Koala is an iOS app I made that lets you record anything with your phone’s mic instantly, create beats with those samples, add effects and create a track in no time at all.
The idea behind Koala was to make a musical composition tool with no brake-pedal, no way to stumble down a rabbit-hole of micro-editing, tweaking parameters, undoing, redoing, etc etc – I want to get people to be less precious about their creations and just get on creating.
The initial inspiration for this was remembering when I started at design school, they told us to only draw with a pen rather than a pencil – I found it counter intuitive at first, but soon realized that it gave me more confidence to draw and helped me to stop being so precious about getting everything so precise.
Second piece of inspiration: Some time in 2015-2016 I learnt that the notorious (late) hip-hop producer J Dilla had been the hugely influential driving musical force behind many of the hip-hop tunes I grew up with. I’d always marvelled at the way these tracks were so simple in their construction – but the art was in the expert discovery and curation of a handful of samples that sound like they were born to be together, even if they were from different ends of the musical universe. And it seems J Dilla was the king of that.
Sadly, in 2006, he died after a lengthy battle with a particularly nasty blood disease. During all the time he had to spend in hospital, he would make tracks, which eventually turned into his last album – Donuts. Most of the tracks (29 of 31), he purportedly made with a BOSS SP-303, and a bunch of records. It turns out this myth might not totally true, but it inspired me!
When I heard this rumour he’d made Donuts on an SP-303, my jaw dropped. I’d never used one, but if you look at the front panel, you can see how straight-forward it is – no undo, no sample libraries, no piano roll input, or all the other functionality we’re used to these days. Yet it was enough of a vehicle for him to make such a stellar album.
What the SP-303 does have, though, is a workflow that forces you to just get on with it and make some music. This is the essence I wanted to capture in Koala. It has the ability to sample itself, “resampling” – which I love, and have incorporated. Also, you can put effects directly onto the input, so you can really turn sounds from your mic into anything. And of course, once you’ve recorded with those effects, they’re baked in, there’s no going back!!
I also set up a sort of company called elf audio as a brand for Koala and future music iOS/Mac apps.