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Compose with a full orchestra on your iPad or iPhone

Many years ago I built a music synthesizer kit. It was a mass of circuit boards and wires. When I got done, any note I played warbled and quickly went off key.

Times have changed, and now, rather amazingly, an iPhone or iPad can be home to a massive orchestra that will do your bidding as you compose or transcribe music wherever you are.

That brings us to WI Orchestra, a new app from Wallander Instruments that allows you to create and record orchestral music, layer by layer. The app is free, but it only gives you a handful of instruments. In-app purchases let you select an entire family of instruments for US$2.99. To get them all will cost you $15. Wallander technology has been in use for years, and you'll hear its electronically created instruments in TV shows and movies. Lots of composers use the desktop versions of the software every day.

The app allows you to work on up to 98 compositions at a time, and you can export the songs as WAV files. It works on any iDevice running iOS 4.0 or greater, and iPad and iPhones with more than 256 MB of RAM can have projects that run up to 5 minutes.

I tried the app on my iPad and thought it was pretty intuitive. A brief help menu is supplied. The keyboard picked up how hard I was playing, and roughly adjusted volume accordingly. I realized how nice a Bluetooth or USB music keyboard would be with this app. The on-screen version worked OK, but it's certainly not tactile the way a physical keyboard would be.


The instruments sound very realistic, especially with headphones on. You can click here for a demo of how a final piece sounds. The output of the app is mono only. It would be nice to be able to determine the position of an instrument, but you'll have to move up to some more sophisticated software for that kind of control.

There's no way an app like this is going to equal the bells and whistles, literally, of a high-end synthesizer, but WI Orchestra is awfully impressive. You can certainly play with it for free, but if you like it, you'll probably spring for more instruments. Another positive is you won't have wires all over your desk and the smell of solder, like I did eons ago.

ThumbJam is also impressive, and it's designed for real-time music making, rather than layering tracks to make a final product. It's $6.99 and comes with dozens of instruments. Let us know if you've seen some other impressive musical composition apps.

Wi Orchestra is a universal app that runs on an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.

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