Jordan Rudess’s “Tachyon” App is No Tacky Gimmick

by Kira Grunenberg

When it comes to combining extremes, metal and sophistication, progressive metal band Dream Theater consistently shows it has the formula down and individual band members aren’t afraid to step out to try new things with their own notable talents.

The latest of such moves comes from keyboardist Jordan Rudess, via his musical instrument company, Wizdom Music. Working with programmer Kevin Chartier, Rudess has created a musical instrument app called “Tachyon,” that is simultaneously functional and artistic. Tachyon’s primary vehicle for use is touchscreen technology and is currently available for most iOS devices. The app was just released for sale this past Wednesday on iTunes and can be found here.

Before you get to buying it though, what is Tachyon?

In keeping with the slowly increasing use of apps and other virtual technology that combines sound with visuals, Tachyon blends moving, reactive visuals with corresponding instrument sounds that are activated by a single touch or slide of the fingers on one’s iOS device.

(Interesting tidbit about the app’s name: The “visuals” used are what appear to be a field of bright lights that resemble star-like particles. These rapidly move and reform into shapes of different instruments while a user manipulates the screen. As it turns out, a tachyon is actually defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as, “a hypothetical subatomic particle that always travels faster than the speed of light.”)

Aesthetics aside for a moment, the functional aspects of this app are definitely able to keep up and impress just as much. Rudess explains in the single FAQ section on Tachyon’s website, that all the sounds used in Tachyon are from KeyMap Pro, a sampled instrument editor created by (now Apple owned) Italian audio software startup, Redmatica.

One of fun parts of playing these instrument sounds is the pitch bending that can be achieved through the slide motions from top to bottom on the iOS screen. Multiple finger touch capability also allows for users to activate two different instruments at a time and have the sounds be independent of each other, to create harmonizations.

Elaborated on in Tachyon’s online manual, users can set sounds using the following primary menus:

1. Sound Menu: mostly adjusts length, depth, and volume of sounds

2. Playing-Surface: Lets users select scale types (e.g. major, minor) and scale root for the surface, as well as allow “locking” of the pitches, so pitches change fully rather than ‘bending’ with finger slides.

3. Range Selection: Adjusts the size of the affected playing surface

4. Lowest Note: Sets the lowest note that can be played on the surface (must be in the scale selected)

5. Instrument Selection: Sounds can be manually chosen for the top and bottom of the screen, as well as modulated by octaves up or down.

6. Octaves: The actual octave menu changes the tonality of the entire playing surface and all instruments

7. Presets: Saves/Restores previous sound adjustments

For sure, this app is something I think can cross varying levels of musical expertise and age groups too. If you’re looking to have fun with sight and sound or looking to truly compose something with an accompanying “light show,” at $1.99, Tachyon isn’t a bad buy. If you want to try it out first, there’s a free version for Mac OS (Snow Leopard/Lion) that can be downloaded right from Tachyon’s homepage.

Below is a video with Rudess himself demoing the app and explaining its abilities:

Kira is an old school music nerd with a love for all things creative; always searching for music’s common ground. She graduated with an M.A. in Performing Arts Administration from New York University. Drop her a tweet @shadowmelody1