Well, summer’s coming up fast and I’ve already got a couple gigs lined up that I’m really excited about this year. I’ve been asked to play Photosynthesis again, this times perhaps doing two different sets over the weekend. As readers of my blog will know, I’ve recently switched to using the Elektron Octatrack in place of a laptop and the APC40 I have been using for years now.
The first couple of trial runs I posted online I was happy with, but at the same time I knew I had really rushed some of the prep work because I was excited to try out the Octatrack in a live context. I knew going into those early attempts that the drums were barely sketched out, and the track order and mixdowns were just done real quick and needed more attention. So, with the summer gigs coming up, I decided it was time to dive back in and get all my new live material prepped and ready for the summer.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been going through my back catalog of tracks, looking for ones I could use to fill in the holes in the current set, as well as just to give me more material to use live. I ended up adding about 8-9 more tracks overall, giving me about 2 hours of material total to perform if needed. Once the new songs were prepped and ready to go in the Elektrons, I went and did a lot of touchups in pretty much all of the patterns. Just fixing the small things that were still bugging me about some of the song mainly, and re-mixing all of the new ones too.
Once that was done, the tedious part was next, mixing and re-ordering everything so that it flows better from one song to the next. This is pretty time-consuming because I have to do it all manually in the Octatrack ,cutting and pasting one song and all it’s presets at a time. But…. it’s worth it, everything flows better overall and the set makes more sense as a complete piece of work too.
I still need to keep fine-tuning the mixdowns for each song, the Elektrons are capable of such deep bass, I’m always tweaking the low end to get it deep but not over-powering. Could be worse I guess!
Anyway, after a couple of weeks of work, I finally got to record a couple new trial runs of the material this weekend. I had to split it up into two seperate videos on consecutive days because I’m still learning the the new camera I bought to record these videos 🙂 Oh, and I’m sitting down because last year at Photosynthesis they had us sit to perform in the chillout tent, and I want to get used to that. Was kind of weird at the time when you’re used to always standing to perform.
Downtempo Live PA recorded April 14, 2012
Downtempo Live PA recorded April 15, 2012
I’ll post the time-slots I’m playing once I get the final info about that. You can find out more information about the Photosynthesis Festival here:
If you’re in the Pacific Northwest I highly recommend it, I had a really good time last year. The other big gig I have lined up I don’t have dates for yet, but I’ll talk about that some more once everything is finalized. If you have any questions about the sets above, or want to book me for any parties, send me an email or drop a note in the comments. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy!
Trying to review something like the Elektron Octatrack has turned out to be more challenging than I expected. Mainly because it can be used in so many ways, it’s not easy to try and cover it from all angles. Never the less, I’ll do my best, even if that means focusing more on the things that I personally use mine for at the moment.
At it’s most basic, the Octatrack (OT) is an 8 stereo track sampling machine, combined with a pattern and MIDI sequencer. What makes the OT standout from the other tabletop sampling devices currently available, is how well featured it is for studio and live performance use.
The hardware itself is rugged, and like all Elektron boxes it feels like it could stand up to a lot of abuse. The knobs are smooth turning, and come with a rubber coating to make them easier to twist when your fingers are sweaty (in a hot club for instance). The display is bright and easy to read, and Elektron have nice graphics implemented where appropriate in the OS. The buttons are the same hard plastic as on the Machinedrum and Monomachine, though in the case of the OT they are round or oval instead of square. I personally wish the Enter and No buttons were larger since they get so much use, but it’s a minor nitpick. Finally, the OT comes with an Infinium Optical Crossfader, which feels extremely smooth and precise in use.
In addition to the MIDI In, Out, and Thru ports, there’s also two stereo 1/4 inch outputs on balanced connectors, and two stereo 1/4 inch inputs (unbalanced) for sampling from external sources. The power supply is external, but it’s fairly small and works worldwide. There’s also a slot for the Compact Flash Card used to store your data, as well as a USB 2.0 port for transferring samples and user data to and from a computer. As mentioned, the OT uses a CF card for storing all your samples and user data, so the amount of samples you have access to is determined only by how large of a card you purchase. The OT ships with a 4GB card (containing 2GB of free samples), though most users seem to upgrade to at least an 8GB card in my experience. There’s also 80MB of onboard storage, which I’ll discuss in more detail shortly.
