Gareth Cattermole, Getty So maybe Gorillaz and Blur aren't finished after…
- Posted on Jun 24th 2011 12:00AM by Kenneth Partridge
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Albarn might have also used a laptop, still the gold standard for on-the-go recording. But there's something about tablets. They're slimmer, lighter and offer musicians a range of useful apps: tools for recording, mixing, sampling, composing beats and simulating the sounds of various instruments, and its limitations have a certain charm. It forces musicians to work in ways they might not ordinarily.
Made with 20 apps and a handful of real instruments, all of which Albarn recorded through the iPad, 'The Fall' doesn't sound like other Gorillaz albums. It's slower and hazier, a chilled-out reprieve from the frenzied, all-genres, all-the time sound of the cartoon band's previous full-lengths.
While Albarn is credited with releasing the first-ever album recorded entirely on an iPad, he's not the only musician moving boldly into the tablet age. Icelandic art-pop pixie Bjork is gearing up to release 'Biophilia,' an album that, in addition to having been partially recorded on an iPad, has been dubbed the world's first "app album." Bjork reportedly worked with Apple to create a full-on multimedia experience, and each of the 10 tracks will have its own app.
Thus begins a new era in pop music. Like rock 'n' roll Moseses, Albarn and Bjork have descended from the mountain with tablets in hand, delivering new commandments for musicians of all stripes. "Thou shalt not feel obligated to pay for studio time or schlep heavy gear," goes one. More importantly: "Thou shall make music whenever and wherever inspiration strikes."
So far, much of the attention has centered on iPad musicians, but users of competing Android-based devices are keeping pace. Last month, Philadelphia DJ and producer Coolout released 'The Rise,' the first-ever album crafted solely on an Android smartphone. If it hasn't happened already, it's just a matter of time before someone claims the distinction of releasing the first album made on an Android-based tablet.
Beyond recording, artists are finding other creative uses for tablet technology. In April, Spinner counted down the Top 10 iPad music apps, everything from Deadmau5's 'Mix II,' which lets fans rework the masked DJ's tracks, to indie-folk outsider Daniel Johnston's 'Hi, How Are You?' game, in which players help a bullfrog named Jeremiah do battle with Satan. Even Bob Dylan has an app, a 'Little Black Songbook' containing chords and lyrics for 60 of his classic tunes.
Not surprisingly, Gorillaz also released a game app, 'Escape to Plastic Beach,' but Albarn has also gone a step further, designing a new version of Korg's iElectribe, an app that functions much like the Japanese company's beloved Electribe drum machine.
The original Electribe is beloved by many in the dance-music scene, and with that in mind, it's fitting that DJs are beginning to embrace tablets, using them as substitutes for bulky turntables and other pieces of equipment. Armed with such apps as the iPad djay, modern mix-meisters can access tracks in their iTunes libraries and simulate vinyl scratching, using the tablet's touchscreen.
Known as "the first iPad DJ," venture-capitalist-turned-party-starter Rana June Sobhany has played more than 100 shows, using a mixer, two iPads and such widely available apps as Looptastic HD and iElectribe to move bodies around the world. Some have criticized Sobhany's musical chops and questioned whether she's truly the first in the field, or even a proper DJ, but such nitpicking misses the larger point. Sobhany has taken the idea of iPad DJing mainstream, demonstrating that tablets are good for more than mere passive consumption of media. Even if she's no musical visionary, some kid who sees her on YouTube and is inspired to start experimenting with beats may very well be.
That's the nature of music: Each generation picks up where the previous left off, building new ideas on the foundations-or rubble-of old ones. Tablet technology is still in its infancy, but it seems a natural fit for indie rockers, hardcore punks, underground hip-hoppers, avant-garde dance producers and other musicians who live by the DIY ethos.
Like guitars, synths, four-tracks, or any other musical tool on the market, tablets are capable of producing both gimmicky schlock and life-changing art. If the iPad had come along sooner, the Who, the Clash and Husker Du might have given us 'Quadrophenia,' 'London Calling' and 'Zen Arcade' apps (well, maybe not the Clash ...). Had they been invented even five years ago, Trent Reznor could have made 'Year Zero' even more of a world unto itself.
If nothing else, tablets are great for checking e-mail and locating the nearest burrito restaurant, and for these reasons alone, they deserve a place in any band's van or practice space. Plus, they won't drink your beer -- but soon, there'll probably be an app for that.
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