Can’t play an instrument? You can still ‘paint’ music with HarmonyWiz

Jordan Rudess
Is there anything Jordan Rudess can’t do? The prolific keyboardist for post-progressive giants Dream Theater is also an ace app designer for iOS devices, and his latest creation, HarmonyWiz, ups the ante for what his company Wizdom Music offers for both novices and professionals alike.

HarmonyWiz will take a single line you input by touch and then flesh it out into multi-part arrangements. In other words: Ta-da — you’ve just painted a symphony! You’re an instant Mozart.

“I’m really passionate about offering tools and apps to people that will bring that ‘music magic’ to them, even if they’re not musicians,” explains Rudess. “You can get a musical result without ever having to study one bit of theory. And that’s a really great thing.”

“You can get a musical result without ever having to study one bit of theory. And that’s a really great thing.”

Rudess, 57, sat down with Digital Trends to discuss Wizdom Music’s goals for HarmonyWiz, why he loves using his apps while performing onstage, and how this app enhances your compositional skills. You could even say that Rudess is the king of harmonic app convergence.

Digital Trends: I watched the HarmonyWiz tutorial you put up on YouTube, and I was struck by not only how easy it is to use, but what you said about how it saves composers a lot of time. I don’t think it’s, as you put it, a “minor musical miracle” — it seems pretty major to me.

Jordan Rudess: (laughs) Thank you. It really is pretty cool. Everyone from a novice to a professional musician can enjoy HarmonyWiz. You can use it as an instrument too, but that’s not the purpose of the app. It works with AudioBus and AudioShare and you can just play it and run it, but the app was designed to allow you to create a multi-part arrangement based on “painting” a single musical line.

It seems like the more novices play with it, the more comfortable they’ll feel understanding what the notes mean and what notational elements like measures and bars are.

Yeah! It’s a nice introduction to musical notation. My main goal with HarmonyWiz was to do something that would appeal to people who just want to play with and learn music — those who have never done it before. And then I also wanted to offer musicians something that, first of all, would make them smile. I think it’s almost a guaranteed smile, because for anybody who has composed or arranged — how could you not? You put in a line, and HarmonyWiz automatically arranges something. (chuckles)

Beyond that, we wanted to go a little deeper, so we put much effort into giving you some tools to actually go in there and make your own edits. You can copy–paste, stretch it out, change the harmonies, and force harmonies to do what you want.

Have you composed original music with it yourself?

I haven’t composed a complete piece with it yet, but it’s totally possible. What I think would be really fun would be to arrange something with HarmonyWiz that a string quartet or quintet could play.

I’d love to hear that. Could you see using HarmonyWiz onstage at some point?

Well, HarmonyWiz wasn’t designed as a performance instrument, although you could certainly try that. But I do use my other apps onstage with Dream Theater. I used the Geo Synthesizer app on our last album [2013’s self-titled epic Dream Theater] on a tune called Enigma Machine. I played this kind of wild lead on it.

I wanted to create apps that offered the next level of expressing the possibilities I didn’t find on my keyboards.

On the album before that [2011’s A Dramatic Turn of Events], I used another app of mine called MorphWiz, on a song called On the Backs of Angels. MorphWiz was really the first app I enlisted onstage, and that one was my entrance into the whole world of bringing together the world of audio and visual — allowing the user to change the audio waveform and, at the same time, be able to change the visual waveform, too. That’s what got this whole thing started.

From there, I did SampleWiz. With it, you can walk around with a sampler in your pocket, on your iPhone. It does a lot of things that large hardware instruments don’t do. For example, with SampleWiz, you can take a single sample of a sound and play it over the keyboard, and it will actually change the performance and the attack time of the sample. It becomes the harmonic results that you want.

Was it always one of your goals to ultimately use your apps onstage?

Yes. I wanted to create apps that offered the next level of expressing the possibilities I didn’t find on my keyboards. When I first touched the multitouch surface on the original iPhone, I felt it right then and there: “Wow, this is going to open up so much creative potential.” I started playing around with a preliminary piano app on an iPhone years ago, and I thought it was really, really amazing.

Tell me more about how HarmonyWiz pushes the compositional envelope.

I love the idea that you can take a composer’s or an improvisor’s thinking, and give a computer a certain role to almost mimic that kind of thinking. I mean, I can put a single-line melody into HarmonyWiz, press the button to see what it does, and go, “Wow, I didn’t think of that!” The original version of HarmonyWiz in the stores now is based on a modification to the rigidity of the classical harmony rules.

DREAM-THEATER-BAND-SHOT

For example, I would take a single melody on piano and I’d play it 50 times in different ways. I’d start with a classical harmony note and extend it myself to see what it could do. My developer and I would look at it together, and I’d go, “So what am I doing? How often am I even playing a chord against this melody?” We’d have to decide when to play that chord. Like if I was on a I [one] chord in the key of C and then I played a V [five] chord, which would be a G chord, what are the possibilities of the next chord? What do I usually do, depending on what the melody note was?

So you tried not to do what you might instinctually do there.

Yes! HarmonyWiz can be a composer’s helper, because it will do something he didn’t think of, and it’s also an educational tool, because when you harmonize something and it gets fleshed out to a multi-part arrangement, it will actually tell you the Figured Bass on the bottom. For you music theorists, Figured Bass gives you the type of chord and the position of the chord in key. It will tell you which chord it is, and which inversion it is. Somebody going to music school could totally use this as a learning tool and find out how classical harmony works.

HarmonyWiz really stands out in an app world congested with time-wasters.

It’s a funny thing, the app world. Hundreds of them come out every day. The App Store is totally swamped. I got really lucky with Wizdom Music. I came into it with an honest, well-thought-out position and an interest in using multitouch to change the way we think about creating music. My integrity, if you will, of coming into this whole thing allows me to this day to have a voice in the app world — as overcrowded as it is.

You can download all the Wizdom Music apps here.

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