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January 23, 2004


In the last week, GarageBand has become the Kittywompus equivalent of the Victorian piano. Each evening after dinner, the family gathers round the iMac to make very bad music.

I've always known that it would be quite handy to have some sequencing software. But it's all been either expensive, or hard to use, or both. Plus there's a problem that different programs do specific things well, but it's hard to find something that will cover all aspects of producing music for fun, and it's hard to tell what you need.

GarageBand is trivial by comparison. The interface is very easy to use; you drag loops into it and add MIDI tracks and recorded real instrument tracks to build up a song. When you're done, you can export it to iTunes (as an AIFF), where it appears in the library under your name.

The first night we had GarageBand, I recorded myself singing Cakes and Ale, which is a splendid three-part catch (round); I just recorded myself singing it once and offset it to produce the harmony. The following day, I moved onto a version of Summer Is Icumen In, with several layers of vocals and half a dozen recorders. Austin heard this; having just seen A Mighty Wind he thought that my recording felt authentically dreadful. I cearly have some work to do.

But still; GarageBand will allow enthusiastic amateurs to produce songs reminiscent of parodies of bad sixties folk music in only a few hours. Which is, well, quite something.

The third night, I went to the theatre, and arrived home to discover that while I was out, Steven & the kids had produced a weird ambient version of Hickory Dickory Dock, in the style of Wendy Cope in the style of TS Eliot, with vocals from all three of them and supporting weird ethnic percussion sounds as well as some of the Apple Loops. None of them can sing, play an instrument, or read music. But it didn't stop them having a whale of a time with GarageBand.

Even with no previous experience, I quickly discovered some of the program's limitations. For example, it allows you to work in any of a dozen different time signatures (including fives!). But remember those 1000 loops? 6 are 3/4 time (of which only two are actually 3-beat loops). A couple are 2/4 or 2/2. The rest are 4/4. So, if I'd like, say, to sing along to a drum in 6/8 time, I'd better find some other loops, or record my own. Luckily we have a house full of likely percussive items.

Apple reckoned that their target audience wouldn't want to produce their own loops, using Apple's inbuilt loops instead. But of course I'm keen to produce loops from Jonathan's enthusiastic playing of the seed rattle and other instruments we picked up at Strawberry Fair; there's an SDK to do this.

On the whole, GarageBand is just about the most fun ever. If you've ever played an instrument, or wanted to fiddle about with loops, or even like singing in the bath, you'll have a whale of a time.

Posted by Alison Scott at January 23, 2004 02:37 PM


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