fwa award

Introduction

FLUX:FX play is a professional multi-effect audio processor app that lets you ‘play’ your effects. Innovative, intuitive and exciting, FLUX:FX play lets you manipulate any audio signal into something entirely new. Using exactly the same audio engine as the Red Dot award-winning FLUX:FX ipad app, FLUX:FX play focusses the interface into a single screen. It can be paired with the FLUX:FX ‘master’ iPad app for full micro-editing, or used standalone as a powerful live performance effects processor. Conceived and created via the combined talents of guitarist extraordinaire Adrian Belew, audio software developers ElephantCandy and mobile specialists MOBGEN, the FLUX:FX apps can be subtle and shimmery or chaotic and magnanimous. All of this power is managed through an efficient, minimalist interface combining easy-to-use touch controls and a mesmerising liquid-to-polygon audio visualizer.

Discussions over the creation of abstract guitar sounds led to the idea of a new type of touch-screen controlled, ‘authentically digital’ effects processor. Instead of recreating the standard amplifiers and pedals as so many other apps are doing, the idea was to take inspiration from some of the most innovative musical equipment such as the Korg Kaoss pads, Roger Linn Adrenalinn, Alesis Bitrman, the modular flexibility of the Fractal Axe-fx or Roland VG-99, the waveshaping possibilities of the Kurzweil KDFX and the fuzzy destruction of boutique pedals such as those from Dwarfcraft and Death by Audio [to name just a few].

If you are looking for that creamy Marshall or classic Fender twin modelled tone… you are in the wrong place. FLUX:FX play is about redesigning your sound and creating something completely new. Chopping, shaping, sculpting and looping – FLUX:FX can take you from subtle modulating echoes through to wrecking-ball destruction, all with a swipe of a finger. Ignoring the ‘traditional’ approach that most software takes to control [where the dials and switches of amps or pedals are simulated], FLUX:FX play has a completely flexible touch interface that is native to the touchscreen. We have consciously decided not to limit the effects to the safe or ‘sensible’ settings, so far more extreme sounds are possible compared to traditional effect units.

”FLUX:FX lets me make sounds that I can’t get with any other gear… and I have ALL the other gear! The hands-on control means that I can actually play the effects, and the effect sequencer adds a whole new universe of possibilities. Most importantly the FLUX:FX inspires creativity… and it is incredibly fun to use!”
Adrian Belew


Getting started

First things first – check you have a device that can use the app. FLUX:FX play will work with iPhone 5s, 6, 6+, 6s, 6s+, iPod Touch 6, iPad mini 2, mini 3, iPad 4, air, air 2. Bold names will work well, non-bold will need higher latency or fewer effects to run smoothly, but the app will still work. It WILL run on iOS7+, but it runs much better on iOS8 & 9.

Second – you need to get some sound into FLUX:FX play. We designed the effects primarily to manipulate the sound of a guitar, but they are just as effective on bass, synths, drums, vocals, records, violin, djembe, theremin etc etc – Anything you want to pipe through them!

There are 4 ways to get your sound into FLUX:FX play.

1. Using an audio interface – The good news is that it works with all major iOS audio interfaces, and most core-USB compatible hardware. We have tested it with the following:

    • APOGEE Jam
    • APOGEE Jam24
    • Alesis IO Dock [1 & 2]
    • Behringer iStudio
    • Digitech RP [all usb units]
    • Focusrite iTrack Dock
    • IK Multimedia iRig
    • IK Multimedia iRig HD
    • IK Multimedia iRig Pro
    • IK Multimedia iStomp
    • JamUp Plug
    • JamUp PlugHD
    • Line6 Mobile In
    • Line6 Sonic Port [+VX]
    • Peavey AmpKit Link
    • Peavey AmpKit Link HD
    • Sonuus i2M
    • TASCAM iXZ
    • TASCAM iU2
    • etc

There are plenty of other interfaces that will also work. We recommend using a 24bit interface to get the best and cleanest audio results.

2. Using inter-app audio – FLUX:FX can be configured as the effect app using iOS inter-app audio. You can route audio through from your host app [such as Cubasis, Garageband, Auria, Audioshare etc]. Once you have configured FLUX:FX play as the effect app, you can then control the host app play/stop/record functions from the inter-app audio tab within the top bar.

