Imagine a heady combination of animals and music. If your brain immediately thought ‘hideous Disney animation’ (or, worse, that irritating song with Paul McCartney and his belching frogs), SoundForest is an ideal antidote.
Existing in a space somewhere between oddball sound toy and surprisingly capable musical instrument, SoundForest is an immediate, intuitive, and yet frequently deeply weird experience.
If a drunk Apple employee uploaded a David Attenborough tribute take on GarageBand one day, it’d probably look a lot like SoundForest.
You’re not so much creating The Birdie Song in SoundForest as a song with birdies – and other animals. (And also, in some cases, trees and rocks, because why not? It turns out mountains make for a thumping bass drum.) Across the foot of the screen is a strip of icons. Tap one and you discover what sound it makes.
You then tap slots on the pattern grid to place your chosen sort-of instrument. This is a stripped-back take on note editing found in the likes of GarageBand – you get six different pitch levels. A ‘sun’ or ‘moon’ then acts as the playhead, scooting across the top of the screen to play your notes.
Rinse and repeat and you’ll soon have a loop. Long before that, you’ll realise SoundForest is really very odd.
Ocean colour scene
During review, I first delved into the EchoOcean theme – all fish and sea life – creating something unsettling and bloopy. A quick trip to SoundForest resulted in racoons, butterflies, mountains and trees hurling at my ears The Art Of Noise hopped up on sherbet.
Next: ElectroJungle. Mandrills emit a pleasing slap bass (which may surprise wildlife experts); in tandem with peacocks and lizards, this allowed for something approximating jungle, underpined by a juddering, thick rhythm. A rainbow was then added, making the BEEEOOOO noise you used to yell when you were four and playing Battleships.
For the encore: a terrifying pseudo industrial loop constructed in SynthSavanna, with dead-eyed jungle animal icons staring out of the screen directly into my soul.
You’ve probably surmised by now that SoundForest is fun and surreal. But it’s also limited – which at various points works to its advantage and also its detriment.
The limited board slots are in a sense like you having six monophonic tracks. Two icons cannot exist in the same space, which forces clever positioning when working up complex interplaying melodies. Yet the simple structure also ensures SoundForest’s suitable for anyone with a sense of creativity and fun.
But disappointingly, whether you’re an expert musician (suddenly juggling elephants, owls and dolphins, and wondering: how did I get here?) or a complete novice, there’s no export to get loops out of the app. (The website suggests connecting a device to a Mac and recording into QuickTime Player. Erm, no.)
The app also isn’t happy moving beyond a one-bar loop. Although you can expand compositions to four times that length, flipping between bars is tedious, and there’s no copy and paste. You can at least, fortunately, easily save compositions – up to 18 miniature songs are stored per theme.
But gripes feel churlish when you consider this is a two-quid app that’s an awful lot of fun. Just by dotting random icons about, you can produce some really interesting noise. It encourages play, and should appeal to kids and adults alike.
Just don’t get disappointed the next time you’re out for a walk and the local butterflies aren’t emitting rave synth stabs like the ones in SoundForest.
SoundForest is available for iOS
A great app whether you’re already into music, or just fancy having fun with a noisy, colourful sound toy
Really easy to use
Four varied themes
Rewards creative exploration
Awkward to create multi-pattern loops
No export options whatsoever