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  #1  
Old 10-13-2003, 05:00 PM
Tim Allen
Ponderer
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 108
Default A Virtual Music Studio in Your Pocket: Griff v1.0 Reviewed

There are currently two hot topics in the world of electronic music. One is the rise of software over hardware, and the other is the drive towards portable studios. The convergence of these trends means it is now possible to setup a complete virtual studio on a laptop, fully stocked with all the software you need to create music virtually anywhere you happen to be. Griff takes this to the next level, attempting to pack a complete studio into a Pocket PC, for those times when even a laptop is just too much to carry around. Read on to find out if it succeeds.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-main.gif" /> <br /><br /><!> <i>Griff, from UK-based Cobwebb Communications, is a full-blown virtual music studio for the Pocket PC, complete with sequencer, sampler, mixer, instruments and effects. I looked at version 1.5.4.8.</i><br /><br /><span><b>The 30 Second Test</b></span><br />Press 'Play' immediately after starting Griff and, er, nothing happens: no pre-loaded demo, no default tones, nothing. No indication of how to get sound out of it. And a quick scoot round the screens randomly pressing buttons and tweaking controls fails to result in anything other than silence. Deep breath. Count to ten. Realise that this is the mark of a serious music tool and some time might be needed to get to know it.<br /><br />Fortunately, there's an excellent manual and tutorial available on the Web site which takes you step-by-step through the basics of creating your first tune - and believe me this is a must-read if you're going to get anywhere.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-help.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 1: The built-in help also has a quick-start guide.</i> <br /><br />So whilst the learning curve is on the steep side of things, it's no worse than the average desktop sequencer, and to be fair it doesn't take long to get the hang of it. In fact you usually find that the most powerful user interfaces are initially hard to get to grips with, and those designed more for beginners tend to get in the way once you know what you're doing.<br /><br /><span><b>Song Structure</b></span><br />Griff employs a hierarchical song structure. At the highest level there is the 'song' itself, which is composed of one or more 'sections'. Each section is in turn composed of one or more 'patterns', and each pattern contains the actual notes that the instrument assigned to the pattern will play.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-song.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 2: The Song editor, showing the sections at the top and various song parameters underneath.</i> <br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-section.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 3: The Section editor, showing the patterns and the tracks (instruments) they're assigned to.</i> <br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-pattern.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 4: The Pattern editor, showing the actual notes to be played. Darker notes are louder.</i> <br /><br />This may sound confusing, as if there is one too many levels, but it does make the most of the limited screen space by breaking up the complete song into manageable chunks, and makes it simple to drill-down into the specific area of the song you're interested in. It's also very easy to navigate between the various screens in Griff: either via the Views menu, by tapping the square soft-buttons which appear on most screens, or by double-tapping the particular section or pattern to be edited.<br /> <PAGEBREAK> <br /><span><b>Factories</b></span><br />One interesting facet of the user interface is the use of 'factories'. This is a common design pattern in the software development world, and as the name suggests is used to create a new object, in this case a new section, pattern or note. This is accomplished by tapping on the factory icon and dragging the new section, pattern or note to the required position. What isn't so obvious is that an existing section, pattern or note is deleted by dragging it back to the factory, rather than the more expected pop-up menu Delete option.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-factory.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 5: Dragging a new section from the factory to the song.</i> <br /><br />As well as creating a blank pattern, the pattern factory can also create patterns based on a pre-defined template stored in the 'pattern bank'.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-bank.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 6: The pattern bank, showing the 'Current' tab for patterns created in this song.</i> <br /><br />Griff comes supplied with a variety of default pattern templates, but in addition any patterns you create are automatically stored in the bank. Oh and patterns dragged back to the factory aren't actually deleted, but remain in the pattern bank.<br /><br />All this can initially be a bit confusing, but you soon get used to it, and factories are ultimately a very intuitive mechanism for re-using melodies, riffs and rhythms within a song and even between songs.<br /><br /><span><b>Mixer</b></span><br />You can create as many sections, patterns and notes as you like, but not much is going to happen until you've assigned an instrument or two. This is where the mixer screen comes in. Tap and hold to get a pop-up menu where you can add an instrument, which creates a new channel on the mixer and two new rows on the section screen. These rows are where you assign patterns to the instrument and store automated mixer parameter changes for it, respectively.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-mixer.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 7: The Mixer screen, showing the instruments and effects loaded for the song.</i> <br /><br />The mixer provides the usual level, pan and effect send controls, and is generally laid out in a clear and easy-to-use fashion, except that you can't tell which effect is assigned to which row of knobs without tapping on them.<br /><br /><span><b>Instruments</b></span><br />Griff comes with two built-in instruments: mSyn, the obligatory virtual analogue subtractive synthesizer, and Sampler, which is not really an instrument in its own right, but, as the name suggests, a sampler with a range of reasonable default samples together with the ability to import and edit your own.