3. Using audiobus – FLUX:FX play is fully Audiobus compatible in any of the slots [input, effect and output]. It also supports state saving in Audiobus 2. Feel free to combine FLUX:FX play with any of your favourite other apps such as BIAS, SAMPLR and AniMoog etc etc to create a truly awesome and flexible channel strip.

4. Using the built-in iPad microphone – you can do this… but it can be nasty! If you REALLY want to do this then be careful of feedback [you can force this option via IAA or Audiobus, or just by plugging speakers or headphones into the headphone jack]. We have actually disabled the onboard speakers when using the mic as that is just asking for trouble. In the ‘menu > audio settings’ you will see the source and output displayed in red if the output has been muted. Actually, we use this option quite frequently, as you can still make some fantastic sounds just tapping the mic and running ambient sound through the FLUX:FX algorithms.

 

Performance View

The user interface of FLUX:FX play (iphone/ipod touch) is based around the main performance screen, where you can select the effect chain (of up to 5 effect blocks), adjust the control options for each block and control it on the fly via the master X/Y pad, the tempo/sequencer functions and the global input/output/mix settings. There is a brick-wall limiter applied after the 5th block to keep everything in check, so in total each chain effectively has up to 6 effects.

The chain of effects is loaded by selecting a performance preset. Each effect block can be set to active or touch mode (bypassed until activated via the X/Y pad), and then X/Y control can be toggled on or off per block. So if the effect is active and with control turned off, it will be on but it will not be affected by any touch on the x/y pad. This makes it work somewhat like an effect pedal (you can switch the effect on and off but that’s it). Alternatively, if the effect is set to touch mode but with x/y control on, then the effect is not heard until a touch is registered – this is particularly effective for triggering loops or glitches. Touch mode and X/Y control off means that the effect is completely bypassed.

Touch mode and active mode are toggled via the icon to the right of each of the effect blocks. Touch mode is indicated by the broken circle and active mode by the complete circle around the yellow dot. The icons will light up to indicate when the effect is currently being controlled.

X/Y control on and off are toggled by tapping the effect block. A white outline indicates that the effect block is being controlled by the master X/Y pad.

The master X/Y pad can be expanded by tapping on the + in the top left. This can be especially useful in live performance if you want a greater control area to play with (or perhaps you have giant-sized stubby appendages!). In FLUX:FX play, the expanded X/Y pad will take over the whole screen.

Input/output/fxmix/smooth – These sliders can be adjusted to control the input level, output level, overall FX mix and sequencer smoothness of FLUX:FX play. Be careful to set these correctly as it can be easy to overload the app and get digital distortion [unless that is the effect you are going for, in which case look after your ears and your speakers!]

Performances – This is where you load your performances and switch between banks. Saved in each FLUX:FX performance is the selection and order of FX blocks, the settings of each effect, the control assignments and the sequencer steps. More on this later.

Sequencer – The sequencer control is at the top of the screen, and contains the sequencer transport controls [play/stop]. If the sequencer is playing, you can see each of the X/Y locations of the effects in the main X/Y pad.

The Effects

This is where the magic happens! No, really. We have a basic explanation of what each effect does, but ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’ so you really have to play around with each one to understand what it does.

Loopers –

  • Stutter loop – plays a segment of the previous audio and repeats.
  • Reverse Loop – samples the upcoming audio and repeats it in reverse.
  • Loop Slice – samples the upcoming audio and repeats.
  • Segment – beat synchronous slices of your audio.
  • Sample Scratch – like a tape-stop, pitches the audio down to zero.

Dynamics –

  • Compress – controls the dynamic range of the audio by squashing volume peaks.
  • Pump – extreme compression, triggered by bass, gives a ‘pumping’ sound.

Distortions –

  • Overdrive – ‘soft’ clipping of the audio to add harmonics and grit.
  • Distortion – ‘hard’ clipping of the audio to increase drive, saturation & filth.
  • Fuzz – distorts the audio to introduce extreme overtones, buzz and thickness.
  • Bitcrush – reduces bandwidth & resolution, producing a digital distortion.
  • Destroy – complex distortion created by altering the shape of the input audio.
  • Decimate – uses assorted bit reduction techniques for maximum mayhem.

