Over the past few years I’ve found myself gravitating towards portable music devices that I can fool around with while I’m drinking my morning coffee or have a few spare minutes during the day. I’ve never really been an iPad guy but I’ve been seeing some interesting apps pop up over the past few years and figured it was time to give it a shot.

I’m glad I did because Drambo in particular has been a huge amount of fun. It’s a “modular groovebox” with sequencing features that will feel familiar to Ableton or Elektron users, but every track in the project is a freeform modular instrument that you can wire up with dozens of simple and effective modules.

I’ve tried a lot of virtual modular stuff like VCV Rack, Reaktor Blocks, and Voltage Modular. But for some reason I never really connected with those. Dragging a bunch of virtual patch cables around on a screen bugs me; it feels like we’re missing the point of what’s great about software.1 And trying to do all of this in a DAW feels fractured. A modular system feels “too big” to be a VST that you slap onto a track. But sequencing in the rack is fiddly and limiting. I’m sure there are great ways to integrate this stuff into your workflow but I’m immediately overwhelmed. I just want to knock out some weird beats!

But hey, I tried the first generation of iPad software back in the day and I didn’t like that stuff either!2 A lot of mobile software still feels like someone just made an iOS build of a desktop app. UIs that make sense for clicking around with a mouse suck on a touch screen. And I know Audio Unit v3 has allowed iOS devices to route audio around apps. But that never felt like something I was eager to wrap my brain around when I could just use Ableton on a computer.

With Drambo everything is in the same place and having the sequencer tightly tied into the instruments feels natural. Signals generally flow automatically from left to right in the ways you expect but you still have the freedom to wire things however you want.

Drambo’s UI can still be a little clunky at times--I’ll chalk that up to a huge amount of power and flexibility built into the system and individual modules. But it’s the first time I’ve felt like all this stuff really clicks.

I’m still very new to it, but the video above shows the kind of results you can get with a little bit of noodling around using the built-in modules and a few samples (from Wavparty of course). I’m excited to keep experimenting with it and sharing some projects and instruments via Wavparty.

  1. In all fairness I haven’t really checked in with any of those products in the past few years, I’m sure they’ve evolved! 

  2. Things like Korg Gadget and Patterning were pretty great, but still kinda just felt like toys to mess around with while you’re stuck on an airplane. I made this track on my first album mostly in Gadget.