The whole nature of electronic music production changed for me when I bought Native Instruments’ Maschine. The accessibility of the interface and raw speed with which ideas could be captured and converted into the skeleton of a song opened up a new way of working in the studio and led to the most prolific stage of my writing in 10 years. (it should be noted that this is still not, by most standards, prolific at all, but it’s all relative, right?) Around the time of this personal renaissance I got an iPhone and began playing on a few music apps of various form. Most of these proved to be amusing musical toys, rather than actual tools, a couple found their way into my creative process from time to time but never as a staple, and always with a degree of workaround that made the whole thing seem a little pointless. Some time after the Maschine made its way into my studio NI released iMaschine, the intersection between these two new tools that promised to raise one to the standard of the other. But does it deliver on that promise?
The interface is simple, useable, and well-presented. All the functionality is intuitive and the possibilities are reduced enough to be manageable on a mobile device, without being so reduced as to render the app completely pointless. Four tracks are available, each of which can be independently switched between a set of 16 pads (a la the Maschine proper), a keyboard, or a built-in recorder. The master section allows basic mixing and provides two master effects which can be applied to any/all channels, though without independent control per channel. There is a (very) basic sample editor, a note-repeat function, and a reasonable array of basic editing controls. It runs smoothly and it’s a simple matter to export projects to your Mac/PC to be further developed in the fully-fledged programme.
So far so good, after all, easy of use is the main strong point of the Maschine, but the app only makes it part-way there. Where this app is seriously let down is in the fiddliness of the loop player/editor and the lack of sounds. If you’re a never-miss-a-beat-kind-of-person the former won’t be much of an issue, but tweaking parts after recording is impossible (it’s a doddle in Maschine), and that can become a bit frustrating after a while. Either way you’ll quickly get sick of the included sounds, all 5 of them, and be driven to the in-app purchase of new sounds (a handful at a time), only use the device for the recorder, go through the rigamarole of loading your own sounds into it, or just give up on it altogether.
I still play with it occasionally, and a couple of projects that I’ve started on my iPhone have actually wound up being complete tracks, but only after significant development on its bigger brother. I’ve toyed with the idea of actively trying to become more invested in it, but at the end of the day it’s hard to see it as more than just another iPhone music toy. Now if they would just bring out an iPad version, with a slightly better feature set…
Verdict: One of the best iPhone music toys I’ve played with, but still just a toy. 2.5 glowing orange buttons out of 5.