EQs & Filters –

  • Ultra EQ – fully parametric 6-band equalizer to boost/cut specific frequencies.
  • Kill EQ – single-band parametric equalizer with shelving Hi/Low EQ.
  • Lowpass Filter – analog style LPF reducing frequencies above the cutoff.
  • Highpass Filter – analog style HPF reducing frequencies below the cutoff.
  • Bandpass Filter – analog style BPF combining a low- & a high-pass filter.

Modulations –

  • Chorus – slightly delays & pitch-modulates the audio to add richness.
  • Flange – sweeping comb-filter effect using a slight delay through an LFO.
  • Phase – complex spectral modulation with selectable stages and feedback.
  • Resonant Drone – short delay that creates a pitched resonance.
  • Pitch Delay – A delayed pitch shift with a feedback loop.
  • Octave Shift – 1- and 2- octave shift, best for mono sound sources.
  • Ring Modulate – ‘sci-fi’ favorite where the input is multiplied with a waveform.
  • Auto Pan – pans the signal left to right with selectable modes.

Delays –

  • Digital Delay – up to 5 seconds of clean delay that can be BPM quantized.
  • Binaural Delay – individual left/right delays, useful to emulate stereo width.
  • Tape Echo – an organic-sounding delay with feedforward and deviation.
  • Scatter Verb – adds reflected echoes to recreate the sound of an acoustic space.
  • Delay/Reverb – combines the digital delay and reverb effects.

Audiobus

FLUX:FX play is fully Audiobus compatible in any of the slots [input, effect and output]. It also supports state saving in Audiobus 2. Feel free to combine FLUX:FX play with any of your favourite other apps such as BIAS, SAMPLR and AniMoog etc etc to create a truly awesome and flexible channel strip. You will of course need to purchase Audiobus to use it, but we highly recommend doing so! Please also read the Audiobus documentation for full instructions on its use. FLUX:FX play will also work with Audiobus remote, which can be used to change preset performances within the currently selected bank.

Inter-app audio controls

FLUX:FX can function as an effect through Apple’s own inter-app audio node. Once installed, FLUX:FX play should show up in the inter-app audio controls of your host app [for example Garageband, Cubasis etc.] whereby you can assign it as the effect. For more details on inter-app audio please refer directly to the documentation on this. The excellent AudioShare app from Kymatica is a great functional partner for FLUX:FX play, allowing you to record your sounds directly, create long loops, play recordings and re-effect them through FLUX:FX, and then share/manage the recordings. Essentially it is because of Audiobus and IAA that we chose not to create a recorder for the FLUX:FX apps as others have already done this so well!

MIDI

The app can receive MIDI messages to control most of the performance critical elements. As there is quite some diversity between MIDI controllers there are 2 ways to trigger the main XY pad, so please test which one is right for your equipment. Thanks to Oscar South Bass for assistance on this – updated using note names instead of numbers.
The following parameters can be mapped:

    • Effect block states – Each of the 5 effect blocks can be switched between Active [on] and Touch [bypass] mode via MIDI.

Effect1 = C2
Effect2 = C#2
Effect3 = D2
Effect4 = D#2
Effect5 = E2

    • Main X/Y pad – The X and Y axis can be mapped to separate MIDI continuous controllers. This also lets you play it with something like the XY from a Korg NanoPad or Keith McMillen SoftStep.

TouchDown = C#-1 [This is for the main XY controller to indicate a ‘touch’ as a note]
TouchUp = D-1 [This is for the main XY controller to indicate the end of a ‘touch’ as a note]
MainXControlNumber = CC1 [This is for the main XY controller to indicate the ‘X’ location]
MainYControlNumber = CC2 [This is for the main XY controller to indicate the ‘Y’ location]
TouchUpDownControlNumber = CC16 [This is for the main XY controller to indicate a ‘touch’ as a control number]

    • Input/Output/Mix level – The master levels can be controlled. Ideal for mapping to a volume pedal or slider.

