App Review: TC-11 Multi-Touch Synthesizer

Kevin Schlei, a composer and developer, releases iOS music apps under the name Bit Shape. Schlei’s stated goal is to create instruments that take advantage of the unique interfaces of the iPhone and iPad. His popular synthesizer app TC-11 certainly does this. By making creative use of the iPad’s multi-touch gestural capabilities, TC-11 allows users to experience a more intuitive interactive experience.

TC-11 is branded as providing “Professional Multi-Touch Synthesis on the iPad”. The app is most useful for electronic and electro-acoustic composers and performers, as well as sound-designers. While a deeper knowledge of sound synthesis is helpful to make full use of the app’s potential, the included templates provide even the casual user with a good jumping-off point to creating their own sounds.

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User Interface/Experience

Instead on relying on knobs or faders to control the sonic output, users are able to use multi-touch gestures, as well as the iPad’s accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass to control the app. When using the multi-touch components of the app, they see a variety of geometric shapes that correspond to their interactions. Users are also able to record their interactions. Screenshots of the performance interaction view are shown below.

Two screenshots of the TC-11 performance interaction view

Two screenshots of the TC-11 performance interaction view

The app contains several synthesis modules that include low-frequency oscillators, step sequencers, and envelope generators. By giving users the ability to program and connect these modules themselves, TC-11 gives users the ability to create extremely interesting and unique timbres. Being both a musician and a programmer, I found this feature to be extremely interesting and helpful. The screenshot below shows the area where synthesis modules can be connected and edited.


TC-11 synthesis module editor

The app uses a library called libpd to implement the sound synthesis and processing. libpd allows the Pure Data audio programming language to be used in apps that run on iOS and Android phones. This makes it easier for developers such as Scheli to create mobile apps with interesting sonic characteristics.

TC-11 also incorporates Audiobus and AudioCopy, two third-party frameworks that allow the user to route audio between apps in real-time, and to share audio between supporting apps. These features can be used in conjunction with any other audio apps that include these frameworks.

Support and Updates

TC-11 comes with an incredibly thorough user manual. At 68 pages, it is rather long, but does provide the user with clear and valuable insight into how to use TC-11 to its full potential. Schlei has been consistent with keeping TC-11 updated, and has made sure the app works with iOS 7.

Schlei has also released two other iOS apps under Bit Shape, GyrOSC and Invisible Drum Set. Both apps are for the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch (4th generation) and higher models. He is currently working on TC-Data, which he describes as “an OSC/MIDI controller based on the TC touch controllers.”

Final Word

Unlike many music-based mobile apps, TC-11 takes full advantage of the hardware that it runs on. By incorporating the iPad’s multi-touch and other hardware sensors instead of traditional knobs and faders, TC-11 allows for a more intuitive musical experience than the majority of music apps currently available.

At $29.99, the app is on the pricier side for most users, but those who incorporate technology in their composition or sound design practice will most likely benefit from having this app in their arsenal.