Developer: Reactable Systems
Version Reviewed: 1.0.4
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There aren't many musical instruments out there that are stranger than the Reactable table instrument. The original Reactable table was concieved by a four man research team at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. The table is a round, translucent table that, in the dark, emanates this creepy blue glow. What happens (and this is from my own understanding) is that the table itself provides the platform for the user to make sounds with the provided "tangibles." The tangibles are little blocks, all with different symbols, that all do different things. Some tangibles are oscilators, some are voltage filters, etc. Once the blocks are placed on the Reactable, the table itself displays animated symbols that let you modify what kind of sound that gets produced.
As far as I can tell, the actual Reactable tables are very limited in number and are only available in selected museum exhibits and Bjork concerts. You can get on the waiting list to get one, but they look to only be sold in small batches and cost 9,700 Euros a pop - not exactly the price of a guitar at a local music store. Fortunately for iOS users, there is an app for that.
The Reactable app, developed by the same people that made the table, is the iOS touch screen version of the same product. Because the iPhone has a touch screen, the Reactable works the same as it would in real life, only with everything a bit smaller.
In the app, you can choose from a wide selection of tangibles that produce sounds, including the aforementioned oscillator, loops (you can upload your own .rtp or .wav loops through the built in web server), and samples. Once your sound is down, you can modify it by using the various modifier tangibles, which include a modulator, a filter, a sequencer, a low frequency oscillator (LFO), and my favorite of all, the accelerometer control. With it, you can scramble any loop or sample just by shaking the iPhone.
To create a real song with the Reactable app, you would really have to get into the details of each tangible. For example, if you double tap a loop, you can change the loop, modify its equalizer settings, and choose what pattern the loop plays in. Once you add in filters and modulators, the beat that you produce really boils down to your ability to micromanage individual sounds. With so much action going on at once, using Reactable on an iPad should be much more satisfying than on an iPhone.
In the end, Reactable really just boils down to a fun but complicated toy that can make some impressive beats - if you know what you are doing. Learning all the symbols can be a challenge (I recommend looking at the online manual) and the general chaos will discourage some, but people that are really into iOS music making will find the app fascinating.