iOS has a lot going for it when it comes to mobile music creation, curation and performance. I’m not suggesting that similar apps don’t exist for Android, but Apple’s App Store is absolutely jam packed with synths, drum machines, effects processors, DJ tools and other weird and wonderful noisemakers for your musical pleasure.
One such app that produces fantastic results with relatively little skill is Crossfader, an app from DJZ that launched on the App Store at the beginning of April and has been “free for a limited time” ever since. If you’re a fan of the Kinect, Wii and natural interfaces in general then Crossfader it bound to put a silly grin on your face.
You’ll also look very silly, but that’s all part of the fun.
Twist & Mix
The first time I saw Crossfader in the App Store I completely overlooked it. At the time (and still to this day) I was besotted with iOS music apps, having discovered gems like NanoStudio and the expansive AudioBus with which I can compose music using nothing more than an iPhone and some earphones. Crossfader markets itself to everyone – not just DJs, or those with an interest in music apps. For that reason I discounted it as a toy and figured it would be full of in-app purchases for terrible music I didn’t like.
That was a mistake, and I’m glad I gave the app another go. This was cemented by the fact that I played with it for a straight hour on first launch, plugged it into my stereo amp and turned the volume up to levels that surely made me unfavourable with the neighbours. When my girlfriend arrived home from work, I was none the wiser until she was stood behind me wondering what I was doing and why I looked like I’d developed a physical disability in an afternoon.
After reassuring her I was simply blossoming into the musical prodigy I’d promised all along, I took a step back and reassessed my initial thoughts about Crossfader. To put it bluntly: it’s bloody brilliant. Why? Because it relies on your movement for nearly every control you have over the resultant music.
Tilting left and right controls the main crossfader, as you’d see on any mixer or other DJ app. Tilting forwards and backwards applies effects (upwards being a beat-splicing gate and downwards adding a touch of high-pass). The further you go with either of these tilts, the more radical the effect and sudden the change. Jerking your phone left and right will also play a sample while simultaneously switching tracks.
The only thing you’ll need your fingers for is flicking the red or blue tiles – which are essentially your “decks” – to change tracks. A quick double-tap brings up a complete list of included music, which you can re-order if you do so wish. There’s a pause button in the top left, and a record button in the top right for exporting your mix which can then be uploaded to SoundCloud. Oh, and it helps to have a good latency-free AirPlay connection, though I’ve been using a stereo cable with enough slack not to damage anything which also does the trick.
Superstar DJs… Here We Go!
The music is a mix of modern dance, commercial, dubstep and other club hits with the odd a capella and breaks tracks in there for good measure. At present (and I counted) there are 48 tracks included, of roughly 30 seconds each. Most contain a break and a drop, though as mentioned others are simply vocals or drum accompaniments, in particular the Amen Break has been included which spruces up any tired old club hit.
Some of the music left me disappointed, but this is subjective. I’m not a massive fan of club hits or commercial dubstep from the likes of Skrillex, of which there is plenty in the app. That said, there is enough music to placate most crowds, and adding more really shouldn’t be a problem for the developers thanks to the rather clever implementation.
By providing only short 30-second clips akin to an iTunes preview, DJZ have potentially solved the issue of requiring in-app purchase packs. They’ve also made this music very easy to mix by sorting out tempo, pitch and beat looping for you. Music builds and drops as it’s meant to, and the results are limited but professional-sounding transitions. Limited for the lack of musical variation and two sole effects, professional because it only requires a small amount of practice before you can produce seamless transitions and start to look very silly indeed.
There’s something about controlling music with physical movement that makes me want to move the rest of me as well. This isn’t a new thing, in fact there are apps like the rather expensive multi-touch synth TC-11 ($29.99) which uses movement to modify parameters, but nothing that provides such a user-friendly implementation. That said, the app is definitely best for creating mini-mixes in its current state.
A Few Final Thoughts
After playing with Crossfader I soon realised that I’d seen this sort of thing before in the MIDI Fighter 3D, a MIDI controller for DJs and live electronic music performers. The MIDI Fighter range takes the robustness of arcade controllers and applies it to MIDI music-making, allowing you to trigger samples, effects and tracks with a punch of a button. The MIDI Fighter 3D builds on this with accelerometers and the like to build a controller you can twist and tilt. Crossfader takes this use of natural movement and puts it into an app (with admittedly far less scope) that anyone can enjoy.
The app has still not had an update beyond its initial release. In fact at the time of writing, it’s never even had a price. With that in mind there is plenty of room for improvement here, including the possibility of adding your own loops, changing which effects and samples are triggered and even adding a tilt-reactive video output for sending to a TV or projector. Above you will find a quick mix I threw together for the purpose of this review – it’s not exactly tight but it shows off the various functions and loops.
In its current state it’s a fun toy that tires slightly sooner than it should do. The developers are pushing the “DJ your own party” angle, and for that it needs to be updated with more music and customisation options. Grab it!