I was a little hesitant in getting the OT initially, since it seemed that a lot of users often complained that it was a pretty complex machine to learn how to use. While it certainly isn’t the simplest device to master, I found that it was logically laid out, and took me far less time to get up to speed on than I expected. Granted, I’ve also owned a Machinedrum for years, and spent some time with a Monomachine last year, in addition to reading the whole manual (available online) before it arrived.
But for the most part, after about a week of use I was comfortable enough to move around quickly on the OT and rarely needed to reference the manual. There are a few button combinations you need to remember in order to access certain functions, but the front panel labeling helps here, and these sort of combinations seem to be implemented in a way that makes sense no matter what you’re trying to do. For instance, Cut, Copy, and Paste are implemented the same way machine-wide, allowing you to copy patterns, tracks, samples, or effect pages consistently using the same buttons regardless of which screen you’re on.
One of the things that seems to give people the most trouble initially, is the overall file structure of the OT. It’s similar enough to the other Elektron devices to be sort of familiar, yet different enough that it might have you scratching your head at times trying to figure out how you want to organize your work. Here’s the simplest I can explain it:
– The highest level of the structure is a “Set”, which contains an “Audio Pool” where you store and assign all of your samples. In the the Audio Pool you can have 128 Static samples that stream from the CF Card, and 128 Flex samples that get loaded into memory. However, remember there is only 80MB of memory, so you have to make sure those 128 Flex samples will fit into that much memory.
Static Samples and Flex Samples can both be 16 or 24bit/44.1kHz if you want. The main difference between Flex and Static samples is that Flex samples can have their Start time and Slice Loop times modulated by LFO’s, and Static machines cannot. Also, some of the audio editing functions like normalize can only be done on Flex samples. So for the most part, Static machines can be used for just about everything you need.
– Within a Set, you can have as many “Projects” as you want, though they will all access the same samples stored in the Audio Pool of the Set.
– Within a single Project, you have 16 “Banks”, and each Bank contains 16 Patterns and 4 “Parts”. A Part is basically all of the synthesis, effect, and sample playback parameters for each of the 8 tracks in the OT. You can think of it as a single preset you can save for all 8 tracks at once. When you change Patterns in the OT, it will automatically recall the last Part you used with that Pattern.
I think this is where most people have trouble understanding the OT’s file structure, especially those of us who have used other Elektron gear before. In their other machines, each pattern was automatically linked to a separate, single Kit (which is the same thing as a Part in the OT). So you could have a different Kit for each of your Patterns. In the OT however, the 16 Patterns in a Bank can now only access 4 different Parts (Kits). I’m honestly not sure why Elektron did this, and it seems to be common feature request that they bring back an option to have the 1 to 1 Part and Pattern relationship.
– Finally each Part also contains up to 16 “Scenes”, which are collections of modified track and effect parameters assigned to each side of the crossfader. This lets you control multiple parameters on each track with a single control, the crossfader, much like Macros work in software instruments.. For instance, you could have Scene A (left side of the crossfader) be your original Part, and Scene B (right side of the crossfader) could have all of the high pass filters on each track set to their maximum value. That way, as you slide the crossfader from the left to right side, you would be effectively high-passing all of the tracks in the OT at once.
But that’s really only a simple example, because you can assign any parameter on any track to a Scene, leading to some very complex sound manipulation on the OT. All with a silky smooth crossfader too. It’s one of the main draws of the OT, you could literally spend months coming up with different combinations of parameters to assign to your scenes.
I’m sure all of this sounds very complex, but once you spend a little bit of time experimenting on the OT, it all makes sense and you can see how flexible it really is. The manual has nice diagrams illustrating the structure of the OT as well, in case you need further explanation of how everything is organized and relates to each other.
SAMPLING & SEQUENCING
Samples can be loaded onto the OT from your computer via the USB connection on back. Basically you enter Disk Mode on the OT, and the OT will show up as a Mass Storage Device on your computer desktop. So it’s a simple matter to drag the samples you want into the Audio Pool of the appropriate Set on the CF Card, and you can even set up nested folders in the Pool if you like to organize your samples better. Doing the reverse and dragging the the Set folder to your hard drive is how you back up the OT, nice and easy, and transfers are fast too. Once you eject the card, the OT will reload the last Project and you can keep on working.
