Borderlands Tutorial (iPad version) from Christopher Carlson on Vimeo.

What makes the tablet software experience unique on the iPad is the sense of immersive software – touching the screen interface directly, and letting everything else fall away. There’s a cost – you don’t get the flexibility of desktop software or the tangible quality of hardware. But sometimes, that experience becomes something unique.

Users have been eagerly waiting since earlier this year for the release of Borderlands Granular because it suggests something really special. It has the feeling of a tool that is at its best in this medium: visual, touchable, and a window to new worlds of sound. And now, it’s here, at US$3.99 for any iPad. (If you’re willing to live with degraded performance, even the first-gen iPad works; I’ll test on that hardware. Speaking of which, someone want to buy me a new iPad?)

Amidst a deluge of iOS software, Borderlands Granular stands apart. It’s sonically adventurous, visually creative, and behind it is a robust research project and open source code that can enable it to run on desktop, too. It’d be great to see more projects take on those kinds of goals.

Here’s what I wrote in April – and now is a perfect time to revisit the conceptual sketch developer Chris Carlson sent us back then:

How do you visualize the invisible? How do expose a process with multiple parameters in a way that’s straightforward and musically intuitive? Can messing about with granular sound feel like touching that sound – something untouchable?

Answer: um, yes? Yes, it can? Have a try, and let us know what you think – and do post interesting sounds and music you make so we can all give it a listen.

Borderlands on the App Store

Chris’ research is available on his site:

Borderlands, Amazing-Looking Granular Sampler [iPad, Desktop, Free Source], and Beautiful Sound

  • Matt Leaf


  • Martin

    I bought it right away but, nice app but without sample import quite useless at the moment. Hope it is coming in update soon!

    • a_w_young

      I’m assuming you know that you can import samples via iTunes and that you’ve read the instructions. There’s talk of additional methods on the way as well.

    • Martin

      Massive! thanx! RTFM rules :-)

    • a_w_young

      I only saw it by accident, I rarely RTFM 😉

    • LibrarianRob

      Sample import works through iTunes, but it’s a pretty annoying process and my iPad 2 crashes the app whenever I try to import more than a few 7-8 second .wav samples. No file manager or support for something like Dropbox means I have to re-tether to my laptop every time I want to change the 3 or 4 samples in a scene. The plus side is that it is a beautiful and inspiring app, and lots of fun to play with, especially with the default sample content. But I don’t see myself playing with it too much until an update brings better file management and allows me to really dig in with a wide range of my own sample content and quicker sample loading.

    • Martin

      I do have iTunes Match and it works fine with it as long as you first download the files to iPad, worked fine with 2mb wav files.

    • Chris Carlson

      what sample rate are your files? on the iPad 2 i used for development, i could get at least 3-4 min of .wav files in there. the app has checks built in to handle low memory situations, but it sounds like on some iOS versions those are failing (resulting in a crash rather than a message from the app telling you what to do). mind if i ask the specs of your iPad? also – try closing other memory intensive apps and downsampling your audio to 22050 (borderlands runs at this rate to increase the number of clouds you can add).

    • LibrarianRob

      Thanks for the reply, Chris. This is a great app, and I’m sure you’ve been busy the last few days! My files are probably at 44.1k. I’m running the app on an iPad 2 32 gig, updated to the latest OS version. I have only Borderlands running when I do the iTunes sync (I closed all the other apps by double clicking the button and x-ing out of them). When I put too many files in the playlist (say 20 files, all around 7-8 seconds, though some around 15-20 seconds long), Borderlands starts to load and I see the wave forms stacking up on the app screen, but then it crashes before they are all loaded. I experimented with removing the samples one by one, re-syncing after each removal, and wasn’t able to load the app until I was down to only 3 or 4 of the short 7-second samples. Thanks for being so responsive–if you need more/different details, I’m happy to email with you too. Keep up the great work!

