Traxxpad Portable Studio is a game (although more like a software package) for your PSP. It allows you to create music with or without talent or soul using many of the computer-related assistance tools (most notably a quantizer) that major record producers use. After seeing the hip-hop inspired publicity for Traxxpad I was a little uneasy (flashbacks of walking through the movie theatre in Ottawa as a screening of 8-mile let out came to mind), but I'm happy to say that Traxxpad is fun, entertaining, and different. There are limitations to what Traxxpad can do (most of which you discover as your song construction gets more complex) but as long as you work within the limitations it'll still be more fun (not to mention safe) than jumping into an car with Lindsay Lohan behind the wheel.
Traxxpad has three main music creation modules (R.T.I.S.T., MeLOD, S.T.A.C.) each used at a different stage of your song development and one (MyXxer) for any live mixing your fans crave. Access to all of these tools is done through a menu system called the "Carousel". The Carousel is also used to load and setup your various sound banks with any combination of sounds you want from either the included library (which is quite large) or a sound you record with a USB or PSP microphone (sadly, not included).
R.T.I.S.T. (Real-Time Sequencer) will undoubtedly be your first stop when creating any new tune. The centre of the screen is used for the Timeline Grid illustrating eight lines representative of each of the eight available channels. Surrounding the Timeline Grid are images of the main buttons (square, triangle, circle, X) each representing a channel and which react graphically when you press them. In order to expand the four available buttons into the eight channel capacity of the software you tap the L button to switch between channel banks A and B. In addition to randomly hitting buttons, you can hit the Select button to get a scrolling Timeline Grid with metronome for practice or hold Select down for a few seconds to start recording. The length of your sequence can be two, four, six, or eight bars before it begins looping. You can then add more sounds from either channel bank in real time recording or jog through the timeline editing each note one at a time. When you are pleased with your audio creation you can export it out to MP3 or save it as a sequence to be edited in the future or amalgamated into a larger project using MeLOD or S.T.A.C..
MeLOD is used to give you melodic control over your digital song. MeLOD is used by singling out each channel at a time for editing. You can adjust the pitch, volume, and balance of each note played within that channel (there are a variety of different note frequencies available for each sound). With a little elbow grease only your patience and the eight bar limit stand between you and the melody of your dreams.
Once you get at least two and a maximum of four sequences created and prepped in R.T.I.S.T. and MeLOD it's time to use S.T.A.C. to assemble your masterpiece. The layout to S.T.A.C. is similar to R.T.I.S.T. except that you're placing time bars (representing each sequence) instead of notes. You can place the starting point of a sequence over itself again and again for a mixing effect or to isolate and repeat a particular sound byte from your sequence. Once you've assembled all your sequences into a track you can save it and/or export it to MP3.
MyXxer is a variation of the music creation modules that has no recording functionality but is used for mixing music on the fly. You can load various sounds and sequences and button-mash yourself into musical glory or M.C. Hammer obscurity.
I found the various music creation modules were a bit intimidating at first but with time they became easier and easier to use. The amount of options available to create original music is a great selling point of this release (but at first also adds to the overwhelming feeling when trying to navigate through the robust menus). The graphical interface is mesmerizing and slick; colors run around at the pressing of each button and with various skins available there's bound to be one to match your style.
The limitations of Traxxpad became apparent when I wanted to remix various Christopher Walken sound bytes with an MP3 of the Super Mario Bros theme song (I know, I need to get a life). Traxxpad only allows new content (that is, content not part of the internal library or created within Traxxpad) from its recorder function and not from audio clips or songs from the memory card. This drawback's limitation becomes increasingly apparent when attempting to add more than four sequences to my song within S.T.A.C. as well. After finishing one edition of my song and exporting it to MP3 I thought I'd be able to reload the song itself as a sequence and mix it with three other musical sequences I'd put together but I was wrong.
I highly recommend taking the time out at the beginning to listen to all the sounds available to you from the internal library. Having a list of sounds you like to assemble into various sound banks at the beginning (and naming them appropriately) will save you the grief of a disorganized creative process (and from unleashing on the world the audio equivalent of modern dance). You should also seriously consider investing in a USB microphone so that you can add an undeniably original touch to your songs (having this software package come without a microphone is like having Star Fox 64 come without a Rumble Pack). Although you may not lay down enough beats with Traxxpad to be considered the next MC Hammer, you'll definitely pump out enough for you and your friends to trade and enjoy.