FLOW: qin

FLOW: qin is an interactive generative music app which assembles an ever changing soundtrack from a collection of oriental stringed instrument samples. At time of writing, it is free on the App Store.

As I discovered following the release of Bloom, the greatest resistance to artistic music apps often comes from musicians. Non-musicians have little trouble surrendering to an app’s whims, whereas those used to being in complete control of an instrument can struggle with the idea of having to let go and work within an app’s constraints.

FLOW: qin, a release from the very early days of the App Store, meets this problem head on by providing one of the most unashamedly eccentric interfaces I’ve come across. While it enables the user to produce fascinating generative music, it relies heavily on serendipity, and it would be impossible to use the app to create a specific, planned out piece of music.

The user is initially presented with a blank but dirty sheet of parchment with three markers or ‘moments’ slowly progressing across it. Tapping on the screen will reveal one of three lanes of five blank boxes, and each time the moment encounters a blank box, a random sample is triggered and the box is filled with a coloured chinese tile. Tapping on a sample as it plays locks it into place, causing it to be triggered every time a moment subsequently passes over it.

The samples are primarily taken from a qin I believe, a Chinese stringed instrument I hadn’t previously come across. Rather than having the kind of anti-septic generic sound that so frequently is used in music apps, it has a great deal of character. Notes are plucked, bent, scraped and there’s even the occasional audible breath in the background. In addition, there are several elemental sounds that appear very rarely: crackling fire or dripping water, for example.

As the samples are all of different lengths, the moments immediately move out of step with each other. Consequently although individual elements are repeating, the track as a whole is constantly rearranging itself. If some of the boxes are left blank, there will always be a random element present providing unexpected pause or emphasis.

My typical experience would be to start with all the boxes blank, and a chaotic mix of sounds. I would then capture the more subtle sounds – single notes and harmonics – and over the course a minute or two, the overall tone would settle to something more understated and sparse. I usually continued until most of the boxes were filled, then left a few blank to allow for the occasional surprise. I could comfortably leave it running in the background for some time, even up to an hour.

Musically speaking, FLOW: qin isn’t going to be to everybody’s taste, but it’s well worth checking out for a completely original take on composition.

Avaliable for iPhone and iPod touch

Free!

Developer: Five Hundred Monkeys

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