  • Subtext

    Excellent app! Glad to see it available even with some of the features like file i/o and snapshots not implemented yet. I would rather “grow” with app then to wait another a second to have it. Truly an amazing way to work with granular synthesis.
    Here is my first experiment with Borderlands:

  • Subtext

    Excellent app! Glad to see it available even with some of the features like file i/o and snapshots not implemented yet. I would rather “grow” with app then to wait another a second to have it. Truly an amazing way to work with granular synthesis.
    Here is my first experiment with Borderlands:

    • Chris Carlson

      nice work, and thanks for adding them to the group!!!

  • a_w_young

    So far I’m loving Borderlands (Granular)
    I haven’t delved too deeply, but the beauty is that it is so intuitive that the only depths that need plunging into are your own creativity. There isn’t much to “learn” once you figure out how to edit all of the modules.

    My only complaint really is that it would be nice to have more export options.

    Currently you can apparently sync with iTunes and manually grab the audio from your device that way, but of course it would be much more natural and convenient to be able to save elsewhere in similar methods to most mainstream apps.

    There is also a SoundCloud export but generally speaking, unless I’m demoing the software for someone, I’m never going to export directly from a music app to the public without further work.

    • Chris Carlson

      one note – you can make the track private in the upload options for soundcloud.

      as for other export, i was told by apple that simply by putting the recordings in the app’s documents folder, they should sync to iTunes when connected. sounds like that isn’t working for everybody, though. that will be one of the early fixes.

    • a_w_young

      Thanks Chris. I’m a relatively new owner of the device itself as well and it’s possible I might be missing something, but that wasn’t my inclination. I don’t know where in iTunes it would even show up once syncing has occurred. If you want screenshots or something sent to you I’d be happy to oblige.

  • Big Mister Doom

    Very nice stuff. Fun first few seconds with it. Very intuitive to start and also quite pretty to look at. I can’t wait to pull some of my own samples into this.

  • Øivind Idsø

    Great, great app, with lots of potential! Really don’t like the file paradigm (and the only way to export recordings seems to be through Soundcloud), but I know the author has plans for this in the future. It’s incredible that it only costs $4, it could easily have cost $40.

  • the one and only mr.Lonely

    I would love to see some more video tutorials of this applicable to different scenarios, like loop manipulation, beatcentric stuff, spoken word, fx etc…. even a video a day would be nice.

    • Chris Carlson

      a video a day is pretty much impossible given that i am working a full time job and have a family, but i’ll try to get some more tutorial vids out there eventually!

  • Subtext

    I posted a few more Borderlands recordings over at:

  • poopoo

    I went to a talk by Curtis Roads last night and he mentioned Borderlands and showed a video of it in action. He seemed to think it was pretty neat. Nice one!

    • Chris Carlson

      wow! definitely an honor!

  • Clark Grant

    Granular synthesis in action:

    • Chris Carlson

      looks and sounds great! thanks for posting this :) it’s really rewarding to see you guys making good use of the app!

  • kechuan

    Looks great, yes please add dropbox support.

  • jamiebullock

    This is a beautiful granular synthesis app for iOS – very very nicely done. It must have been a huge amount of work, especially to get this attention to detail.

    But in terms of the aspiration to be “musically intuitive”, I feel there’s still a long way to go. This feels very much a “tool” rather than an instrument, cf. the Orphion team’s thoughts on this, which I very much agree with (

  • Scott Looney

    hi Chris! excellent app and a pretty usable simplification of granular concepts. one question – are you planning to have live sampling support for this? i imagine the kinks will likely get worked out with loading files. – but i’d love it if i could record a different sound source through the mic/line and have these appear as files to use.

    • Chris Carlson

      yes, lower on the priority list given the huge demand for audio copy, etc. but i have thought about that indeed! thanks for the support :)

  • Ivo

    One of those Instant Buy apps, and really great looking too! Oh, And It was 2.99 not 3,99 :)oo
    I tried going creative since i have a jailbroken ipad and never use itunes tried putting the the wavs manually in the same folder as the original wavs, but the app sfailed loading after that.I guess i have to put a playlist somewhere too. itunes wont even install on my pc, and i would really get my own soundfiles in. Do they really need to be 22 Hz?


