With Depeche Mode iPhone App, Cambridge’s iZotope Boosts the Mobile Drumbeat

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Sound, the world’s largest independent dance music label, in concert with a compilation album they did. Daniel Miller, the founder of Mute Records [Depeche Mode’s label], got in touch with us because he had iDrum on his iPhone.

X: How does the app work?

ND: You can basically turn elements on and off. You can replace sounds with other sounds. You can change the speed of how things are playing back, and build a little arrangement or remix by making different patterns and chaining them together.

X: How do you create a special edition of iDrum—do you draw sounds directly from a published album?

ND: For the Depeche Mode edition, we ended up working directly with Ben Hillier, who produced the album. The sounds in the app are sounds from the songs on the album that Ben adapted in a certain way to make them friendly for the way the iPhone works.

X: So how does that work—does he draw sounds from the same machines and software that were used to produce the album, or does he grab snippets of sound from the finished album?

ND: More the former. Basically we have elements that are more broken down than what you hear on the album, like individual drum sounds, or a snippet of a vocal, or a synthesizer sound. Once those are on the CD you can’t pull out the individual sounds. Ben went through all the sessions, in a state before they were mixed and put on the CD. So it’s kind of cool for the end user and people who may be interested in learning music production, because they get to use some of the same elements that the studio producer works with. With Depeche Mode—which is obviously a pioneering act as far as electronic-based pop music using drum and music synthesizer—their style of music is very easily adaptable for the iPhone.

X: Interesting you should mention music production. What are the licensing, copyright, or digital rights management issues around an application like this? The app doesn’t have a recording mode, but if somebody wanted to create a literal remix using sounds in the iDrum Depeche Mode edition, would they be free to do that?

ND: The content was licensed to us by Mute, so Mute has all the rights. We don’t give people permission to make their own music and re-release it based on those samples. It’s designed to be used on the phone. I suppose you could hold a CD player up to a microphone, record something off the CD, and use that on a new album too—but the same copyright issues would apply there. We aren’t giving people permission to release music based on these samples.

X: But from one perspective, the experimentation that the iPhone app enables is very much in the spirit of the free culture movement, which is all about remixing creative resources. What would be wrong with letting people create new music using the elements in iDrum?

ND: That’s a little bit outside the scope of what iDrum does. If you look at what Depeche Mode is doing at Beatportal, a popular digital music download site targeted toward DJs and electronic music and remix competitions, that’s specifically about remixing. iDrum is more about having a certain kind of experience on your iPhone or iPod Touch that’s more fun and experimental, rather than trying to make a finished product that you’re going to release. In a way, it’s meant to bridge the gap between serious music making in a studio and, on the other side, games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which have … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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