Jordan Rudess' claim to fame may be as the keyboardist for the progressive rock outfit Dream Theater, but he’s also emerging as a leading voice for the music app development community. Rudess has created or assisted in the making of several music apps aimed at turning iPhones and iPads into a new class of musical instruments. His MorphWiz app is a finalist for Best Music Creation App in Billboard’s Music App Awards program, part of Mobile Entertainment Live: The Music App Summit, taking place Oct. 5 in San Francisco. There, he will demonstrate the MorphWiz app on stage and explain along with over a dozen other developers showcasing their music applications.
Rudess recently spoke with Billboard about his interest in mobile app development, what it means to him as an artist, and where he sees the category evolving in the future.

When and how did you get interested in the music app process?
I’ve always been into anything that makes sound. The whole iPhone thing came about because I’d seen the first image of a keyboard on the screen, and when I touched it, it triggered a light bulb. I started coming up with all these ideas about using a touchscreen as a new musical instrument. As soon as the apps started to come out, I was right there checking out every one.

How did you go from using these apps to creating apps of your own?
I started to think about this whole vertical grid controlling system. For several years I’ve been playing this really cool instrument called the Continuum, which you play in a three-dimensional axis. And I worked on a pitch system for it and played in with Dream Theater. As soon as I saw the iPhone and the ability to touch the screen, I wanted to take that vertical grid concept into the app world with my whole tuning system. To me it was a cool opportunity. I introduced myself to the guys that were making apps, just because I wanted to be in on it. Along the way, I met this guy Kevin Chartier, who is my partner with MorphWiz. And over the course of a few weeks of sending notes back and forth, we decided there was something there.

MorphWiz is not your only app, correct?
Yeah I have an app called JR Hexatone. It’s made by Amidio. I developed a friendship with the head guy there Toyo, and he’s based out of Moscow. We were chatting about some ideas when I looked at our touring schedule and saw we were doing a show in Moscow. So I met Toyo there and he showed me an idea he had that became Hexatone. We worked on it together and put out the app. It’s focused on rhythmic pattern sound generators. It’s a sequencer, but different than most drum machines. It’s focused on doing things out of the box where you can do stuttering and samples. It’s very easy to turn it on and have something that sounds like Aphex Twin or something wild like that. The biggest drawback is that it’s a bit challenging to use. My feeling is that you want to put something out that sounds good and looks good.

How often do you use these instruments professionally?
I view them as real instruments, especially on the iPad. Maybe the iPhone not so much, but the iPad is something I can use as a new method of expression. I’m brave enough to say this is a real instrument here. I would point to the Sound Trends Looptastic program, because that’s something a DJ could take onstage and use exclusively and get different types of control. It’s totally legit to do a gig.

Are you afraid these apps make it so easy to make music that fans lose respect for artists’ talent?
All these apps do is make it possible for somebody who’s not an experienced player to make sound that's in the range of making music. Like my buddy who made the BeBop app. Can make a record just because you can put your finger on a scale and move it around? No. Maybe someone will try, but as far as being a good musician or truly be able to express yourself, you still need to develop a concept and practice.

What’s next for the music app market?
We’re at a funny point right now. We’re at the point where you have something like the iPad where you can do things that you can’t do on other computers. There’s still a lot more you can do with the processing of a computer, but you don’t have the beauty of the iPad or the iPad interface.

Come here Rudess speak and demo his MorhWiz app at Mobile Entertainment Live: The Music App Summit, Oct. 5 in San Francisco. See the full schedule and register at www.MobileEntertainmentLiveFall.com.