Cartoon artist and musician Jon Rawlinson, better known as Pants Of Death, received an iPad from his employer last year for Christmas, initially planning on using it digitally create and publish his cartoons, but after discovering ReBirth for iPad and NanoStudio, he started putting all of his creative efforts into producing music. His use of samples from popular movies and audiobooks really adds to his signature sound and vibe. You can listen to Pants Of Death on SoundCloud and follow him on Twitter to keep up with his new tracks!
Tell us a little bit about your and your music!
I am a 43 year old Englishman living and working in Sydney. In my late teens and early twenties I spent a load of time, and more money than I could afford, making music in my bedroom. As a hobby it was very time consuming and I got stuck in a rut of producing sketches, or 8 bar loops, but never any finished tracks. I became very frustrated and more or less stopped making music.
As time went by I started a job that involved a lot of travel, and got married and had kids, and all my music equipment and software was put in a cupboard and was forgotten about. I put all my creative energies into drawing cartoons, that is where the Pantsofdeath name comes from, it was/is a website where I would publish the cartoons I drew. For a while I was publishing a cartoon a day and learned a lot about the creative process as a result, but then life got in the way and I stopped doing that too.
My musical tastes from the age of 10 have traveled through Gary Numan to David Bowie, Goth, Industrial, EBM, Trance, Triphop, Breakbeat, Big Beat Ambient and Experimental and I have picked up a load of influences probably obvious to my listeners. I would love to sound more like Brendan Perry but my friends tell me everything sounds like Front Line Assembly. Importantly I have learned not to self censor and not to take myself too seriously (you wouldn’t guess that listening to my more pompous and bombastic pieces) so a load of things float to the surface.
What percent of your music, would you say, is generated / recorded on iOS?
Everything I do is on iOS, I am very strict about it, right from the start I wanted my whole music production environment to be something I could use anywhere and I have not used a single external device or instrument since I started. I have an Oxygen 8 MIDI controller at home but I have not bought a camera connection kit yet so it has never been used with my iPad. Originally that was because I couldn’t afford a camera connection kit, but then I quickly realized that I really don’t want to get used to using a “real” keyboard anyway. Arguably the only exception to this rule is my iRig guitar input thing, I bought it very cheaply on ebay and so I suspect it isn’t really an iRig at all. I had planned to add guitar lines to some tracks (I was originally a guitarist and bassist) but I hadn’t realized how badly my guitar playing skills had declined over the years. Frankly I am a useless guitarist now, but the “iRig” is useful for getting audio samples from movies on my laptop into Hokusai to be used in my tracks.
What got you started on iOS?
Last Christmas, my employer gave us all an iPad each. My first thought was that I could draw/publish cartoons directly from that device without all the inking and scanning and stuff, but within a fortnight I had installed ReBirth for iPad (because I had had it on my PC and recognized the name) and was making tunes on my way to work. I struggled with the Rebirth interface and started looking at other Apps. A couple of weeks later I bought NanoStudio and everything changed. I used to use the Yamaha QY10/20 walkstations and an early version of Cakewalk on my PC, NanoStudio seemed similar and was very intuitive and obvious to me. Within a week or two I had my first track up on SoundCloud, “Needlessly melodramatic“. I actually finished the track a few weeks before I posted it, I was nervous about letting my music out to be heard by other people, especially onto the internet which ican be a pretty harsh environment. I was blown away by the iOS soundcloud community, they were encouraging and supportive and said nice things. I was hooked and every bus journey and lunch hour became an opportunity to make more music. Nine months on I have a foolish number of iOS Music apps and have posted 44 tracks as Pantsofdeath and four as SokPupit.
Is there anything in particular that you find hard to accomplish on the iPad that you’d rather do on a desktop computer?
Not really, no. In fact my experience of desktop applications has been pretty bad, probably more due to my hardware than anything else. I used to use Cakewalk way back in the ’90s and that worked well, but I was mainly using it as a replacement for my 4 track, which was rubbish. At the time all my sounds came from a big Yamaha PC soundcard with my DX11 as a midi keyboard. Later I tried some versions of Fruityloops, Cubasis, Sonar, Reason etc but I found the workflow on all of those very difficult, partly because I was going from entry level software to professional DAWs without enough understanding to bridge the gap, and partly because of Hardware/config problems, finding the right sound library/drivers and so on. I also had terrible trouble with latency from my midi controllers, there was really no justification for this as the PCs I was working with all had pretty good spec.