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-msyn.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 8: The lovely knobs for controlling the mSyn monophonic synth. Much fun to be had here.</i> <br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-sampler.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 9: The Sampler, with the built-in drumkit loaded.</i> <br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-samples.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 10: Loading a sample set into the Sampler.</i> <br /><br />Just like the pattern templates mentioned previously, instrument settings can also be saved to enable easy re-use of any useful sounds you've created.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-presets.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 11: Loading an instrument preset.</i> <br /><br />Speaking of useful sounds, the quality of sound output by mSyn is absolutely superb. It has enough tweakable controls to generate everything from deep basses through to swishy, buzzy or squelchy leads. And all the knobs can be automated (see below).<br /> <PAGEBREAK> <br /><span><b>Effects</b></span><br />Griff also comes with a number of built-in effects, including Delay, Reverb, Chorus and Flanger. All of these are presented on screens which are nothing less than works of art and an exercise in minimalist simplicity, providing just the bare essentials necessary to convert the raw instrument outputs into awe-inspiring towers of sound.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-effects.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 12: Just look at those gorgeous effect screens.</i> <br /><br /><span><b>Plug-in Architecture</b></span><br />Similar to PC-based studios, Griff employs a plug-in architecture to enable further instruments and effects to be added. This is a crucial feature as it provides for virtually unlimited potential for creativity, assuming of course there is a ready supply of plug-ins.<br /><br />And fortunately there is. In fact once you've registered your copy of Griff you can download two further virtual instruments for free from the developer's Web site: PocketVoid DX, an FM synthesizer, and PocketPluck, which emulates plucked string instruments. A variety of other plug-in instruments and effects can be purchased separately, greatly expanding the sounds you can make with Griff.<br /><br /><span><b>Parameter Automation</b></span><br />Almost any instrument or mixer control can be programmed to move through a pre-defined path during playback, making it easy to produce filter sweeps, pans, fades, effect changes, etc. This is done by sketching out graphically how you want any given parameter to change, providing a very flexible and easy to use mechanism which encourages experimentation.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-params.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 13: The parameter automation screen, here panning the synth from right to left and back again.</i> <br /><br /><span><b>Output</b></span><br />Griff's output is 16-bit CD quality stereo, and your masterwork can be exported in both audio (WAV) and MIDI formats. Strangely, there's also an XML import/export option, but I can't really fathom what you'd use it for unless you have another sequencer that can understand the same XML.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/allen-sep03-griff-output.gif" /> <br /><i>Figure 14: The various output options.</i> <br /><br /><b><span>Gotchas</span></b>
  • <li>The learning curve is reasonably steep due to things like the song-section-pattern relationship, factories and banks, alias vs replicate, etc.<br /><li>Patterns can only exist within a section, not across multiple sections, so you can't set up a bassline, for example, at the song level. It is actually possible to have parallel sections playing at the same time, but this isn't really practical as they overlap on screen so you can't see those underneath.<br /><li>Whilst it's possible to automate mixer and effect parameters at the section level, you can't do this for instrument parameters - they can only be automated within a pattern.<br /><li>I found that the pattern/section looping flag occasionally didn't work properly, sometimes refusing to loop even though set to do so. This could be fixed by simply unsetting and resetting it though.<br /><li>I'd like the zoom to work a bit quicker - this is a key feature as you spend a lot of time zooming in to edit details and back out for an overview, and I found it a bit slow.<br /><li>I couldn't actually delete a pattern from the 'Current' list in the bank - there is a 'Remove' menu option but it always seemed to be greyed-out, even if the pattern is no longer used in the song.<br />
<span><b>Where To Buy</b></span><br />The software can be <a href="http://www.planetgriff.com/retail_category.php?catid=1">purchased directly from the developer's Web site</a> for 39.99 (approximately $65). A <a href="http://www.planetgriff.com/demo.php">trial version</a> is also available, together with some <a href="http://www.planetgriff.com/tunes.php">sample tunes</a> to give you an idea of what it can do. There are various extra plug-in instruments and effects also available to purchase.<br /><br /><b><span>Specifications</span></b><br />This program will work on any Pocket PC or Pocket PC 2002 device, and takes up 2.6 Mb of storage RAM.<br /><br /><b><span>Conclusions</span></b><br />Griff produces a professional-quality sound, has a well-designed user interface and is extensible via its plug-in architecture. It is quite expensive for a Pocket PC application, especially as you have to buy most of the effects and instruments separately - in fact buying all of them would add another 85 ($135) on to the basic application price. However, you have to compare this to an equivalent PC-based setup, which is likely to be many times the cost.<br /><br />So overall I highly recommend Griff if you're serious about making music on the go, and would even go so far as to say it's the best music creation tool for the Pocket PC so far. But could it replace your laptop virtual studio? Maybe not, as the sacrifices you have to make - screen real estate, lack of hardware controllers, etc - may be too great, but bringing things down in scale and removing unnecessary bells and whistles does have one huge advantage: it allows you to focus on creating the music itself, and isn't that the whole point?
 
