It’s a good sign when you need to invent a new verb to describe using a music tool. And so, get ready for some wabbling.

Feel like there aren’t any new synthesis techniques? Scanned synthesis is a reasonable example. Fundamentally, it involves wavetable synthesis – producing new sounds by playing back recorded wavetable content – but navigates those sounds by “scanning” through pitch and timbre independently at slow speeds. By doing so, it simulates slow vibrations in the real world, and it leans heavily on the way human physical control and hearing work.

The technique was developed by Bill Verplank (the legendary interaction designer – who helped coin the term), Rob Shaw, and synthesis giant Max Mathews (who invented – uh, the whole digital synthesis thing). It’s a marvel both of sound design and interaction, accordingly.

English developer Robert Tubb has reinterpreted scanned synthesis in a beautiful implementation for iPad, with fingers running across geometric meshes that make the relationship of input to sound clearer. The resulting app: The Wablet. Rob writes CDM:

It’s the first implementation of Scanned Synthesis on a multi-touch screen. A 2D mesh of springs can be, uh, “wabbled” with the fingers, a path is scanned at audio frequencies and hence gestures are turned into sound. It won a prize at the DAFx conference this year.

It sounds amazing, and the interaction of graphics, touch, and sound is extraordinary – so, you’ll need to watch the video.

Wikipedia has a great capsule description of scanned synthesis with resources, including various implementations (like a free set of externals for Pd and VST plug-ins, in case you don’t only want to use an iPad):

Full description:

The Wablet is a physics based synthesiser and noise toy. An animated mesh of springs can be vibrated with the fingers. A path around this mesh is read as into an audio waveform, and hence your gestures are turned into sound. Complex evolving drones, chiptunes bleeps or full on noise can be produced, and beautiful undulating patterns created. The physical properties of the mesh can be changed using the sliders, new sound-paths can be drawn onto the Mesh and the App comes with a Max/MSP patch for wireless MIDI control and more in depth adjustable parameters.

There’s also a full thesis on the technique, and a Max for Live patch to assist in wireless MIDI control.

Price: ยฃ0.69 on the iTunes App Store

Now, the bad news: if you’re in the US, you can’t get the app, as there’s a patent on the technique there. (Can anyone advise on that, in fact?)

  • Ri

    The graphics!!

  • Mush

    Any chance of a classic max patch for controlling it or using midi-interface with the iPad? I don’t own Live, but I have a Max 6 licence and an io-dock for my ipad…

  • Jef T-scale

    Just so you know guys, Robert Tubb is not only a talented developer.. He’s mainly a very very very, very talented musician! He’s released 4 awesome albums and many equally awesome EPs as Cursor Miner.

  • Chris R Gibson

    “Now, the bad news: if youโ€™re in the US, you canโ€™t get the app”

    That is bad news, I was already on my way to buy it :( Talk about a tease and a cold shower!

    • Rob Tubb

      Should be in US store now ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • syncr

      Take my money!

    • Chris R Gibson

      Thanks Rob, just checked back and saw your note here…on my way to purchase ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Rob Tubb

    Mush: Here’s a .maxpat that should work in the standalone version.

    Let me know if not!

    • pierlu

      hi rob, how to send midi data from a DAW like ableton? midi channel? thanks

    • Cornel Wilczek

      This is great Rob. I’m too having problems using the m4l device to connect to the app. I have my midi networking setup correct and controlling other apps – just can’t seem to connect to wablet.

    • Rob Tubb

      Hmm, I should probably post some kind of instructions for this… but just incase there’s a misunderstanding- it’s not actually midi it’s OSC. So you need to go into the patch and set the udpsend object to the ip address of your ipad.

    • pierlu

      all right, it’s osc, i suspected it. any chance of having the list of osc messages and ranges? thanks

    • Cornel Wilczek

      Thanks Rob, that makes sense. All working. thanks

    • mush

      Thanks. It worked perfectly! Great support, I wasn’t expecting that for something at this price point! Thanks for a nice instrument too!

  • Chris R Gibson

    When it is said there is a patent on this method, is it a more specific implementation than what is implied by this product? If not, how does Humanoid use/sell it or is he just using the name and not actual method??

    • John Proctor

      I originally only released Scanned Synth Pro outside the US as well. I tried for a long time to arrange licensing with the patent holders but there seemed to be no interest at all. I don’t think that the amount of money I make from it would come close to the lawyers fees for setting it up to be honest.

      Bill Verplank did tell me that the real reason for taking out a patent was to stop anybody else from doing it first and stopping people from using the technology (as happened with FM).

      In the end I decided to just go ahead and release in the US anyway.

      The Wablet looks cool BTW. Going to check it out today :)

    • Chris R Gibson

      Hey John, still enjoying Scanned Synth 2 very much here ๐Ÿ˜‰ A great and unique synth ๐Ÿ˜€

    • John Proctor

      I’m John from Humanoid Sound Systems BTW

  • commentr

    this looks very impressive. some questions:

    1. does this run on an iPad 1?

    2. i can see in the video how touch affects the image, but it doesn’t seem to have any affect on the sound at all. is that true? if not, i would love to see a video that demonstrates touch control of the audio

    3. what is this ridiculousness about not being able to purchase this in the usa?! how can you have a patent on a technique that is only good in one country? isn’t there a way (via unlocked / jailbroken iPad perhaps) to spoof your locale in order to download from the uk store? this is the first i’ve heard of apps being restricted for sale to a certain country. this situation is just going to lead to piracy. i’d much rather pay for this legally.

    • Peter Kirn

      1. Yes, it runs on the iPad 1. I’m testing it on one; just fine!
      2. Huh? It’s an entirely touch-controlled app.

  • hae

    I saw this at DAFx this year; stunning! Glad to see it in the app store now.
    It’s iOS 5.1, however, and I’m still at 5.0.1. I prefer maps over the wablet ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • ร˜ivind Idsรธ

      Google Maps are still in 5.1 AFAIK. And – really – you are *that* dependent on Google Maps on a tablet? Must be horrible. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • hae

      the problem is that you don’t get the 5.1 update anymore, only the iOS 6 update. or am I missing something?

    • hae

      and no, actually I’m not more or less dependent on maps than on music apps ๐Ÿ˜‰ but I use maps more often than any music app on my iPad. Maybe yes, that’s horrible, but maybe I’m just not in any music apps target group…
      Warble would be fun though… :)

    • Peter Kirn

      Uh, I’m using it on an iPad 1 – no Apple Maps on that.

  • scottr

    @ Robert, Peter – it’s totally crashing on my iPad 1 running 5.1.1 i get the splash screen and then it just quits about 10-15 seconds later. deleted the app and redownloaded – still the same problem. also shut down and restarted the iPad. no joy. not sure what the issue is. any tips?