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MelodyMaker: a mobile sequencer i made a while ago

we begin our journey in 2001. ringtone composers from the Nokia 3xxx series. my first phone was a 3210. it allowed you to make a grand total of one custom ringtone: single polyphony piezo buzzer sounding tunes (think early PC speaker days). you composed them with a keypad interface. could oct up/down/sharp/flat, set note lengths, pick from a tempo list. next was my 3350, a considerable upgrade, basically a 3310 but with a higher res screen and with data/WAP support, still monochrome. more slots for ringtones.

here's a random video i found which shows the composer on a 3310. (timestamp 2:40), i do still have my 3350 somewhere, but i'd need to find a sim card i can put in it lol.

you could even send these ringtones to other ppl via SMS! i was def the person who would make ringtones for my friends lol.

the SP-MIDI days

back to 2004. i had a Nokia 6230. it was neat. it had a color screen and an MMC card! this was when phones started move beyond the piezo buzzer esque sounds to MIDI ringtones. you usually couldn't just throw up straight midis, they had to be in SP-MIDI, which is MIDI with an additional track priority table. the spec was behind a paywall, i think i ended up getting my hands on it so i could put it in myself with a hex editor lol. the 6230 didn't have these limitations, but most ppl i knew had older ones with 4 or 6 poly limits, and i wish it were easier for me to make MIDIs for them, and i love working within small poly limits! my "make ringtones for friends" days were essentially over.

but anyway, with J2ME being a thing, it would have been really cool to have the keypad composer come back, but with multitrack support. and that sadly never became a thing.

enter MelodyMaker

and so this is where MelodyMaker came in. the year is 2012, iOS 5 just rolled around. Audio Units support was added, along with AUSampler, a very, back then, undocumented unit that supported DLS and SF2! and so with this i set out to figure out CoreAudio, Core MIDI, and got some programmatic MIDI loop playing with a soundfont (!!!). hyperfocus kicks in and this of course evolved into the video at the top of this post.

given we were now in the smartphone touch screen era, i got inspired by the Japanese kana keyboard on iOS, which allowed you to flick to access other syllables with the same consonant. and i used flick to do things like flats and sharps, and higher / lower octave. (independent of being able to set the key and a base octave). we could be more visual, but i wanted to keep the horizontal/wrapping text interface from the original composer.

you could add another track, adjust velocities, choose instruments from soundfonts.

i even added MIDI out at some point. here's a video of a cover i did of a @surrashu one hour compo theme from around that time (80snao.it) playing on my PSR-83:

and i made a visualizer as well!

sadly, i never got this to a release state. i got caught up in figuring out how i could ship this with legal soundfonts, caught up in the idea that i would have to somehow make my own GM soundfont from scratch. i didn't want just any arbitrary set of samples, i wanted GM. and this predated the Files app, iCloud Files, etc. it was extremely difficult for the average user to get files into an app.

coming back to the present, 2022, 10 years later. this app very much doesn't work :(. iOS has changed significantly since then and i don't know if i even have the source code. but i did make a mockup of what a modern version of this might look like. this isn't a real app. just ideas.

maybe i'll continue work on it some day. i really wish i had a decent mobile GM sequencer that wasn't a straight up port of desktop ideas, or a touch screen piano roll input. until then, i'll keep using Auxy and bending it to what it really isn't supposed to be used for.

also i wish Apple would open up ToneLibrary so that apps could programmatically add to a user's ringtone library. this is what garageband iOS sneakily uses under the hood to allow ringtone export.

if you're really curious, here's a playlist of every video i ever took of MelodyMaker. sorry i couldn't do better than this shitty iPad recording. this also long predated iOS screen record lol.

this was also way more fulfilling to write than the twitter thread i did on it earlier this year. heh.