Of course the OT can also sample other sound sources (including it’s internal tracks) without needing the computer at all. Each track on the OT has a dedicated record buffer/playback device, allowing you to sample and playback audio immediately if needed. You can trigger the sampling manually from either input, or set up a trigger in the sequencer to start sampling at a specific point in your pattern playback.
However, there is one huge catch on this front, each record buffer can only record for a maximum of 16 seconds. This quite honestly is my biggest complaint with the Octatrack. For the slower tempos I typically write my songs in, this gives me only about 5-6 measures of audio that I capture each time I want to sample something. I would love to see an option to sample directly to the card for at least a couple of minutes, so that I could record myself jamming with external synths over the patterns I have in the OT as I look for ideas. Then I could go back and cut out the parts I wanted to keep in the song.
Anyway, once you have captured the sample you want, it can be played back immediately by triggering it manually or with the sequencer. If you want to save that sample for future use (the record buffers are not saved automatically), you need to enter the sample editor and do so manually. This is also where you specify the start and end times of the sample, change it’s tempo, normalize it, or set it to loop (among many other things).
Also within the sample editor you can slice your samples based on beat divisions, with the slices either set perfectly on beat (say 1/16th notes, 1/4 notes, etc) or shifted to land on zero crossings for click free playback. You can also manually set the slice locations if you prefer, though I find that process a little tedious in the OT. Doable though for those that want to.
Finally, you can then have the slices automatically mapped linearly to any triggers you’ve placed on that track, or have them randomly assigned to triggers. This alone is a great source of coming up with new variations on any existing loops you have, especially since you can have more or less triggers than you have slices if you want.
Speaking of triggers, I guess it’s time to talk about the sequencer.
The OT has an 8 track sequencer that is composed of 4 bars of 16 steps each. Each track can have it’s own separate length for doing poly-rhythms, and you can also specify in the OT’s Personalize Menu that track 8 is a master track if you want to apply effects over all of the other tracks at the same time. The OT supports odd time signatures in addition to 4/4 through what they call a tempo divisor, and has a very nice sounding Swing setting that can be applied on a global or track by track basis as well. You can even offset certain triggers with micro-timing, so you’re not limited to your sequences being stuck on a fixed grid.
A Trigger is a command that is placed at a particular step in the sequencer grid, and there are a few different kinds of Triggers in the OT:
– Machine Trigger: Probably the most common trigger you’ll use, basically for triggering the Static and Flex machines and thus your samples.
– Triggerless Trigs: Let you alter track parameters without restarting the sample from the beginning.
– One-shot Trigs: These will start a sample and then remain off until you turn them on again, either on track by track basis, or globally. Great for triggering longer samples you don’t want to restart every 4 bars when the patterns loop.
– Parameter Locks (p-locks): Lets you alter track parameters (i.e. filter cut off) for a particular step only. You hold down the trigger step you want to assign the control to, then tweak the corresponding knob of the control to the desired value. The best thing is that you can lock multiple parameters per step, which really lets you alter your patterns in exciting ways.
– Sample-Locks: These are a great way to get around having only one sample assigned to a track at a time as is normal on the OT. You can hold down a trigger position, and then select another sample from the Audio Pool to play when triggered at that position. So you could have a bass drum sample triggered on step 1, then trigger a snare sample on Step 5, all within one track.
The 16 Trigger Buttons are also a way to record a performance in real-time, and the OT has different modes allowing them to function as a chromatic keyboard, triggering the individual slices in a sample, individual samples in the pool (creating sample-locks for you as you record), or even controlling the delay times of all tracks.
And there’s an 8 track MIDI sequencer that can be used to sequence external MIDI gear, running the same time as the normal 8 sample tracks. Along with an arpeggiator. I don’t use the MIDI-side of the OT personally, but it seems to be very similar to the sequencer in the Monomachine from what I’ve seen. Very powerful, check out the manual for the specifics.
Finally, the OT has what is called an Arranger, which lets you take your patterns and assemble them into songs. But of course, it’s much deeper than simply specifying which order the patterns will play in. You can change the length of each pattern, set up loops and chains of patterns, change which tracks will be muted in the pattern too, as well as a whole lot more. Maybe not as easy as working in a DAW, but very powerful none the less.
All in all, there’s a ton of things you can do here, and I’ve only barely touched on the options to try and keep this at least somewhat brief. I can only say that the Elektron sequencers and their ability to P-lock are probably my favorite hardware sequencers of all time. They turn the sequencer into an integral part of sound design, and the new trigger types introduced in the OT just take this to a whole new level.
