Instant music making like nothing you’ve experienced

Synthesisers on iOS are not a new phenomenon. In fact they have become so advanced and usable that artists like Daft Punk have been known to use them on stage.

Figure though, is something entirely different, in that it isn’t just aimed at professional musicians, it can be picked up and mastered by anyone. The first time you use Figure there is no doubt you will be stunned by the polished audio you produce, and that’s all down to the clever balance between complete freedom to create what you want, and a constant stabilising factor that keeps the audio listenable.

Before you even discover how easy it is to use, Figure will grab your attention with its stylish interface. It feels like it has taken inspiration from a spaceship dashboard, yet retains a hipster element that you associate with some of the trendy photo sharing apps. This interface is fused with brilliant functionality throughout, with high levels of response and multi-touch gestures that allow you to turn your iPhone into a live instrument as you use the app.

The actual music making is broken down into three main sections, each colour-coded and designed slightly differently – Drums, Bass and Lead. Within each section are either one or four coloured blocks, and it is within these areas that you will create your audio. Hit record to save a sequence and then move onto the next section, playing what you’ve already created and then adding new components to it. Tap and drag to hear various pitches and tones, then use the circular icons above to then play with the rhythm – the number of drum beats for example – as well as the range of the pitch. It can all seem a bit complicated upon first viewing, but the best way to learn the intricacies of each feature is by interacting with it and listening to the results. This is the real joy of Figure – it is the ultimate music experimentation app. You learn by doing, and the way you do it – by dragging and tapping across your iPhone screen – is not only addictive, but also hugely enjoyable no matter how musically gifted you are. This idea of experimenting and manipulating the app in different ways creates the feeling that your iPhone has almost been turned into a live musical instrument, and you’re songwriting as you go. It’s a unique experience, and one that even complete instrument novices can begin to enjoy very quickly.

The cleverness of Figure also lies in its longevity. You can create a song in three minutes, so you can pass the time while waiting for the bus, but at the same time you can tweak edit and re-record elements of your track infinitely, so you could spend hours and hours playing around with your beat.

When we say record, sadly we don’t mean it literally, as one of the only pitfalls of Figure is that you can’t save the tracks you create. Record refers to logging a pattern you’ve made within one of the coloured grids, so that you can move on to the next section and try out various beats alongside what you’ve already created. It could be argued that maybe this is a good thing, as any memory space created for saved tracks is likely to be quickly filled, given the level of freedom and detail that is available within the app.

Even when you get past the initial song creation phase, there is still so much you can do in Figure. Running along the bottom of the screen are a series of tabs that mark out various steps in the audio creation process. Most of what you will do occurs in just the first tab. Beyond that, you can make tweaks in the form of subtle realignments of where you placed your initial start points. Then you have the Song section, where you can alter tempo and key, before Mix focuses on the different levels of each layer of audio you’ve created.

It demonstrates just how much audio exploring there is to do in this app, and the results never seem to disappoint because of Figure’s structure, and how it keeps you on track, without hindering your creativity. We’ve seen plenty of music creation apps try their hand on iPhone in the past, and while many might give you more professional results there are none that have this quality of interface or ease of use. Figure is a huge leap forward for synth apps.

Rated 5 out of 5

Looks great, brilliantly responsive and worryingly addictive: not to be missed.