Before we actually kick off on this Rebirth for iPad review, I’d invite you dear reader to check out my previous DV Mag post on the actual Roland TB303 ‘acid box’ that is the inspiration for this very iApp. Done? Right, let’s move on.
Keeping in recap mode for just another minute or two, a quick reminder of a few ReBirth facts is in order:
- Fact 1 – ReBirth (first appearing in 1997) in its most basic form, was 4 stacked modules which accurately emulated the sound of not one, but two Roland TB303 bassline synth’s, and their seminal drum machines, the (hip-hop/electro) 808 and (the house style) 909
- Fact 2 – The ReBirth ‘Mods’ were born shortly after which allowed GUI and sound library reprogramming enabling the stock Roland sounds to be replaced by new, different and sometimes downright wacky percussive’s, instruments, noises and fx
- Fact 3 – An ethos of the original ReBirth was for sharing sounds within a user community. In the Web 1.0 period, Propellerhead therefore were the first major developers to encourage the formation of such online communities, collaborating musically and exchanging creative energy.
- Fact 4 – ReBirth was discontinued as a standalone application and retired from developer support in 2005 – only to reappear in 2009 as a free downloadable ReFill for Reason users (then of course, appearing as an Apple iApp for the iPhone and iPad in 2010 onwards)
The original Roland TB303 was never MIDI enabled at manufacture point, however a series of bespoke hardware modifications became available during the mid-90s resulting in some more influential artists and producers investing in the then luxury capability of pretty much full MIDI functionality. Without these retrofits, the original machine could only replay a set of sequences and patterns, produced in repetitive or a set order and the instrument itself accepting a ‘top of the song’ start point to run its full performance duration in real-time. The software version of the TB303, being of course this TB338 ReBirth, therefore emulates that methodology.
The principle of writing acid basslines, drum loops and applying effects remains as is then – patterns (32 available for each of the four racks and in steps of up to 16) once written, combine to make complete songs and full automation is possible for every parameter, knob, slider, button and switch (and indeed pattern changes too). Writing a loop of sounds within the two drum racks differs to the synth modules. For percussion, a type of sound is selected (ie kick, snare, clap etc) and added to the relevant step on the actual virtual panel. To create a synth bass/lead line, a method of gradually progressing through each individual step with a forward/back selection is followed by adding or subtracting a note event from that point. Incorporating note accents, octave pitching and that famous 303 pitch glide is also done at said point of each ‘step’.
Entering song mode, any switching between patterns is possible when recording an actual song arrangement. This is a great way of quickly firing between say different synth phrases and for percussion, rapidly inserting a drum fill for example. Any tweaking of synth parameters is easily achievable too and this is where the iPads multitouch screen really comes into its own allowing the user to engage two, three, four or more (if dextrous enough) finger articulations and adjustments. If the user wishes to add more expressive adjustments, these can be repeatedly added seemingly ad infinitum. A range of Effects too have found their way onto this iPad version of ReBirth – included here are the Delay (with pan, feedback control and note division adjustment), a powerful Distortion option, a Compressor and the unique PCF (pattern controlled filter (funky as heck with a band or low pass option too). These effects are applied to the main mix, but each rack of course has its own dedicated mini-mixer allowing pan, level and fx send (on& off) on an individual basis.
The right hand side of the ReBirth 338 sports a discrete vertical menu bar. Here, we can access various features to enhance the original ReBirth user experience and add that fabulous 21st century Apple technology into the mix. Song Edit enables loops to be cut, copied or pasted, and song (or loop) initialization in preparation for writing new patterns or arrangements. In addition, ‘touched controls’ too can be copied to loops or songs. Where the iPad ReBirth app shines majorly though is in the Pattern Banks mode. Flicking to this view shows a full representation of the full 128 patterns of information (like some massive matrix/step sequencer for ‘patterns’) available in a song. This can be tested out in preparation of writing one’s own arrangements in a fun and intuitive manner – simply select one of the included 6 demo songs (the 7th is a ‘silen’t default one), flick into Pattern Bank view, and just tap in your own selection for the next pattern and hear in real time what changes occur upon the next bar appearing.