TRACK PARAMETERS and EFFECTS.
I’ve mentioned them a few times now, but Track Parameters are where the bulk of the sound-design comes in on the OT. It’s how you’ll alter the sound of your samples, either in real-time by tweaking the knobs or crossfader, or via p-locks with the sequencer. Each track in the OT has 5 different pages of Track Parameters, and each of those pages has a further setup page for it’s particular parameters:
– Playback: Controls the pitch, time-stretching, sample start time, and retriggering (think stutter edits). The setup page controls the time-stretch quality, whether the sample will loop or not, and how the stretching reacts to transients. By abusing these controls you can get some really wild and unique sounds, you don’t have to use them to keep your samples clean sounding.
– Amp: Controls the overall volume and panning on the sample, as well as the Attack, Hold, Release parameters of the Amp Envelope. The setup page specifies how the envelope reacts (linear, logarithmic), if the envelope is tempo-synced, etc.
– LFO: The OT has three freely assignable LFOs per part, each with multiple shapes to chose from. The LFO’s can be tempo-sync, and go from extremely slow to incredibly fast if you want. In addition, there’s the LFO Designer, which lets you create your own LFO shapes. Some people assign their user created LFO’s to pitch, making them function almost like a mini step-sequencer.
– Effect 1: The first effect block on a track, it usually contains the filter (this is treated as an effect in the OT). Other options are parametric EQ, a DJ-style EQ, Phaser, Flanger, Chorus, Compression effect, and a Lo-fi suite that lets you do things like sample-rate and bit-rate reduction among other things.
– Effect 2: Has all of the same effect options as Effect 1, as well as a stereo delay and reverb.
If that’s not enough effects for you, you can also assign a track to be what’s called a Neighbor track, using it’s effects to alter the previous track. I.E., Track 5 plays a sample, Track 6 is a neighbor track that affects the overall output of Track 5.
I’ll cut right to the chase and say that I absolutely love using the Octatrack. I’m not normally someone who really enjoys hardware samplers that much, but this thing is just FUN to use every single time I power it on. One of the first things I did when getting mine was convert my Ableton downtempo live pa to be OT ready, and then remix all of the samples once in the OT. I’ve been amazed at just how far I’ve been able to take the samples away from what they originally were. Here’s a short preview of the set:
Like the Machinedrum, the OT is a box that was designed not only for the studio, but the stage as well. There’s so many handy performance functions, that I could easily see it handling my live sets for the near (and far) future. Being able to tweak sounds to oblivion and then instantly recall the saved state, messing with multiple tracks at once with the crossfader, and smoothly blending from one song to the next using the built in sample buffers has been an amazing experience. I never thought I’d have this much power and flexibility in a hardware box.
And to top it off, it sounds amazing too. The filter is nice and smooth, the modulation effects are lush, the main outs are quiet, and what you sample sounds almost exactly like the original source material. There’s even a headphone jack with separate volume control so you can cue tracks if you want.
Is it all good news then?
No, there are a few areas that I hope get addressed in the future. As mentioned earlier, the fact that the OT can store and playback samples that are GB in size and yet only sample for 16 seconds seems almost cruel. Instead of freeing me from the computer as I’d hoped, I find that I’m still prepping my samples and loops in a DAW first.
Track muting functions more like an audio mixer than a midi groovebox, in that the mutes are applied post-effect. So if you have a nice long delay or reverb on a sound and mute the track, the delays get muted as well. I’d love to see any option for pre-effect muting.
The fact that sampling can be a little confusing to set up given how many options are available has caused some users frustration. As has the fact that anything you do sample is not automatically saved, leading to missing sounds if you forget to do this manually. There’s rumors of an update due any time now to address this, but I can neither confirm nor deny that as fact. Fingers crossed! I’ll be sure to update the review with any new features if an update does come, so check back.
Finally, if this is your first Elektron box, it’s probably going to be at least a little overwhelming. There’s a lot of options in how you use it, it’s really up to you to set it up and perform with it the way that best fits you. It didn’t take me nearly as long to get to grips with it as I thought it would, but the Elektron-Users.com forum is full of people who didn’t bond with it quite so quickly. I know people hate to do it, but reading the manual front to back before you even buy it will go a LONG way towards making sure you understand how it works and is organized. That alone will save most people a lot of initial frustration and make the first few days a lot more fun I’m sure.