    • Chris Carlson

      no they can be at any sample rate above that, but the app will downsample them. you’re less likely to get a “not enough memory” message if you downsample the files before trying to load them. and yes, it won’t load the files from the folder containing the original files. you need the playlist since the app only looks for the playlist at the moment. (the default files are hard coded by name in an array).

    • Raub Roy

      You can rename similarly sized files to match the stock files in the app and have it work perfectly, btw…

    • Chris Carlson

      ah yes, that would work indeed.

  • SkyRon™

    beautiful interface, and great work!

    but, how is it that it’s so ‘homogenous’, harmonically? whenever I do any kind of granular synthesis, it never sounds like this. OK, maybe I like more noisy, gritty source material. being old-school (and, like, really, . . . old! – – maybe that’s it) , I like my musical explorations to be not so easy to listen to. I would buy the app if it were more difficult. But that’s just me. (the ghost of Charles Ives moves in me sometimes . . . . ). can this do something less recognizable-as-music, like in my own little video game (

    The waveforms look really different than what I’d expect to hear (like actual attacks and decays–like a drum track). Am I completely out to lunch here, or did anyone else sense that?

  • Sam Greene

    Lot’s of fun to play with. Buy it!

  • Chris Carlson

    Hey everybody – thanks for the enthusiasm and great comments so far! This is a repost from the facebook page for those who haven’t seen it…

    RE: sample management concerns – I really appreciate everybody’s feedback and i completely agree. This is an important feature that will make it into the app eventually (along with audio copy paste, scene saving, etc.)

    Here’s the reasoning behind why it isn’t in there now – Borderlands necessarily must load all samples into RAM. On my device, when loading anything above 50-100 MB of audio, the results can be very unpredictable. Furthermore, the available ram fluctuates quite a bit depending on the apps running int he background. Apple strongly suggests that you don’t try to load anything over 20MB, so Borderlands is already pushing it a bit. Given various challenges this presents along with the need for additional infrastructure and interfaces to deal with this facet of the app, I didn’t feel like i would be able to get something reliable ready soon enough. Ultimately, I decided that it would be better to release something you guys can start to use rather than postponing the app for months while I developed a full fledged sample management system. The lack of this capability factored into the pricing of the app, which hopefully is reasonable for most people.

    That being said – better sample I/O and set loading/saving have been and will continue to be HUGE priorities for V2 (along with gesture recording, etc.) I can’t promise that these features will appear overnight, as i am the sole developer, this is my first app (so i am learning as I go), and I am only able to work on it in my spare time, but I will do my best to keep the momentum going.

    Again, thank you all for your enthusiasm, for trying out the app, and for the great feedback so far! i will continue to work hard to resolve any crash issues/bugs in the near term, so please continue reporting problems via Facebook, Twitter, the google group or the email listed on the website. Thanks again for a great first week for Borderlands!!!

    • paul chambres

      hi chris, im having trouble with the sample import.

      ive created a playlist in itunes with 4 3 second samples & dragged the playlist onto the ipad symbol.

      ive then synced the ipad to macbook and still no import:(
      any ideas?

  • Mario Bjm Bajardi

    Chirs vey thanks! Is eccelent for lesson for my students :)…but if you can write me for LOAD my sample in! how do i do? :) thanks

  • A. Neglected Hobby

    Just downloaded and love the way it works. It was pretty easy to create an iTunes folder called “Borderlands” on my PC, drop in a few short clips and then sync my iPad, which put the folder into the Music Player on the iPad. Once I did that, Borderlands picked up the new file set when started. I’m looking forward to spending more time with this and highly recommend it to those who love experimenting with music and sound.

    • Mario Bjm Bajardi

      is this the solution?

    • Chris Carlson

      yep – that should do it. create a Borderlands playlist in itunes, add a few short sound files, and sync it to the ipad. the app will detect the playlist and load it. if the app crashes (which seems to be happening for some), try using only a few short sound files. seems like the memory check i put in place isn’t supported on all versions of ios. hoping to get a bug fix out sometime soon.

    • Chris Carlson


  • FXYZ

    hey there, I have Borderlands running on an ipad 2 connected to the Alesis IO Dock and can’t manage to use the output from the IO-Dock. Is there any plans to fix that? best regards f