InputLevelControlNumber = CC3 [This is for the ‘master input’ level]
OutputControlNumber = CC7 [This is for the ‘master output’ level]
FXBlendControlNumber = CC4 [This is for the ‘master FX’ blend]

    • Tempo – FLUX:FX can receive and send MIDI clock messages, allowing you to sync the tempo to another MIDI source such as an external tap tempo, a drum machine or beat app, or a laptop running Ableton, Logic or your favourite DAW.

TempoTap = A2 [This sets the tempo after 5 taps]

    • Sequencer Play/Stop/Record – mappable to allow control and triggering of the sequencer.

SequencerTransport [Start/stop] = G2  [This toggles between ‘play’ & ‘pause’ on the sequencer]
SequencerRecNoteNumber = G#2 [This switches on or off the ‘record’ function of the sequencer]
SmoothingControlNumber = CC5 [This adjusts the ‘step smoothing’ control for the sequencer]

    • Performances – you can switch performances 1-6 inside the currently selected bank.

Performance1 = C1 [This selects performance 1 from the current bank etc]
Performance2 = C#1
Performance3 = D1
Performance4 = D#1
Performance5 = E1
Performance6 = F1

Using presets performances in FLUX:FX play

Performances are where the complete combination of effect chain, effect settings and sequencer settings is saved. The type of effects, order of effects and individual effect settings [including XY settings and control assignments] are all stored within a performance. The sequencer settings, and randomisation/smoothing attributes are also defined within a performance. In the FLUX:FX iPad app you can edit and save your Performances, but not in FLUX:FX play. Rather than try to cram the full editing interface into the small screen area, we decided to focus on the main performance element (the X/Y pad) and just the features that musicians will use in a live context.

If you have the iPad app, you can transfer your saved Performances to FLUX:FX play. Simply export the bank of Performance presets via iTunes or to your dropbox, then import them to the iPhone app. You can also share your Performances with other FLUX:FX users.

Within the complete FLUX:FX iPad app, each individual effect such as Distortion or Stutter Loop also has its own set of 6 presets that store the parameter settings and control assignments for that particular effect. These presets can also be modified and saved, and the preset number 1 for each effect functions as the ‘default’ setting for that effect – so this is the setting that will exist when you first drag the effect into the chain.

FLUX:FX iPad app also features Sequence presets which store the settings per sequence step, and also include the length of the sequence, the ‘smoothing’ setting and the amount of ‘randomisation’ to be applied.

Using FLUX:FX play live

This app was designed and built from the ground up with live performance in mind, so it has many features that are geared towards visibility, ease of use, and maximum control with minimum interactions. MIDI controllers such as the excellent Keith McMillen SoftStep or the Korg nano series can be used for tempo tap, sequencer settings, effects and performances, and this opens up your opportunities of ‘escaping the screen’ while using FLUX:FX play. Once you have selected your chain and your performance bank you might want to consider the Performance zoom view for live use [accessed via the + on the main X/Y panel]. This view focusses on the most important element for live use – namely the X/Y pad.

The FLUX audio visualization

It’s perhaps a bit of overkill, but we think it looks awesome so we kept it in. The background of the app is a hypnotic fluid ink loop that triangulates and digitizes as levels increase. We are using a custom delaunay triangulation algorithm [for the geeks: read about it here] to represent the audio in digital format. We can talk about the ideas behind this in depth but that would simply bore everyone… so instead if you just tap the FLUX:FX icon in the top left hand corner you can stare at the visualizer without any of the controls in front of it. For those with older iPads or who want to save some of the processing, you can turn off the visualizer in the settings.

CPU Performance: getting the most from the app

We have built a CPU meter into the user interface of the app, in the left of the top bar. This lets you see the load on the app, so that you have full transparency and can detect when the app is overloading the CPU [which will potentially result in pops and glitches].

The CPU percentage is normally displayed in white text next to the graph, however this number will turn red when the app detects an overload. This will not necessarily mean audio glitches will occur, but there is a risk of unexpected results. Basically, you are stressing the CPU and we are showing you a warning! To be clear, this is the accumulated CPU use of all threads in the program, and to be confusing, this can actually go above 100%.

