PolyPhase is like having Brian Eno in your iPad

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Who needs a whole band when you have PolyPhase?
Who needs a whole band when you have PolyPhase?
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Instead of just firing up that ambient music playlists again today, why not try the PolyPhase app? It’s a “generative sequencer,” which is an accurate but uninteresting way of describing its purpose: to create great music, automatically.

PolyPhase is intended to be used as a creative tool. A music can manipulate its settings, and listen until she hears something worth saving and turning into a song. But the app is equally good as an ambient soundtrack generator. One that will never stop. Ever.

Creator and performer

PolyPhase has two sections. The generative sequencer part, which does the song creation, and a synthesizer part, which plays the creations.

The sequencer has four instruments. The master creates an ever-evolving tune, a semi-random stream of notes and rhythms. The other three tracks are variations of this main theme, adding bass and melody parts. At any point, you can save a snapshot of the currently-playing tune.

PolyPhase even looks cool.
PolyPhase even looks cool.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Then there’s the synthesizer. This is meant to audition the generated music rather than be an instrument in itself. Why? PolyPhase outputs MIDI signals to let it control other music apps on your iPad, or even hardware instruments hooked up to the USB-C/Lightning port.

Synthtastic

But PolyPhase’s built-in synth is actually a fantastic-sounding instrument in its own right. You can choose it voice (or oscillator source), filter it, and add delays and other effects. Then you can record these audio tracks using AudioBus as an intermediary to your recording app of choice — GarageBand, for example.

Or you could hook up one track to a bass synth, another to a piano app, and so on. In this way, PolyPhase would play all the parts in your virtual band, and never get tired. The parts are constantly-evolving.

As a tool for composition, I quite like PolyPhase. Unlike many other automatic song-generation tools, this one is actually musical, rather than sounding like somebody gave your toaster and blender a keyboard to play. There’s a lot of less-interesting stuff in there too, of course, but the trick is to let it do its thing, with half an ear on the result. When you hear something you like, just save it as a snapshot, or freeze the current pattern.

You can then work it up into a song using whatever method you prefer. Just like Brian Eno does it.

PolyPhase

Price: $10.99

Download: PolyPhase from the App Store (iOS)