In short, I found working on PC difficult…
By contrast the touch screen on the iPad, and the way the best apps run, make everything so easy, the ideas can flow without the interface getting in the way. It would be nice if you could just plug things together like you can working on a PC, but I suspect AudioBus will take care of a lot of those problems. I would also be able to use apps like VST/VSTi plugins, if I could have NLog/Animoog/Sunrizer etc as choosable instruments in Nanostudio (like Eden and TRG) then my working environment would be just about perfect.
My only real frustration with the iPad over a desktop PC come from the lack of a (visible) central file system. I have gigabytes of samples loaded into NanoStudio, on a PC I could browse to those samples from other applications, but the iPad makes that impossible, so I either have to load duplicate samples or mess about copy/pasting from one to another.
Have you tried Audioshare, or Dropbox to manage files?
I haven’t used Dropbox, a lot of the apps I use now support it but I haven’t got round to it somehow. I do use Audioshare but my experiences with it have not been good at all, I have had samples mysteriously double in speed between the source and destination, and more frequently simply not make it into the correct pasteboard, in fact since I installed it I have tried it a load of times but I think it has only really worked for me once or twice. These days if I want to transfer from one app to the other I ACP directly or if a different pasteboard is required go via Hokusai. I know a lot of people are frustrated by the Hokusai interface, myself included, but it is amazingly robust and never lets me down.
BeatMaker 2, ugh! The ultimate in AppRegret!
I bought BeatMaker 2 a couple of weeks back, I was mostly tempted by the chop-shop thing, slicing samples up into small bits and spreading them over a set of pads, I do this longhand with all my vocal samples in Nanostudio, I usually hake a speech or set of dialog and cut it p into snippets. I thought it looked cool in the BeatMaker 2 videos. Within half an hour of buying BM2 I was experiencing waves of AppRegret. Given the number of apps I have bought this is nothing new but $20 still seems like a lot to drop on an app that doesn’t satisfy. It may be because I am such a NanoStudio fanboy but almost everything about BM2 makes me angry.. The built in keyboard sounds are dreadful, really high-street-shop-home-keyboard quality, there are a LOT of drum kits shipped with the product but they all sound curiously flat. Despite the ChopShop functionality I find getting samples into BM2 awkward, with NS you click ‘paste’ and lists of recent copied samples are available to you, not so with BeatMaker.
I bought NanoStudio back on the 22nd of Feb 2012, I had my first track up on SoundCloud by the 5th of March, and have done some 50 tracks in it since. Everything about it seems to be intuitive and easy to use, and it sounds fantastic. Really, the quality is amazing. I have put together the bones of a track in BM, but I am not happy with it at all, I believe some people are getting good results out of it but to my ear the thing sounds awful.
While the drum sounds in NS are limited the TRG pads are very nice to work with, and Eden is still one of my favorite synths on iOS, it’s easy to use and amazingly versatile.
So in short, yay NanoStudio!
Favorite app, and why?
That’s a tough question – like asking me to pick which of my children I like the best! I guess if I had to delete all of my apps bar one then I would hang onto NanoStudio, so that must be my very favorite.
The Apps that I get the most use from, other than NanoStudio, are Stochastik, DrumJam, and probably Magellan. When I upgraded to iOS 6 I lost the use of Stochastik for a month or two and that was really hard, love that app!
For SokPupit I only use apps with kaoss-type pads, mainly Figure and iKaossilator, because socks have no hands and have to play with their faces… both great apps, but they don’t fit Pantsofdeath music. Sokpupit was created to get use from those apps.
See, like a true app addict, you asked me for one and I gave you six, and I’m fretting about the really great ones I didn’t mention!
What’s in store for Pantsofdeath?
I don’t know, iOS music has kind of taken me by surprise, I have produced more music in the last 8 months than the rest of my life put together. I have had an amazing amount of fun and have found an awesome community of excellent people on SoundCloud. Probably more of the same! I was going to fling a few things onto Bandcamp because to sell even one track to someone would be really cool.
Check out more Pants Of Death on SoundCloud: