With so much to talk about in recent days about Prince’s legacy, it’s possible to overlook just what a deep impact he had on production and sound design. Working with Roger Linn’s classic boxes, the LinnDrum and LM-1, the artist left an indelible mark on the sound of pop. And you don’t have to slavishly copy those contributions: by learning how they’re put together, you can understand what went into them and follow your own sound.
Just that sort of education in sound design – something for fans and students – is embodied in a free download for Ableton Live users this week. Francis Preve is both a sound designer by trade and a teacher, so teaching is part of his stated goal for releasing these. And at a point when everyone is doing cover songs, here’s another way to respond – by honoring the impact Prince has had on sound.
From “1999” to “Sign ‘O’ The Times”, Prince incorporated these drum machines, with specific sounds – like the Rimshot and Clap – wildly detuned to create giant clacks and booms. From there, he added compression and when feeling extra freaky, a flanger pedal, on the drum machine’s output. The resulting grooves became a hallmark of the “Minneapolis Sound”, utilized by The Time and Apollonia 6, as well as hits like “Oh Sheila” by Ready For The World. Prince’s approach to drum machines was just as unique as Hendrix’s revolutionary guitar work – and just as versatile an ingredient in other artists’ work.
PurpleDrums is available on Symplesound, the sound boutique I profiled recently. In this pack, you get a custom Drum Rack for Ableton Live with ten samples from the LM-1 and LinnDrum, tailored to Prince’s distinctive “Minneapolis Sound” via integrated effects and macros. There’s also an interactive menu that walks through Prince’s drum production techniques.
I think it’s a great idea; I’ve seen many calls on social media not just to mourn lost heroes, but to turn that inspiration into something creative. For anyone working in production – and judging by my friends, many, many of you are in production partly because of Prince – this is a great way to do that.
And the sounds already sound lovely:
Francis hasn’t just started honoring Prince this way after the artist’s death; he says he’s done it in every sound bank he can. And he also notes that he’ll be “deconstructing and explaining the “Let’s Go Crazy” Oberheim sound in the July issue of Keyboard Magazine.” Finally, if you’re a user of the Serum plug-in, you’ll find a reinterpretation of that very sound called, fittingly, “Let’s Get Nutz.”
Get the free pack here (you’ll need Live 9.5 or later):
Hey, software drum machines aren’t the only ones who get new synthesized drums – now hardware owners can, too.
If you had to explain the Elektron Analog Rytm drum machine to someone quickly, the answer was already pretty easy – it’s about the sound. Well, in an OS update quietly dubbed “1.30,” Elektron just added a whole lot of new sonic possibilities, in the form of twelve new machines and synthesis models.
Want bass drums? There are three of them.
New metallic and ride and hat sounds? Sure.
Not only are there new models, but loads of parameters inside each of them, so any one of those models gives you a lot to play with. You also aren’t restricted to using these as drums, per se – with all those options in there, you can also treat these as synth voices and make basslines or anything else you can think of. (The Elektron folks show off some nice options with the bass drum, for instance.)
Add in FM-style sounds in Impulse, and you can make some beautiful, ringing timbres.
Check out the video for some great demos and tasty noises:
I just love this machine; it’s been great to watch it come into its own.
For anyone finding dance music dull, I think a lot of the problem is lax creativity with sound design. Now, new toys aren’t necessarily going to make a producer who’s, uh, a boring person suddenly turn interesting, any more than a fashion makeover will transform you into a better conversationalist. But put these tools in the hands of anyone passionate about sound, and I think they’ll have a great, great time – with some results to show for it.
Listening to the Analog Four, I hear something that does sound really distinctive and modern – very Elektron. (Very Swedish, even.)
And there is some connection between the culture of the machine and the culture of the music made with it. If we only talk about 909 sounds, for instance, we are going to get a lot of repetition – that’s nothing against tradition, but tradition can be too narrow.
But I’m confident that the pendulum is about to swing back. Whether you choose some weird plug-ins or a Reaktor or SuperCollider patch or a modular or something like the Analog Rytm or just abusing some hardware, I think it’s time we celebrate unusual noises in both production and listening.
Sorry, off my soapbox now. Let us know what noises you make with 1.30, Elektron owners – we’d love to hear them.
This one’s too good to wait. Gustavo Bravetti, the Uruguay-born producer and DJ, is already something of a maximalist. He’s the sort of person who can rock alternative controllers live on a mainstage in front of massive festival crowds – the powerful counter-example to the notion that such high-pressure gigs have to be press-play. And now, he’s been hard at work on a powerful tool for expanding the possibilities of performance on Elektron’s hardware, all using Push for control. I could ramble on, but the best way to follow this is to watch the extensive tutorial video he’s just posted:
It’s called, simply, “Performer” – Performance Master Snapshot Controller. And it works with the “dark trinity” of Elektron gear – that’s Analog Rytm, Analog Four, and Octatrack – along with Ableton Push and Max/MSP.
The computer is acting basically as a prototyping tool, as glue between the Push controller and the Elektron gear (indeed, Gustavo is already thinking about how to make a version of this that doesn’t require a full laptop and OS). But the point is that Push’s versatile layout becomes command center for snapshot recall.
It’ll be free when it drops this weekend (Gustavo tells CDM the work is done).
And wow, does it do a lot. You can control mute states for tracks, as well as level. You can use the crossfader as a modulator, or cross-fade tracks, or cross-fade performance macros, or add crossfader actions. As the name implies, you can take snapshots. You can activate, deactivate, and store parameters.
As Gustavo tells us, it’s “a non-linear sequencer” for snapshots. You can select snapshots and choose which parameters are recalled – so you could pre-program whole songs, he says, or just use the programming as a guide for creating builds, cuts, and so on. (And yes, live, full-on mute is a useful thing.)
That’s impressive enough, but it’s the way the pieces are put together that makes this so uniquely musical. There’s a quantized engine, allowing you to automatically launch snapshots in time, defined by rules and triggers and controlled by crossfader gestures.
A 4×4 customizable pad area let you program in phrases and arpeggios, use custom delays, and more. “The possibilities are endless,” says Gustavo. “You can play arpeggios in sync and live on the Elektron machines – something you can’t do by default.” More videos with those features are coming.
And the user interface is beautiful, as well – this thing almost looks like a dedicated piece of software. For now, there are two tools, a “satellite” tool for routing and the larger interface. (Gustavo says he plans to merge the two.)
What is this like in action? Here’s Gustavo playing, from last summer (it’s continued to evolve since then). He keeps very, very busy – watch those hands. (This to me is fascinating – not saying that a more active performance is necessarily better, but it’s fascinating to observe the range of levels of control different artists use to define a live set. To me, it’s one of the things making live sets interesting…)
We’ll be watching for this download. Follow us on Facebook and switch on notifications (hover over the Like button for menu options) for the latest updates on our stories.
Steve Reich’s musical etudes are already a kind of self-contained lesson in rhythm. Inspired by drumming traditions, Reich distills in his music essential principles of rhythmic construction, introducing Western Classical musicians to cyclic forms. That makes them a natural for visual scoring – doubly so something interactive, which is what an iPhone can provide. And so one percussion ensemble has made an app that both reveals Reich’s techniques and opens up a toy you can use to make your own musical experiments. Plus – it’s free.
The app is called “Third Coast Percussion: the Music of Steve Reich” – that’s a mouthful. And the app is packed with content.
Phasing starts with the looping idea of It’s Gonna Rain. Additive lets you assemble interlocking polyrhythms, working with Music for Pieces of Wood. Canons works with overlaid melodies, from Sextet.
And you can add your own audio samples – loops for Phasing, or substituting your own samples for Canons and Additive. You also get control of tempo, phase, and even the rhythms and melodies – so this is a compositional app as well as an interactive learning tool.
The app is the work of Third Coast Percussion Ensemble of Chicago and developer Joseph Genden. Naturally, that means it also encourages you to listen to excerpts of their album and a buy a copy (as well you should – it’s terrific).
Now iOS-only; they say an Android version is in the works.
This warms my heart even as it chills my bones: the ensemble plays Steve Reich around Chicago, which some special meaning to me as it’s the city I first got to hear the Reich Ensemble live as a kid.
Actually, even despite the electronic bent of this site, I think acoustic instruments are a great way to complement education of the physics of sound. As part of a collaboration with the engineering program at Notre Dame, the ensemble has put together a program on that very topic – they even engineered custom percussion instruments just for the project.
Also I expect inspiring to budding sound designers, don’t miss the great composer August Read Thomas talking about her collaboration and what it means to compose for this set of instruments – that’s Create Metallic Music.
It’s not so much how complex or simple an instrument is – it’s how much you can make it feel your own. We covered a series of updates last week to Novation’s Circuit hardware. This week, as part of a collaboration with Novation and their product specialists, we’ve put together an exclusive hands-on guide to how to customize it for your own use.
First, here’s a video overview of how loading your own samples works, and why it’s important:
What you can customize
The “Novation Components” update covers a number of areas. You can…
Load your own sound samples (60 seconds worth).
Record external MIDI control and notes. (As mentioned last week, this is also a way of transferring MIDI clips from your computer to the Circuit – sync the two, then record the pattern.)
Transform the onboard synths with a special editor and MIDI control. (That unlocks a lot of hidden parameters and mappings, then lets you assign them to the onboard controls.)
In short, if you looked at Circuit and said, okay, this is just a bunch of stock sounds with some knobs and a step sequencer – not any more, it isn’t.
What you’ll need
To take advantage of the new stuff, you’ll need some different updates and downloads. It might not be immediately obvious, so let’s cover it one step at a time, in order.
1. Get the Google Chrome or Opera Web browser. You’ll need these browsers because they have full support for browser MIDI. (Don’t laugh at Opera; I actually just switched to it – it’s now based on the Chrome engine.) You can then grab the rest of the files/links at:
2. If you’re on Windows, install an updated driver.
3. Install the updated firmware. Circuit 1.2 firmware (as of this writing) adds all the features you need. Connect your Circuit to your computer, run the updater, and you’re ready to go.
4. Install the editor. Isotonik have built an editor for the Circuit’s synths. You can download two flavors – one standalone, and one for Ableton Max for Live. You’ll register on Isotonik’s site, and then each is a free download. Note that the Max for Live version requires Ableton Live 9.2 and Max for Live 7.0 or later. The Isotonik page is here (scroll down):
Novation has consolidated most of what you need at components.novationmusic.com. Once you open that site in a supported browser (recent versions of Chrome, Opera), it’ll first check to see if you’ve got a Circuit connected via USB.
Next, you’re prompted to switch your Circuit to “bootloader” mode.
Finally, you’ll see a pattern of green lights indicating you’re in bootloader mode and ready to communicate with the browser tools. (Don’t worry if your pattern of green lights doesn’t match exactly.)
Load your own samples
As seen in the video, one of the big features in the new firmware is the ability to load custom samples. So, for instance, I’m a huge fan of Goldbaby’s grimy, retro drum samples. Any pack of drum sounds can now replace the four drum parts on the Circuit.
You can also load melodic samples (or anything else). Here, you’ll want to chop up those samples in advance. In Logic Pro X, I like to first add transient markers to audio (automatically). Once you’ve done that, and adjusted transients to your liking, you can right-click the audio, and choose Slice at Transient Markers. That creates a bunch of regions which (as of Logic Pro X 10.2.1) you can now batch export – so it’s perfect for this job. (Choose File > Export > [x] Regions as Audio Files.)
In Ableton Live, there’s a bit of extra work to get the actual samples out. If you have a Drum Rack, you can go to each slot, open the Simpler or Sampler instance, right-click, and choose “crop” on the audio file. Then you’ll find the files inside the /Samples/Processed/ folder.
Some other DAWs make this easier, and you can also use tools like the free Audacity editor, Propellerheads’ ReCycle, or a nice dedicated tool like Oscillicious BeatCleaver.
Once you’ve got your files, you’ll want to understand how Circuit organizes them.
Because of the available memory on the Circuit, you can load up to 60 seconds total playing time of 16-bit, 48kHz audio, as uncompressed WAV files. (MP3 files work, too, but not other formats; I recommend WAV.) There are 64 sample slots in total. So, for instance, you could take a 60-second melodic file, and divide it into up to 64 slices.
Circuit access these samples via Drum 1, Drum 2, Drum 3, and Drum 4.
To load the files, open Circuit Components in your Opera or Chrome browser. The first time you load a compatible browser, you’ll see a prompt asking for your permission to use Web MIDI; approve it so your browser can access your hardware.
Next, choose Sample Import. You’ll be prompted to enter bootloader mode if you haven’t already. Hold down Scale, Note, and Velocity with the unit powered off, then hold the power button to power it on. You’ll see a pattern of green lights.
Then, choose New Sample Set.
The first time you create a Sample Set, you’ll do so manually. You drag one file at a time to one pad slot at a time. (Hopefully we see a future update that allows multiple file drag-and-drop – browsers support that possibility.)
Don’t panic about the “bootloader mode.” You can always go back to the defaults by choosing “Load Default Samples,” so you won’t do any harm!
Once you’ve loaded all your samples, choose Send to Circuit to load them onto the hardware. After they’re loaded, you can also try them out by hitting the Play button.
You can only have one sample set loaded on your Circuit at a time. So, once you have a sample set you like, choose Download as File. Now you can upload different sample sets as .syx files, without any more drag-and-drop.
You can also use the Librarian in Circuit Components to save everything in the cloud.
Play with sample sets
There are some limitations to how you can use your custom samples. Since they’re loaded to Drum 1-4, you have just four simultaneous sample parts. You can swap any one of those parts between samples, via one of two methods:
1. Switch samples via the pads. Hold down Shift and tap the Drum part you want. Now, you can change samples on-the-fly by tapping one of the 32 pads. Drum 1 and Drum 2 default to slots 1-32 first, and Drum 3 and Drum 4 default to 33-64; to get to the other 32, use the octave up/down buttons.
2. Switch samples via MIDI. You can’t automate sample changes on the Circuit itself, but you can via MIDI. Control Change messages sent on channel 10 will switch samples: CC 8 (Drum 1), 18 (Drum 2), 44 (Drum 3), and 50 (Drum 4). That means you can have some fun creating clips in, say, Ableton Live, while you play, or map to a controller and switch samples live. (Check out the Peavey faderbox in our artist video, for instance.)
You can also control parameters of the samples, just as with the drum parts, via Circuit’s encoders.
Unauthorized tip: I’m fairly certain Novation don’t want me to say this, but it’s a bit cool. I discovered by accident – as you probably will – that an empty sample slot makes a little “click.” That click you can even re-pitch and distort and sequence. So, as a big fan of music like the stuff on raster-noton, I’ve actually taken to making some sequences with this. Have fun with it before they decide to “fix” it.
Play chords (not just melodies)
Synth parts can be polyphonic as well as monophonic. That means you can enter chords into the sequencer. There are a few tips for making some unique use of this feature.
First, enter your chord progression. Hold down the step you want on the bottom half of the pads, then either play a chord on an external MIDI controller, or on the keyboard on the top half of the pads. Now that chord is stored in that step. (You can add up to six notes per step, for six-note chords.)
Normally, these chords will play along with the step sequencer. To stop that from happening, mute the Synth part. Press Mixer to switch to Mixer mode, and then mute the associated part by tapping the pad underneath Synth 1 or Synth 2. “Mute” is something of a misnomer – you’ll still hear the part, but it won’t play in the sequencer, meaning you can trigger chords manually.
Now, with the sequencer playing or not, you can tap the step to trigger the associated chord.
Here’s the fun bit: with the Circuit as a controller, you can use those chords to trigger another synth. So, for example, Olly at Novation has built a whole Ableton Live set in which he uses the Circuit to trigger custom synths and arpeggiators using these chords.
Stay in the flow while playing
Two new features in the firmware update can be a big boon to keeping your flow going as you play – that’s really essential if you use hardware live, as I do.
First, you can now write automation for just the part of the sequence you want, rather than overwriting the whole sequence. (Boy oh boy do I wish I could do this with some of my other gear.)
Hold down record as you turn one of the encoders, and “momentary record” writes automation data only as the record button is depressed.
You can also add and remove automation to just a particular step, when the sequencer isn’t running. To add automation to a step, stop, make sure recording is armed (with the record button), press red to select it for editing (it’s highlighted red), then move the encoder.
To remove from the same step, also with the sequencer stopped and record is armed, tap the step you want, hold down clear, and then twist the knob you want to clear just that automation.
You can also review these techniques with the 1.2 firmware video from Novation:
Tinker with synths
So, you can transform Drum 1-4 by changing samples. But you can also get much deeper with Synth 1 and Synth 2 – if you don’t like the stock, preset sounds, you really can make Circuit sound like just about anything you want. A lot of the character of the instrument isn’t so much the engine as those preset sounds; you can push it in very different directions. There are three ways you might about this.
Modulation routing along can do some crazy things to your instrument patches. And it’s far deeper than you might suspect looking at the Circuit front panel.
The software editor. Isotonik’s Circuit editor, built in Max, is kind of amazing. You’ll see that hidden behind the Circuit’s eight encoders is an entire synth engine waiting to be customized. One good way to start is by re-assigning the Macro knobs so you can control what you like with those encoders. If you want to dive down the rabbit hole, try the modulation section in the bottom right-hand side. We could practically do a feature just on this editor, but that’ll get you going.
External MIDI control – including the LaunchControl XL. The editor works because all these parameters are accessible via MIDI. But then the editor isn’t the only way to get at them. You can also use an external MIDI controller, as My Panda Shall Fly did with his Peavey. If you don’t feel like manually assigning those, Novation has built a set of layouts for its LaunchControl XL control surface. The Mixer alone is huge, plus there are pages for controlling each synth and drum part. And because the LaunchControl XL works in standalone mode, you can even do this without a computer. (Since the LaunchControl XL lacks MIDI DIN ports, you’ll need a hardware USB MIDI host like the Kenton USB host.)
iOS and TouchOSC. If you have an iPad, you can send MIDI from that. Again, Novation has built one solution for you out of the box, in the form of an iPad-only (sorry, no iPhone) layout for TouchOSC. Because it’s a TouchOSC layout, though, you can open it with the TouchOSC editor and modify it – as some CDM readers have already done. For instance, you might want to make an X/Y pad for controlling parameters with sweeping gestures of your finger.
If the onboard step sequencer seems limiting on the Circuit, you can also record external MIDI.
For example, let’s say you’ve got a MIDI clip you like in Ableton Live (or any other program that sends MIDI from clips).
1. Sync. Make sure your computer and Circuit are synced via MIDI clock.
2. Set length. Set the length of the clip to the length of the Circuit step sequence. That pattern/clip can be anywhere from one to eight bars in length. Choose Patterns on Circuit, and then set the length (for instance, for a full eight-bar length, press pads for pattern 1 and 8 at the same time.)
3. Capture. Then, simply hit record on the Circuit whilst your MIDI clip is playing. Now the MIDI sequence on your computer is on your Circuit.
You can also use an external MIDI input to play in a sequence from any other controller.
Got more tips? Other things you want to know? Let us know.
For more information, see the other parts of this series:
Modstep, the step sequencer on steroids on iOS, just got a huge pile of new features. It hosts AU plug-ins (yes, iOS plug-ins). It adds per-track MIDI, for hardware and apps. It has loads of new features for clips and arranging. It is, basically, a MIDI daw with built-in instruments that’s unlike nearly anything on desktop – only it was designed from the ground-up for the iPad. In fact, it does so much that it’s a bit overwhelming. So, let’s take a birds-eye view of what’s new – and then turn to the singular educational force that s Jakob Haq to explain how to use it.
First, what’s new? A big release dropped just last week, called “1.1” – though “2.0” wouldn’t be a stretch.
Plug-ins. Work with Audio Unit plug-in instruments and effects on iOS – these are Apple’s new plug-in format that works both on desktop Macs and iOS. You can drag-and-drop instruments to tracks, and chain them together. So that means lots of sound combinations are at the ready (apart from Modstep’s own built-in instrument).
More MIDI. Per-track MIDI routing let you combine hardware and software instruments easily. There is also MIDI file import and export (so you could use Modstep to make clips to use in tools like Ableton Live, or import Standard MIDI Files – the developers were annoying me with endless renditions of the X-Files theme). And, adding to Modstep’s already impressive out-of-the-box support for hardware, there are new templates, too.
Clips and patterns are more usable. There’s a lot here. But you can pull up settings with a long tap, and see a preview of notes inside patterns. There are new options for how you manage and delete clips. Also, you can loop clips and loops and add scene follow action. That’s right – Modstep has added the feature that Ableton Live obviously needs yet still a decade later lacks, in the form of Scene “follow actions.”
More scale and tempo controls. Transposition, here we come: you can set a global scale. Or you can set scale and tempo per scene or scale per track, if you prefer.
Modstep acts as an effects processor. Route audio to and from a computer via Studiomux, or other apps via Audiobus. And you can add any number of plug-ins (until you run out of power) plus make master effects chains.
Play on the main screen. THere’s a global keyboard with pads and velocity so you can use the iPad as a controller, if you want. There’s also a metronome.
Also, a bunch of stuff is fixed.
AU: What is it good for?
So, Audio Unit plug-ins work on Modstep – great, now, where are the AU plug-ins?
RP-1 is a really pretty stereo delay processor (nicest of this bunch, actually, visually) with lots of routing options
MicSwap is a mic emulator, so very handy as a plug-in
Clearly, there’s nowhere near the selection and depth of what you get in desktop plug-ins – it seems the market just isn’t there yet. On the other hand, one or two of these – or even just a fondness for that great SEM synth – and you’ve justified the feature.
Start with this general overview:
Here’s a look at how internal instruments and plug-ins work – for the all-on-the-iPad workflow:
And here’s how MIDI works – for either apps (desktop or mobile) or outboard gear:
Or, for all the tutorials in one place, here’s a playlist:
As part of a collaboration with Novation, we spoke with artists Shawn Rudiman and My Panda Shall Fly about how they’re working with Novation’s Circuit. Both artists got their hands on the updates to the Circuit hardware in advance – providing drag-and-drop sample loading and sample editing. They talk a bit about what that’s meant to them – and what they think about working with hardware in general.
Track ID, from the beginning: “Dark House” by Shawn Rudiman, appropriately from his Hardware Survival Techniques EP.
The video gives you some highlights, but I spoke to both artists to get more details about their rigs and how they’re using them.
I have to highlight this quote from Shawn Rudiman, about why playing matters (and which illustrates again why I love Shawn so much):
“You gotta play it – you gotta be a musician. You gotta own up to the instrument you’ve been given.”
Shawn’s hardware sets are legendary; he plays down-and-dirty techno on a sprawling table full of gear. So before we get to what he’s doing, we have to first examine that stage rig. I convinced Shawn to draw a sketch of that for CDM:
CDM: You talked about the computer – I’m curious, actually, where is the computer in your workflow?
Shawn: The computer for me in my workflow is a recording device, peripheral for editing sounds and sometimes Library type functions. It’s also a sound source for a lot of my older Samplers. I’ll use soft synths and such to generate things and run them into my desk, then sample from the desk into the Samplers to start the process again. Now it will also be added to edit and change the samples and sounds on the Circuit.
How are you clocking things? (Especially since you mention the failsafe.)
The [Roland] TR-8 is Master Clock. It goes to a 2 by 8 Splitter. From there it is distributed to all others in some form. II in on the splitter is from the Future Retro Swynx. It receives its clock from the TR, then sends it back into the splitter after it has been altered timing-wise via its swing function. There it can be assigned to any MIDI output as well to clock anything else off the cuff. I use the Swynx to clock the [Arturia] MicroBrute and the DIN sync out of it to clock the engine sequencer. The Swynx has excellent MPC percentage style swing on a gigantic knob. So it’s perfect for impromptu swing changes to change the groove.
There are so many layers and so many pieces of gear here; what’s your approach to sequencing all of them? How do you avoid having too much at once, or things getting sort of out of control?
Sometimes it is difficult to keep everything from being a giant shitstorm of noise. It took a long time to realize that on a giant sound system, less is more. There’s a fine line between just right and too much. I try to limit that by making rounds on each machine of sorts. I let them each have their moment like jazz players. T
It’s not easy holding them all back and trying to keep the clutter to a minimum.
The Circuit fits in nicely since I use it mainly for its polyphonic synth and its mono synth — it becomes another horn section or another bass player or pianist of sorts. It also works as alternate percussion and for lying underneath as a very Snappy Punchy kick. It’s very malleable timing wise, and sound wise, so it’s very flexible to work a groove and milk all you can out of it with it… by shifting or nudging or changing sequence lengths.
Maybe a blasphemous question, but — obviously, at this point, some people are sick to death of Roland drum machine sounds, just because they get used so much in this genre. Do you have a sense of how to balance that? When are the times that those classic sounds can anchor a set? When is it time for something diferent?
I use the classic Roland sounds to underlay especially the kick. I double it with various kick drums from my [Korg Electribe] ES-2 and the Circuit to sort of change up the feel of the kick drum since … it is the canvas upon which we paint dance music. To get a certain sound or a certain feel out of things, changing percussion sounds on the fly is very important. It allows you to get a certain destination out of the sound. Example early Chicago. Or Detroit. Or Berlin. Those sounds can determine the style of the music. And the feel you can go for. Just as if you are selecting a record – except you are making it as you go. I load my ES-2 with a huge array of very essential drum sounds throughout dance music. So when I feel it’s time for a very rumbly muddy, sort of Basic Channel kick Drum, I can quickly know exactly where to go to get it and change anything that’s needed. Then that’s doubled or tripled sometimes with other kick drums for drum sounds.
I got to see some of the rough-cut footage with the crowd – everything I’d expect from you. How does it compare, making these kinds of live sets? There’s obviously a different feeling from the crowd who can see you when you’re playing live; they see something different is happening. But what about the back of the room? What’s really different playing live versus DJing?
Honestly, there should be no difference in how the club goer perceives the set between live and DJ.
If …and only if… the live performer’s doing a very good job! If it’s a very lackluster and kind of boring set, then people will notice. That’s how live sets have gotten their bad rap as being boring, the performers have been not really giving there best or phoning shit in. You can’t blame the machines. They only do what they’re told. Analog or digital makes no difference.
For that matter, is there anything you get from DJing you don’t get from live, or that informs how you play live?
Yes. DJing can really sort of show you how the flow should go live. When I do play records, there’s a flow that seems to happen from one song to the next. It’s the feeling of hearing a song you know you have with you as one is playing. That has to happen of sorts playing live… even though there is no next song; you’re creating it as you go. Or have absolutely no structure but a giant shitload of pieces. And even those pieces are alterable on the spot to fit the mood. From seeing and hearing DJ’s – I based how to play a live set around a DJ set. It needs to be dynamic, and needs to be a continuous flow and it needs to pull the listener and just as much as any DJ set – OR MORE!
One issue with getting more live sets in clubs, it seems to me, is just getting clubs with good techs and tech riders and so on. Is there any hope that this situation can improve in those regards? How can we have more live sets and support more live techno, in particular?
I tried to depend as little as possible on any club, promoter or anything that does not come with me. I usually when flying asked for an audio mixer, power strips (unless I’m in EU or outside the States), and an Arturia MicroBrute – Since they are cheap and everywhere all over the world. Relying on sound people is a very bad idea. You should know how your stuff needs to sound. And relying on a club or promoters to get you important things is also just adding stress to something that doesn’t need it. I send the house system a left and right from the mixer. And I almost always go into the DJ mixer as another Channel. This allows me to mix into a previous set and blend or use any option the DJ has as well. Why not? May as well take every advantage we can!
My Panda Shall Fly
My Panda Shall Fly
My Panda Shall Fly, aka Suren Seneviratne, is a talent to watch – hugely prolific, with releases on the likes of Project Mooncircle and Gang of Ducks. He’s one of those ninjas Shawn is talking about. So I talked to him more to understand how he thinks.
CDM: I’d love to hear a bit about how this fits into your rig. So we know Shawn has a rig that includes sort of every machine from the last couple of years. What’s your live rig look like? Your studio rig? How do they differ?
Suren: My studio is full of loads of stuff like old grooveboxes and 90s synths. That’s kind of the thing I’m into. I also have loads of other small modified bits that make noise, as well as a bunch of software. My live rig comprises a Roland SP404SX and [Korg] KAOSS Pad [KP3+], which works great for performing my music live without having to drag all my gear around. I’m able to store high-resolution samples and loops of my tracks across the banks of the sampler allowing me to perform my music in a semi-improvisatory fashion. The KP3 allows for extra fun thanks to its instant-gratification touch-screen FX. I’ve only had the Circuit for a couple of months now, but I can totally see how it could integrate into my live setup very easily – especially now that it doubles as a sampler.
One thing about getting more tangible is, I know it can be more demanding of playing. Is it something you practice; how do you work on your chops?
I do practice my live set before my shows, often switching tracks around and including new bits I’m working on. But I’ve been playing live with my current setup for a few years now, so I’m very used to how the gear works and what buttons do what. It helps me work really quickly this way, no matter what tracks I’m playing because the process is always the same.
I love this fader breakout box – how is it mapped?
I use the Kenton Control Freak which is a real powerhouse of a controller. It can send just about any type of MIDI message, and does other fun things like CV > MIDI conversion too. Configurations for all 16 faders are called ‘profiles’, and I have 4 profiles (giving me 64 faders) all mapped to control lots of parameters hidden inside Circuit’s synthesizer like Oscillator Waveform, Reverb Damping and Filter Type. When I saw the MIDI Implementation Chart, I was blown away by the amount of fine control that was available inside this thing. There’s over 35 LFO shapes!
You have a really lovely melodic sample in the video. How are you playing it? Obviously, we have these four parts to work with – are you re-pitching from the knobs? Triggering different samples on the fly?
It’s totally possible to pitch samples using the macro knob. You just have to use your ear to find the note you’re after as there is no visual indication of what pitch you’re on.
Suren’s Circuit, in the studio.
You talk about using Isotonik’s editor – what does that mean for your fader box, will you keep this mega fader setup?
The Isotonik editor is superb and allows to really get inside the device, and is great for assigning macro knob controls – something I can’t do on my Control Freak. But I like to have the Control Freak nearby for computer-free operation
Can you talk a bit about what you’ve been doing with the editor, actually? Any patches you want to describe?
The best thing about the editor is being able to play around with what you can’t do on the Circuit itself. Each patch on the Circuit (factory or user) has its own macro knob assignments – so you can’t tweak Ring Mod Level unless one of the macro knobs have been linked to it, for example. But what makes the macro knobs super-powerful is that they can control up to four parameters at once! So if you wished, you could get stuck in and assign 4 parameters for each of the eight macro knobs and end up with 32 editable parameters per patch. That’s an awesome amount of sound tweakability, using what appears to be just eight knobs on the unit itself. I also love the modulation matrix. Any synth that has one is welcome in my studio. A trick I like for giving the impression of having three synth parts is laying down recorded parts on Synth 1 and 2, and then playing a lead melody over the top of one of them on a higher octave.
You have of course some fantastic productions. What’s your production process like – where do you start, and how do you know you’re finished?
Good question! I’m afraid I don’t have a definitive answer to this. I wish I did, as sometimes I could spend a few days on something and be happy with it and then there’s times where I’ve had a track lying around on a folder on my desktop for years before it finally makes it onto a release. I think knowing when something is finished comes from a feeling that everything makes sense. Or when you get bored.
I love getting hands-on with my gear which is why I have so many knobs and faders in my studio. Sometimes I find inspiration by creating strange loops using one piece of gear, other times I might find a gorgeous sample of something I’ll find on YouTube that I’ll cut up and go from there.. I’ve recently finished a sample-pack of over 350 sounds and loops which gave me a reason to spend some quality time with almost all my bits of gear and coax cool sounds from each bit of kit I have.
We revere the modular synthesizers of the past, but that ignores important innovations both in how modules are designed and how people play. Apart from the fact that Eurorack is quite a lot slimmer, lighter, and cheaper than its predecessors, we have vastly expanded the range of what modules do in ways that lend themselves to live performances. That’s not to say it’s for everyone – a modular performance still involves a lot of pre-patching for people, and there’s clearly something to be said for computers and standalone gear. But that’s perhaps partly the point: the modular solution can stand toe-to-toe with performances using these other paradigms.
Or, to put it another way: you no longer need fear a long, noodle-y rambling performance if you see a modular onstage. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) If you do, you can blame the artist, not the tools.
Continuing our ongoing look at live electronic performance, then, here are three performances that have popped into my view recently, among many, many others (and a week of such performances at Berlin’s Superbooth).