Mods To Rock With
Changing the ReBirth 338’s Mods is up next and again, this can be a lot of creative fun for the user. The default, or standard ReBirth Mod is of course the main 303/808/909 combi, from there though the additional 6 Mods illustrate changes in the drum machine instruments (the actual 303 sound never changes with a new Mod selection – that’s always been the case). I recognise a few classic Mods here – MSM20, Metallicon, Orbit and Pitch Black (oh the happy hours frittered away playing with those) – but new to my eyes and ears are the Elektron SidStation and RB-SEMx, the latter emulating classic expander module devices. Each of the supplied Mods comes with their own demo song, which is handy for getting to know the musical aspect of the minds behind the Mod inventors themselves and also gives you a bit of inspiration, the more varied a selection of songs you hear. One piece of advice should be noted however, it’s best not to attempt a change of Mod whilst a song is actually running – the app doesn’t crash, but a bit of audio stuttering occurs whilst the app makes the necessary calculations (actually, thinking on, has a Propellerhead app ever crashed? – not in my experience or memory).
Further menu bar options for the iPad edition of ReBirth include a song Save option, an Audio Copy function (which renders an actual MP3 of the performance for later distribution/sharing) and the ability to engage ‘Wist’ (a synergistic app that allows wireless sync-start between compatible apps on nearby iPhones/iPads). The final My Songs tab drills deeper into more cool functionality of the app. From here, the user can preview a demo song’s audio content without fully loading it, delete a stored song, duplicate a current one or load a new empty song (where song information, including title and creator’s website info) can be added. The last option in this section adds a new twist to the original sharing ethos found when ReBirth was, erm, birthed – Share allows both MP3 audio and actual ReBirth song files to be posted direct to a users Facebook account, sent by email or grabbed as a Propellerhead stored URL for friends and fans to access directly online (and how cool is ‘that’?).
Then & Now
I recall my original workflow using ReBirth back in the 90s – although I was quite capable of writing full songs, assembled from patterns written in the original program, my preferred method actually was to spend the time writing expressive acid lines on either a single or dual racks, and bounce them as audio straight to hard disc. From there, I would incorporate the 303 type sequences into remixes and productions, later developing that further by making ReCycle versions of each (usually 1 bar) sequence. Engaging a few of the many and varied Mods, I’d repeat the same workflow for the more interesting drum and fx sounds incorporated therein. So to reiterate, I guess I never used ReBirth solely as a complete sound source, choosing to dip in and cherry pick specific sounds and programming techniques to adapt into my world.
Using the new RB-338 on an iPad, some of my 90s workflow methods would still apply, but with the iPad itself been so portable, powerful and having the multi-touch screen and sharing options, I think I would definitely treat the app more as a standalone, independent sound source rather than [solely]a cherry pick vibe as mentioned earlier. It would be used both onstage, either in DJ sets or live band performance mode and in location studio sessions too no doubt. Of course, the whole unison of advanced software and cutting edge hardware here shines even more when you consider the time we spend traveling these days, and what surely is the best way for busy DJ/Producer types to while away the hours but to compose a new electronic music masterpiece?
It rocks, done! No, but seriously, ReBirth on the iPad is quite awesome. In a nutshell, all and any music makers, even those not necessarily dance oriented, should definitely have this application in their sonic armory. You may think that the controls (especially the smaller level and tune ones on the 808 emulation) would be nigh on impossible to manipulate accurately – but how wrong you’d be. The way these, and indeed all rotary type controls work on the iPad screen is that you simply touch the control you want, and sweep your finger in a roughly 180 degree arc above it. By doing this, and staying close to the relevant dial you get a more fine tuned step adjustment, and by moving away from it, a more coarse response is evoked. This is great for delicate and gradual then fierce and erratic adjustments respectively to a parameter. To be honest, I don’t think I’d be too enamoured attempting this o an iPhone, but on the iPad, the difference would be night and day.
The ReBirth 338 would be just at home with full on, professional artist/producers as it would be with someone who just wanted some old school dance/acid style fun, then sharing with friends for the craic. For the pro’s though, the ability to get those sound files on either .WAV or .AIFF would be preferable, as would be some form of MIDI capability to trigger, adjust and tweak all and any parameters via a more dedicated hardware controller. But hey, as it is, ReBirth on the Apple iPad as I said earlier, really rocks. To be honest, it’s a no-brainer purchase, so what are you waiting for?
Click the sound file below for a compilation of ReBirth demo examples (in mono – original source is stereo of course)