Seaquence is a freshly-launched iOS app by Okaynokay, that allows users to compose electronic music by spawning and shaping a Petry dish of rudimentary lifeforms. Opening to a 2D view of an aquatic environment, a sonar-like PING ripples outwards from an origin point across four nested concentric circles – both demarcating a territory and establishing a tempo. Pushing the lime green ‘+’ button plunks a new creature into the mix, opening up a step sequencer on which you can swipe in strings of notes (and set their time signature relative to the master tempo) and watch the creature’s physiology shift accordingly in real time. Once its spawned, it will circle – quite literally tracing its loop.
“The metaphor for editing living organisms came from the aesthetics of the step sequencer – it’s like editing a DNA sequence,” says Gabriel Dunne over email. Okaynokay is Dunne and Ryan Alexander and the iOS version of Seaquence has been gestating for a few years now, as an evolution of a Flash-based web app created by the duo (with Daniel Massey) within the Grey Area Foundation for the Arts very first residency. That app attracted a dedicated community and upwards of 300,000 compositions, and now Okaynokayhave modernized its interface (using Cinder and Pure Data) and output capabilities on iOS.
↑ Heads and tails: the nodes of a creature’s ‘head’ are composed in the step sequencer (middle) while the shape, length, and saturation of its tail can be tweaked in the waveform editor view (right); change a parameter and your creature’s sound and body evolve in tandem.
“A custom physics engine was developed to make the creatures’ swimming motions feel smooth, organic, and playful,” says Dunne of Okaynokay’s UI goals. “Each creature has a unique swimming movement derived from the notes in their individual sequencer tempo and pattern represented by pulsing nodes in their antennae, and their tail is a graphical representation of their waveform.” And in watching the creatures drone around one definitely feels a desire to place their app in a line with aesthetic precedents like Toshio Iwai’s Elektroplankton or even thatgamecompany’s Flow, but similar-metaphor-or-not Seaquence truly distinguishes itself as an instrument. While its buttery UI yields a gamelike quality (it’s totally fun to zone out and construct critters) the ability to shape each creature’s sonic character is extremely granular; the four interfaces (respectively) allow you to tweak scale and octave, rhythm, ADSR envelope, and apply transposition and delay. Zooming out from the minutiae of one creature, panning around the sonar screen changes the overall mix – if you want to drop a dissonant sounding tadpole down in the mix, just drag it off to the periphery.
Dunne and Alexander make it clear they’ve worked hard to strike a balance between providing “a low barrier of entry” and depth. “Sequence is designed to be toylike and engaging to someone who doesn’t have a background in synthesis, but it does have the power to be utilized by pro-level musicians as an alternative performance or sequencing tool.” The app also retains a dominant trait from its ancestor: you can upload your compositions to the cloud and share them with other users.
Seaquence is available for free on the App Store – its full feature set (including MIDI in and out, bolstered effects, swing/shuffle, and a bunch more perks) can be unlocked for a modest $6.99 USD – and 10% of all profit goes to the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (American arts orgs need support these days folks!). Its development roadmap includes a link to Ableton Live and a range of inter-app connectivity, with more syncing and sharing options due in the future.