One Colin Benders is livestreaming Eurorack-only performances, and posting the results to a YouTube channel – kindly sent in to us by reader Jan Klooster. Colin, the Utrecht, Netherlands based artist, is better known as Kyteman. The ADHD-diagnosed, trumpet-playing musician and composer assembled an all-acoustic ensemble covering hip-hop and other genres. That instrumentation had no Eurorack whatsoever – think instead eighteen musicians, opera singers, and a choir.
Well, now the orchestra has been traded for a nice stack of gear, it seems. There are already several videos posted; the debut features intensely layered dance music:
Next up, Siebe Janssen, whose gorgeous performance I found via Tony Rolando of MakeNoise. Siebe is no modular purist – follow his YouTube channel for a bit of everything, from computer to keyboard synth. Here, he combines a modular rig with the Elektron Analog RYTM and a Moog Sub Phatty. The Elektron itself is worth highlighting – you’ll see lots of modular users employing Elektron’s gear as a workable stand-in for a computer as far as flexibility (without the awkward laptop intruding on the rig).
Also, at the heart of the modular rig is MakeNoise’s DPO module, a lovely dual oscillator with lots of shaping options.
More music from this Amsterdam-based artist:
And lastly, we turn from the Netherlands to Germany. (I have inadvertently made this an all-Euro Eurorack post. Northern European weather and sunlight gives you lots of time to play with modulars?)
Lastly, but one of my personal favorites, Blush Response has been a rapidly ascending star of the modular scene. He’s a great embodiment of the post-punk, retro-EBM electronic phenomena, from live techno to more experimental outings (and, occasionally, rock-tinged stuff with vocals), releasing on labels like the up-and-coming aufnahme + wiedergabe. I’ve talked about his work in the context of live techno generally (not necessarily concerned with whether something is modular or not), and he’s talked to us and KOMA Elektronik about technique, including how he integrates Elektron gear with his setup.
Now, his gripping Boiler Room set is up, with deep excursions into techno – and shows continued refinement of how he plays:
It’s also worth mentioning Joey as he has one big release just out, and another upcoming. Reshaper is out this month on digital. It’s on the storied German label ant-zen — yet another example of the kind of great music showing up on Bandcamp, that last bastion of the netlabel (worth checking out their whole catalog):
Konkurs is coming in June, combining him with still more EBM influence in the form of Sarin (if that was all gobbledy-gook to you, you know, just listen):
Seen live electronic performances that inspire you? Modular? Tiny machines? 1-bit instruments? Circuit-bent toys? We like them all; let us know about them.
Surprise: there’s a little tiny rave hiding inside a flickering LED lamp from a toy. Fortunately, we can bring it out – and you can try this yourself with LED circuitry, or just download our sound to remix.
But let’s back up and tell the story of how this began.
The latest edition of our MusicMakers Hacklab brought us to Leuven, Belgium, and the Artefact Festival held at STUK. Now, with all these things, very often people come up with lofty (here, literally lofty) ideas – and that’s definitely half the fun. (We had one team flying an unmanned drone as a musical instrument.)
But sometimes it’s simple little ideas that steal the show. And so it was with a single LED superstar. Participant Arvid Jense brought some plastic toys with flickering lights, and my co-facilitator and all-around artist/inventor/magician Darsha Hewitt decided to make a sound experiment with them, joined by participant (and once European Space Agency artist resident) Elvire Flocken-Vitez. (Thanks, as well, to Amine Mentani.)
It seems that the same timing used to make that faux flickering light effect generates analog voltages that sound, well, amazing.
You might not get as lucky as we did with animated LEDs you find – or you might find something special, it’s tough to say. But you can certainly try it out yourself, following the instructions here and on a little site Darsha set up (or in the picture here).
And by the popular demand of all our Hacklabbers from Belgium, we’ve also made the sound itself available. So, you can try remixing thing, sampling it, dancing to it, whatever.
Steve Reich’s exploration of rhythm and phase take on special meaning in the age of ubiquitous electronic instruments. What started with clapping, with pianos and marimbas, and tape loops doubles now as a way of thinking about machine rhythm, too. Hearing Reich on Game Boys here isn’t just a novelty. It feels like a real re-instrumentation – Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach approach for the Mario Bros. generation. Listen & watch (it’s all live):
Piano Phase. The original Reich score comes from 1967. It’s a transcription in the opposite direction – the first attempt by Reich to take phasing effects from tape loops (saying “it’s gonna rain” or “come out to show them”) on a live performance on acoustic instruments.
Game Boy micro. A tiny Game Boy from 2005. It’s roughly similar to the Game Boy Advance (SP) in specs. But since it’s able to run cartridges, it can use —
Nanoloop. Specifically, Nanoloop 2. I always admired Nanoloop as it isn’t another “tracker,” exactly – it’s a sequencing instrument imagined specifically for the Nintendo platform.