Interview: Music app developer Jonatan Liljedahl

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More and more people these days are turning to their iPads to produce music, with hundreds of apps from which to choose. Jonatan Liljedahl is a music app developer who has released the absolutely essential Audioshare, the AUFX effects series and the unique Sector, amongst others. 25ThC caught up with him to discuss apps, modulars and his own music releases:

You have produced some amazing music apps for your own company and for others. What training did you have in creating music software and when did you release your first app?
I’m self-taught when it comes to creating software. Started with BASIC on a Commodore 64 as a kid. The first music software I wrote was a programmable sequencer running on an old MS-DOS machine, controlling a homebuilt analogue modular synth. I then got better machines and started to play with the various DSP software environments, like Pure Data, Csound, and then SuperCollider (which I use today). The first finished audio software I wrote from scratch was the ProLoop iOS app for Trapcode, released in february 2010. That’s also when I learned iOS programming and the Objective-C programming language. My first app for my own company was BitWiz Audio Synth.

With iOS 9 on the horizon what new features as an app developer would you like to see included?
I would like to see improvements and developments in the Inter-App Audio area. For example, running multiple instances, and better support for automation: An IAA node could declare available parameters for the host to be able to automate it.

jonantan-001You are based in Stocklholm, as are a number of other pioneering music companies such as Propellerhead and Teenage Engineering. What is it about Stockholm that has resulted in so much great software and hardware being designed and produced there?
Actually I moved from Stockholm many years ago, but I was living there while doing ProLoop for Trapcode. I now live in the north west coast, at the sea, almost in the middle between Gothenburg and Oslo. I’m not sure what makes the great creative climate in Stockholm for innovative music technology, perhaps it just happened. But I can surely miss it, being here on the countryside all alone 🙂

Along with Audiobus and Inter App Audio – Audioshare is
another must have requested feature of any new iOS app these days. How does it make you feel that your app is so highly thought of, requested and used by the vast majority of iOS musicians?

It makes me feel proud, of course. I’m very glad that it could start to grow into this standard soundfile hub that I and my users wanted it to be. I also feel a lot of responsibility, since AudioShare has quite a lot of users and most of them expect the app to work well and bug-free. There’s a lot of work involved when updating for new iOS versions and hardware models, but I do my best to keep the product lean and clean.

Sector is another one of your apps which is extremely unique in its use and interface. With so many apps out there now how difficult is it to come up with something completely different but also useful to musicians?
It is difficult, indeed. There’s lots of apps that work similar to already established hardware and software, like my own AUFX series of effect apps – it’s a box with knobs or sliders. Then there are very experimental apps, where you slide around with your fingers and “stuff happens”. Neither of those are bad, but there’s also a lot of space to explore in between. Apps with new ways to do things, without losing usability or user control.

The idea for Sector came from my own earlier experiments with markov-chain controlled sequencing that I used to work with in one of my earliest sequencer software programming environments (It was called KyCE and featured a custom made programming language that could be used for live-coding control structures for my analogue modular synth and MIDI gear). I thought about alternative ways to visualize and interact with a markov-chain, and came up with the circled connection graph – because it fits better with the concept of audio loops.

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You also create the AUFX series of effects apps which are again very popular. Do you have plans for further apps in this series?
Yes, I have a rather long list of AUFX apps that I’d like to make. You can expect a bunch more of those!

You also develop music software for other companies. How much input and influence do you have in those situations on the software and how does it differ to producing your own?
That depends a lot on the project. In some I get a very detailed and finished specification of what the app should do and how the user should interact with it. Sometime I get only a vague idea and we work together to find the finished concept. Other times the core idea is already finished and conceptualized, and my job is to realize it into a usable app including user interaction and visual design. I think the most fun is when everyone in a project can contribute with creativity and finding solutions to problems. But I also like working on my own, where the result is entirely my choice.

There is a huge community of musicians on the Facebook iPad Musician group which you are a member of, with views and recommendations on any new app released. Do you find this group is useful to you when coming up with ideas and producing apps?
The iPad Musician facebook group and the Audiobus users forum are the two main places where I can easily interact with users and potential users. Both actively discussing, and passively observing. I think these forums are very important and valuable for both users and developers!

In addition to software, you also build your own hardware including a modular synthesiser. Modulars have always been popular but appear to be having something of a renaissance in the last few years with numerous new modules coming out. Why do you think this is and why do you enjoy Modulars?
The funny thing is that I almost never use my modular since a couple of years, after falling in love with SuperCollider. I got tired of spending all time needed for designing and building new modules, compared to the extremely fast response you get with software development. But perhaps I could afford a few pre-made modules these days, and start using it again! There’s a very special directness with analog synthesizers and modulars in particular, which I think is the reason they are so loved. And the unpredictability/liveness of the sound, of course.

You also produce music under the name of Kymatica. Can you tell us about the type of music you make and how you first got into music production.
Music is where it all started for me. I grew up in a musical home and have been playing and jamming since I was a kid. I started with electronic music using my mothers Yamaha DX7, and a 4-track cassette portable studio, and also got a hardware MIDI sequencer and some effects. The first electronic music I recorded sounded like some kind
of melodic synth pop, but no vocals. As a teen, I went mostly into various kinds of typical dance music (one bassdrum note per beat), a kind of music which I only now after many years of allergy are starting to appreciate again, in some very restrictive forms.

Later I also got some years of education in the field of music composition. I find it hard to describe the type of music I try to make, but to use very generic terms I guess one could call it ambient/noise. But sometimes it gets rhythmic too, almost danceable. I never want to tell anything with my music, but are more interested in the emotion and thoughts produced in the listener while experiencing the sounds and textures.

For more about Jonatan, go to his website.



Interview by 25ThC