suspension was entirely random, “incorrectly suspended” in the words of support, with no other explanation.

Second, support was largely nonexistent. Days passed during which Seth was left without any information. (Amidst discussions of how “evil” or “open” Google is, I’d sometimes be happy just to see them seem something other than desperately rushed. And that seems to be the primary “Apple-fication” of the market – the company’s rivals now are so rushed to try to compete that they screw things up constantly. “Don’t be crappy.”)

Third, and most bizarre, the application stayed available but payment was impossible, leaving customers confused and unable to buy the app.

Now, horror stories like this weren’t unheard of in the early days of the Apple App Store, and I still hear – with, happily, much less frequency – complaints from developers about Apple’s store and approval process. Apple deserves credit for ironing out those flaws, but from the skeptical perspective of a developer, It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that you may want to consider distributing your software via more than one means. Even as Apple fails to allow that on their mobile devices, that means considering going cross-platform. That’s not a philosophical claim; from the perspective of a developer, you don’t want to be dependent on only one company. Feel free to disagree, but my experience has shown otherwise as I’ve watched developers get burned. (And it’s worth noting that while Google couldn’t sell Seth’s app, Apple could.) Technically, via Android, developers are free on the vast majority of devices to sell direct or sell via alternative stores; unsurprisingly, Seth submitted his app to the competing Amazon App Store and is awaiting approval there.

None of this, of course, excuses Google from a big customer failure on Android Market. And whereas Apple’s earlier hiccups occurred as it was the only game in town, Google is making an uphill battle even worse. With Amazon’s Fire on the horizon, there are two questions to watch: one, can Amazon deliver enough tablets to create the tablet market Android has thus far lacked, and two, will their store deliver a better experience? Meanwhile, Google continues to promise a better Market; it’s all I hear about at developer events, largely because it’s the primary complaint from developers. As tech pundits make largely-unsupported claims like “Android users don’t like to buy software,” as if they’re a bunch of degenerate freeloaders, I’d point to the often-inferior Market and frustrating hardware experiences.

All we wanted from Google was to buy this app; happily, that’s been restored. Looks quite nice on a Honeycomb tablet.

But, let’s put it this way: in addition to the obvious range of iOS choice, yes, there are superb applications beginning to appear on Android. For that, I credit developers like Seth and his collaborators. Even as we push for better audio performance, some of those applications are already running exceptionally well on new tablets and higher-end phones. If you have one of these devices, you can fire these up and enjoy making some sounds. And because you can’t always rely on another vendor to get things right, having cross-platform, free and open source tools behind these applications means developers have the flexibility to adapt to a changing market, and to focus on creative design and not constantly reinventing the wheel.

Here are some notes on NodeBeat’s creation on our forums.

And let us know what you think of NodeBeat, or if you do have an Android device you’re using for music (or a Fire on pre-order, for that matter).

  • http://www.cooloutmusic.com COOLOUT

    I tried to purchase Nodebeat during the whole fiasco. Once the Android market didn't work I immediately went to the Amazon app store to get it. Unfortunately it's not on there, so I just waited a couple of days for Android market to sort things out. I'm sure most folks did the same. In the future, let's hope more developers start to offer their apps in at least two places as a rule. The Android Market is the most convenient and the standard, but it shouldn't be the only game in town.

    BTW- Nodebeat is working great on my modded, overclocked Nook Color (CM7 FTW!!!). Now if only someone could just make a decent DAW on Android….

  • david

    Have to mention Caustic too, if you're going to list quality apps. Its latency is very low, and really shows what can already be done under Android. Zequence is a pretty decent DAW, IMO there's only so much you can do on these little computers. I have Renoise on my netbook and it runs fine. If someone would port it to tablets that would be a dream come true.

    I love the concept of nodebeat. The problem I have with it in its current state is that the simple delay effect on all instruments is oddly necessary to flesh the overall sound out musically but also makes every composition sound a lot like the last one. Because the generators are very basic, interaction with them is too, and pretty soon there are hardly any surprises left. It would be nice to be able to vary the delay and set it on a per-generator-basis and have the proximity of the nodes influence more parameters.

    It's like someone is trying to get to the same place Jasuto was going, but from the other side of the scale: Jasuto had the depth, but the interface needs work, Nodebeat has a slick interface but needs more depth. I'm interested to see what will come of it.

  • http://www.cooloutmusic.com COOLOUT

    Um…for the record, Zequence is a sequencer and NOT a DAW as in "digital audio workstation". It can be a little confusing in that some DAWs started out as midi sequencers (like Cubase or Logic) but some didn't (like Pro Tools or Adobe Audition). There currently isn't an Android app that will enable me to record multiple tracks, edit/comp, and mix with standard tools like EQ and compression to make a final mix.

  • http://www.cooloutmusic.com COOLOUT

    ….but I sure could use one right now.

  • Peter Kirn

    Someone got a link to Zequence?

    Caustic's great, too, yes; forgot that!

