A mesmerizing fusion of old and new

Price: $10/£10
Version: 1.5.11
Size: 8.5 MB
Developer: Alexandernaut
Platform: iPhone & iPad

Fugue Machine

Fugue Machine has been described as ‘Bach in a box’. It’s a music-making app inspired by compositional techniques used in Baroque music and serialism, such as Bach’s canons and fugues. These involve playing multiple variations of a melody simultaneously.

But if that makes your head swim, all you really need know is that Fugue Machine makes it simple to make dizzyingly beautiful endless music loops.

Roll with it

The basics are easy to grasp, echoing GarageBand’s piano roll. You tap out (or drag to extend) notes on a grid. Tap the play button and they loop forever. Easy. Only Fugue Machine then allows you to add three extra playheads.

For each playhead, the speed, direction, pitch, and volume can be adjusted. The interplay between the playheads is what makes Fugue Machine so magical. Even a basic four-note sequence on a single bar can become a hypnotic composition with the right settings – and this is an app that positively rewards experimentation.

Play time

Making changes is straightforward. Each playhead can be activated/deactivated by, respectively, using its play/stop buttons. The musical notes button brings up a settings pane, for adjusting the playhead’s properties.

Fugue Machine started life on iPad, and so in the move to iPhone, everything’s a bit smaller. Selecting a playhead style (direction), and adjusting the dial-based controls can be a bit fiddly.

Fugue Machine on iPad

Still, it’s hard to see how the interface could be further refined, and using the app never becomes frustrating. After all, this is about composition rather than live playback, and so the odd error when changing a playhead’s octave is a very temporary blip rather than an annoying flub.

Music to your ears

In stills, Fugue Machine may still look complex, but trust us when we say it’s possible for beginners to create something beautiful within minutes. And if you’re unsure where to start, there are dozens of preloaded sequences to explore prior to making your own.

For more seasoned iOS musicians, there’s a wealth of further features to delve into, enabling you to wire up Fugue Machine’s sequencing capabilities to synthesizers. See the author’s Songs For Fugue Machine album for where this can lead.

But even on its own – as a musical sketchpad, chill-out sound toy, or investigation into classical music technique – Fugue Machine is a superb app.

Fugue Machine – a unique, intoxicating music machine
A unique, oddball iOS music-making app – but also one of the finest and most accessible around
For
  • Great for beginners and pros alike
  • Dozens of pre-loaded examples
  • Enables really fast results
Against
  • A touch fiddly on iPhone
  • Won’t make you as famous as Bach
5.0Overall Score