So – what do you do if you are getting overload signals all the time? You have a few options:

  1. Turn off anything else that is running on your device, especially audio apps you don’t currently use. The most efficient iPad/iPhone/iPod touch for FLUX:FX play will be running nothing but.. FLUX:FX play!
  2. Ignore them. The CPU warning will occur occasionally when you are switching UI views, but this will not usually glitch the audio. In normal usage on a decent device, you will not have issues.
  3. turn off the Delaunay visualizer [menu > video settings]. This will reduce the load on the CPU at the [acceptable?] cost of looking less cool.
  4. Increase the latency [menu > audio settings]. Higher latencies mean less load, but increased delay. If you are not putting live audio through the app then this won’t be so much of an issue.
  5. Buy a faster/newer device! Not being cheeky, but the newer devices have significantly more power. FLUX:FX play is an intensive app that offers a boatload of functionality, and it is really giving the hardware a run for its money. Older devices WILL work, but you will need higher latency. To get the absolute most out of FLUX:FX on minimum latency settings, you will want to run it on an iPhone 6 or later.

 

COMPARISON FEATURES OF THE FLUX:FX APPS:

 

FLUX:FX play (iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad)

– Full resolution audio engine

– master X/Y touch controller

– ultra low latency

– MIDI

– Audiobus

– Inter-app Audio

– 5 effects blocks

– master limiter

– effects sequencer

FLUX:FX (iPad only)

– Full resolution audio engine

– master X/Y touch controller

– ultra low latency

– MIDI

– Audiobus

– Inter-app Audio

– 5 effects blocks

– master limiter

– effects sequencer

– full effects editing capability

– full sequencer editing capability

– full performance save capability

– individual X/Y controllers for each effect

 

 

The ‘back story’ in brief…

The concept of FLUX:FX was conceived in a late-night whisky bar in Amsterdam, after Adrian Belew played a sold-out show at the Paradiso along with the Metropole orchestra. Adrian, Daniel and Nick Mueller [executive creative director of MOBGEN] discussed the future of sound design and music delivery over some tasty single-malts, coming to the conclusion that a partnership was an excellent idea. The problem with most sound manipulation devices is that the interface is usually either ACTUALLY old-school [buttons, dials, tubes and cables] or a digital COPY of old-school [ie. pixels showing buttons, dials, tubes and cables]. This may give the users a warm/fuzzy feeling, but it certainly won’t make the usability better, the workflow faster or the sound more awesome. Touchscreen technology, and in particular the Apple iPad, provides a big opportunity to rethink this approach, both from a sound design perspective and from the actual performance possibilities that it offers.

Niels, Toine and Victor [the audio experts at Elephantcandy] were brought into the conversation, and the idea became a reality. The americaustralianetherlands company known as NOII.SE was born! Fast forward a year and FLUX:FX has been awarded the Sonic Joy best iOS app by ANR, MOTD by FWA, and the crowning glory, a ‘best of the best’ design award from Red Dot 2015!

About NOIISE:

NOIISE is the art of sound. It is a collaboration between Adrian Belew, Elephantcandy and MOBGEN.

Adrian Belew is the world’s greatest experimental whammy twang bar czar rhino king crimson stunt guitarist extraordinaire. With a CV including some of the biggest names in music from Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails and King Crimson to Talking Heads, Paul Simon and Tori Amos, Adrian is famous for pushing the boundaries of guitar in both technique and tonal exploration. Together with audio mastermind Daniel Rowland they make up a 2-person performance team where one plays the instrument, the other ‘plays’ the studio.

Elephantcandy is all about Music and Sound. More specifically audio software development for mobile devices. Smack in the heart of dance city Amsterdam, Elephantcandy focuses exclusively on developing research driven, disruptive and state-of-the-art audio technology. Elephantcandy’s algorithms are used throughout the world by well-known audio companies and musicians. Elephantcandy is passionate about changing the way people experience music.

MOBGEN is the specialist in mobile strategy, creativity and technology, designing and delivering products to connect customers and brands. As a pure mobile solution company and an awarded mobile UI/UX design-specialist, MOBGEN builds mobile platforms for some of the biggest companies in the world.  MOBGEN.LAB is the research division, set up to investigate disruptive innovation and the changes in the way we interact with tools, situations and places. 

 

NOIISE - Be experimental, be abstract, be precise, be random.