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  #2  
Old 10-13-2003, 06:18 PM
sponge
Philosopher
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 541

Meh. I found Griff overly complicated, and the price was even worse. I don't neccecarily agree with the price by comparing it to PC setups because, frankly, PPCs aren't near the levels of adoption and so forth to warrant such expensive programs.

Personally, I'd reccomend PhoenixStudio, although it has no sampled sounds. Syntrax is also nice, and comes with a large sampling of sounds.
 
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  #3  
Old 10-13-2003, 08:25 PM
dean_shan
Mystic
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,911

Crazy. Seems like it would be hard to make music with such a small screen.
 
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  #4  
Old 10-13-2003, 10:37 PM
onepieceman
Ponderer
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 101

I've actually bought this software, though I admit I don't use it much.
Major pros; looks great, sounds great, very nice sampler
Downsides;
a) eats the battery (well, I suppose it is working hard compared with your average app, but even so)
b) I'd also like to hear the note as I'm placing it. The only way to do this is to set a tight loop playing and move the note around within the loop, which kind of works, but not ideal.
c) can't import midi or any other open format. Griff format isn't exactly common.

Bottom line for me is that it's just a little too hard to get anything major off the ground with all the various limitations, but it can be a lot of fun when you're stuck somewhere and are in a creative mood.
 
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  #5  
Old 10-14-2003, 01:39 AM
trapper
Pupil
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 32

Quote:
Bottom line for me is that it's just a little too hard to get anything major off the ground with all the various limitations
Maybe so but some of the user demo's from their site are extremely impressive and very well done. The vendor demo's don't begin to compare with those from the users however.
 
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  #6  
Old 10-14-2003, 09:53 AM
Daniel Webb
Pupil
Join Date: Feb 2002
Posts: 14
Default From PlanetGriff

Tim - PlanetGriff here. Thanks for a great review, very fair and thorough. Glad you enjoyed the mSyn...
Quote:
Speaking of useful sounds, the quality of sound output by mSyn is absolutely superb. It has enough tweakable controls to generate everything from deep basses through to swishy, buzzy or squelchy leads. And all the knobs can be automated.
Did you ever get a chance to use the pSyn ? It's a polyphonic version of the mSyn with a few tasty additions. That mda is one smart cookie.