    I suspect anyone reading this story, or Seth's notes on Google+, is going to offer their app in more than one place, no question. ;)

  • david

    https://market.android.com/details?id=zquencestud

    Technically a Sequencer, yeah. But that's all we can expect at this point I guess. Until Android get's better at audio that is. There are four track apps but reviews seem to indicate that latency is an issue.

  • Leslie

    Latency, latency, latency… and sadly NOT fixed in the latest Ice Cream Sandwich…

    Please show us just one Android app capable of what any of the iOS synth apps can do i.e real time low latency note input and MIDI support… None?

    Next…

  • david

    Even if latency is fixed, android will never have access to the huge amount of hardware accessories iOS has. A least until all hardware manufacturers agree on one single standard for i/o which will probably never happen. 

    That said, I don't think mobile OSs will seriously contest full scale computers in the mid-term, i.e. as soon as touchscreens become the general norm. E.g. the type of laptop needed to perform live can typically handle multiple monitors in non-gaming applications. As soon as those monitors are two 24" touchscreens, only a masochist will want to bring his iPad/Tablet.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Leslie: I prefer data to conjecture. We're working on testing low-latency performance across iOS and Android. And I'm already hearing from one Android developer that new APIs are improving low latency performance, which we'll also be testing. It does also appear that scheduling is changed in Ice Cream Sandwich.

    It's too early to make the kind of statement you're making, though; the data isn't there yet. It may bear out your comparison, but we won't know with certainty until we test.

    @david: Android isn't as consistent in physical connector availability, but it's not accurate to say there's no standard. There are standard APIs for addressing hardware. And you have the ability to do some things with hardware I/O and Bluetooth for wireless — the latter making a bit more sense than wires for this form factor — that even iOS lacks.

  • Peter Kirn

    Oh, and I still like knobs and physical controls onstage. I like to get that in there, even when it's not directly appropriate. I'm not certain everybody's onboard with touchscreens being their priority for live performance. And anyway, NodeBeat is really intended for experimentation and composition, and I'm having a lot of fun with it on both the iPad (1) and Galaxy Tab 10.1.

  • Leslie

    @David…

    First of all, there is no need to test latency performance on iOS as it is proven already to be very low :) and judging by Caustics Dev comments, ICS didn't change anything…

    BTW; You haven't give us an example of Sunrizer, NLog Pro, Addictive, Alchemy, Arctic, Animoog, NanoStudio, BeatMaker, Garage Band, etc; etc; type of android app…

    Oh sorry, there are none…

  • Peter Kirn

    @Leslie: My name's not David.

  • Leslie

    Coustic's Dev notes on latency in Android from KVR forums:

    "Leslie wrote:Fair enough, but will it be possible to do the realtime recording (low latency, direct/realtime input) with Caustic anytime soon..? Or is asking for such feature on Android is pointless….?Well latency is absolutely out of my control, so I'm afraid if I add "real-time" recording, people will just complain that it's pointless… I'll probably give it a try anyway and do my best to place the notes with some predictive quantizing. If it's usable, I'll put it in."

  • Leslie

    @Peter..

    "@Leslie: My name’s not David."

    Ooopsy… ;)

  • Leslie

    Glimpse of hope perhaps…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55r6IaARsJw

  • david

    @Leslie: No doubt iOS has a lot more to offer, app-wise, I believe that has been stated. Aside from open vs. closed platform considerations, we need to be fair in that Android is only just entering the realm of iOS as far as broad circulation of high-end Hardware goes. A year ago or so, the Samsung SGS and Nexus One were about the only phones that could handle CPU intensive applications, most of the rest were mid-level phones at best and often featured a heavily customized version of Android. Hence, there was no real market.

    The surge in Android music apps comes with a surge in high-end phones and tablets. Android music only really has been feasible since this year, because the hardware manufacturers finally woke up to the fact that Apple *hasn't* already secured the entire high-end market and there's ample room to compete. Which is also why we weren't seeing many significant Apple lawsuits until recently. Android hardware has grown up. The apps will follow.

  • josh g.

    Is that forum link broken or is it just me?

  • http://robotcowboy.com Dan Wilcox

    Yeah, good to see OpenFrameworks and ofxPd on 2 app stores!

  • http://mucca-pazza.org Andy

    NodeBeat would really shine as a controller.  The built-in synth engine is so basic, that after about 10 minutes you've heard everything.  If you could change parameters for the generators and nodes, and then send the data via CoreMIDI, you'd have an amazing app on your hands.

  • Ben

    @Peter, @Leslie,

    I think it is a shame that the fast pace of Android releases has not addressed this audio latency factor. in a phone- a niche, non-essential feature, one could argue. But in a tablet, music recording/playback could be a very attractive feature, because of advances in modelling, ability to transfer to DAW, looping, clipped-to-mic stand, portability, unlimited presets, backing tracks, voice commands etc.

    USB 2.0 is sufficient for x86 based audio hardware: could that be a way to go?