Creating digital audio has long been one of the best arguments for using locally installed software rather than a cloud service, but that's beginning to change. The latest entrant, launched Thursday, is a program called Roc, which lets you create simple 8-beat loops from a library of hundreds of sounds, all without leaving your Web browser.
Roc is the latest creation from Aviary, which offers a free set of Flash-based online applications for creating and editing content. Most of Aviary's tools are for graphics, but in September it launched the Myna audio editor, which lets you record and import audio files into a multitrack mixer, in a fashion very similar to . CNET's Rafe Needleman to Garage Band, the audio editing and creation program that comes with Apple's iLife suite, and found it easier to use, if less sophisticated.
Roc isn't as ambitious: instead of mixing files into creations of up to five minutes in length, Roc lets you put individual notes together into an endlessly repeating eight-beat loop. You start with a screen showing 10 tracks. Each track represents a single sound, which you choose from Roc's impressive library--for instance, track one might be a bass drum kick, track two a high-hat snap, and track three an electric guitar playing a sustained D major power chord. You can also control the relative volume and stereo placement of each track. Then, you fill in dots on the screen to have the notes play in a particular sequence. You don't need any musical experience, but if you're working with tonal instrument sounds (guitar, bass, and so on) rather than percussive sounds, some basic music theory will help you figure out which notes are most likely to sound good together. Some important features, like the ability to change tempo, record your own voice, and mute tracks, must be "unlocked" by sending out five e-mail invitations to use the program.
Roc lets you save your creations as WAVs or MP3s, but I found it more fun to use it as a live program, adding and subtracting beats as the playback repeated--like a very simple online version of Ableton Live. Like Myna, Roc is meant more for hobbyists than serious professionals, but it's a fun way to create simple music for use on a Web site or custom ringtones. Or, if you're really ambitious, you could take a bunch of loops you created in Roc, import them into Myna, and end up with a decent-sounding dance track. Not bad for a free online program.