Quote:
(The Effects...) are presented on screens which are nothing less than works of art.
Credit for the beautiful skins must go to Martin Steib - A Brit living in Chicago. Unfortunately he doesn't have a website but I know he loves www.eboy.com and www.pixelhaus.com


Quote:
Crazy. Seems like it would be hard to make music with such a small screen.
dean_shan - It does get frustrating but I've written more stuff on Griff than on any other software package purely because I can do it anywhere and it's instant on. I guess it suits my lifestyle. I guess it doesn't suit sponges...


Quote:
The vendor demo's don't begin to compare with those from the users however.
I'll try not to take this personally :mecry:

Most of the demo's were written on the train to and from Wembley during our first, and only, exhibition showing Griff off. And those darn users are cheating - They've got talent.

Anyways, we'll head back to our planet now - so long and thanks for all the fish.
 
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  #7  
Old 10-14-2003, 08:42 PM
Tim Allen
Ponderer
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 108
Default Re: From PlanetGriff

Quote:
Originally Posted by Daniel Webb
Tim - PlanetGriff here. Thanks for a great review, very fair and thorough.
I'm glad you liked it Daniel, and I'm even more pleased to see you taking part in the discussion here.

Quote:
Did you ever get a chance to use the pSyn ? It's a polyphonic version of the mSyn with a few tasty additions.
No, but I'll try to take a look at it.
 
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  #8  
Old 10-17-2003, 03:15 PM
maikii
Thinker
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 425

Quote:
Originally Posted by onepieceman
c) can't import midi or any other open format. Griff format isn't exactly common.
To me that's a dealbreaker. (Still reading, Daniel Webb?) Any sequencer should be able to read and write MIDI files, that's a basic. If I were to use a sequencer on my PPC, I would want to be able to transfer to it a sequence I was working on on a PC to the PPC, and later export it back. (To use at a time when it is more convenient to work on a PPC, when I don't have the laptop with me, etc.)

Also, there should be a General MIDI compatible softsynth that comes with it, as unfortunately Windows Mobile doesn't come with one, unlike desktop windows. With realistic acoustic instrument sounds, GM 1 and 2 compatible, perhaps XG and GS compatible as well. Then one could use such a program to continue work started on a desktop synth.

Otherwise, such a program has no value to me, other than a plaything, if it cannot import and export file formats compatible with other computers, with the instrumental sounds at the same patch numbers, etc.

Is Griff going to add such capabilities soon?

Anyone know of other PPC music software that can do this? (I tried some demos a few months back, including Griff (just very quickly, I didn't have much time to work with them) (and I found the demos so crippled, one really couldn't do much with them), and wasn't so happy with any of them. (But I might have missed something, or there could be a new version or new product, etc.)
 
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  #9  
Old 10-18-2003, 10:27 AM
arebelspy
Theorist
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 268
Send a message via AIM to arebelspy

maikii: http://pdamusician.com/

-arebelspy
 
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  #10  
Old 10-18-2003, 04:47 PM
maikii
Thinker
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 425

Quote:
Originally Posted by arebelspy
maikii: http://pdamusician.com/

-arebelspy
I tried that one too ("those", I mean--I think they make a few programs), and also wasn't very impressed. As I said though, I didn't really try these demos a lot, just a glance. (If I recall correctly, most of the demos were so crippled one couldn't really do much with them.)

Have you used the pdamusician programs (or one or some of them) much? If so, could you tell us more about it (them), the features, what you like and don't like, etc..? (If you are a user. I guess you might be the developer making a plug.)

With the current higher-powered processors on PPCs, I really hope that better music software for them is in the works. WM really should come with a decent GM softsynth, as other versions of Windows do.
 
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