However despite these downsides I can full recommend the Octatrack for anyone looking for a creative and unique workflow in the hardware realm. Laptop live performers might be surprised at how little they need their laptop afterwards, and even in the studio it offers ways of working unlike anything else I can think of. Here’s a recent tune I made using just the OT:
For years I’ve said that the Machinedrum would be my desert island piece of musical equipment, the one thing that I keep after selling everything else. Since getting the OT I’ve had many a moment where I seriously think the Octatrack would fit that role instead now. It sounds good, it’s incredibly flexible, solid as a tank, and it’s fun to use. Hard to beat that!
If you have any questions on something not addressed in the review, feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll answer as soon as I can.
Also, be sure to check out the “commercial” Elektron made for the Octatrack before it was launched, it’s pretty cool:
New track I just wrapped up using the Elektron Octatrack. Kind of a lo-fi chill, funky vibe on this one, and not too long either. The original samples were trimmed and picked using Ableton Live, then transferred to the Elektron Octatrack for arranging and mangling.
In the past when I’ve released a new live set where I used the Machinedrum, I’ve always made the samples from the set available for download too. Figured it was time to combine and organize all of those samples into one pack, as well as add some brand new samples I’ve recently prepped for the Machinedrum.
While I was orginally creating these for use in the Machinedrum’s User Wave machine, they are just standard 16 bit wavs file that can be used in any gear you want. Keep in mind that the UW portion of the Machinedrum can only hold 2 to 2.5MB (depending on if you have the MKI or MKII version), which is why these are so short.
The samples are organized into the following folders:
– Fake Percussion (random noises I recorded of me hitting things around the house)
– Other (some ethnic and real-world instruments)
– Tarekith Slices (short snippets of audio from some of my studio songs)
All together there’s 145 samples in the pack. Hope some of you get a chance to use these, let me know if you do a I’d love to hear it!
EDIT: I forgot to mention, all of the bass, synth and other samples were recorded playing the note C. The Chord samples are typically Cmin.
This is the first run through of my new live set, something a little more upbeat than my usual downtempo. I had a lot of fun doing the downtempo set I posted two weeks ago (Here), so I decided to go ahead and convert some of the more clubby tunes from my Ableton sets into something for the Elektron gear.
This is the first trial run of that set, and so far I’m pretty happy with how it’s turning out. Still a couple of issues to resolve, but that will be something I tackle over the next few months as I slowly continue to add material to the set. Here’s the MP3 for those that want to download and listen:
Since about the time I got my first groovebox (Roland MC505), I noticed that it generally doesn’t take me that long to learn and start using a new piece of music equipment. Usually within a week or two I feel pretty comfortable with something I recently purchased, and most likely it’s already gotten used in one of my songs too.
I never really thought about this until just recently though, when someone asked me how I learned the Octatrack so quickly. Well, aside from the fact that I’ve already owned the Monomachine and Machinedrum before I got the Octatrack, I really wasn’t sure how to answer that. I mean, I do pretty much the same thing any time I buy something new for the studio, so I guess the best way to answer that question is to lay out how I approach a new purchase.
These days I pretty much take a long time to decide whether or not I want something new in the studio. It takes me a awhile to research what I think I want, see what else out there might also fit that role, and investigate if the workflow really appeals to me. I don’t care how many features something has, if it’s hard to get to them, I’m likely not going to bother.
I’m sure this will cause some people to groan, but one of the first things I do when I’m seriously considering buying something is to download and read the manual. Doesn’t matter if it’s hardware, a DAW, a speaker, or a guitar, I like to read the manual front to back before I make up my mind most of the time. This step is less about learning specific functions, or studying all it’s functions, as it is figuring out the overall layout and organization it has.
Most gear is organized in layers of complexity or functions. For instance, a groovebox might have separate menus for song layouts, pattern editing, or part synthesis. A plug-in might be organized by each of it’s function like LFO’s, Envelopes, or Oscillators. So the first time I’m reading through a manual, it’s just a quick skim to get a handle on how everything is organized, as well as to sort of mentally decide which areas of the machine I’m going to use more than others.
Which brings me to the next thing I always do when I buy some new music equipment; I learn it with a plan in mind. Maybe I want to write a new song using it, or prep a live set, or even perhaps generate a pool of audio samples to use later. The point is that I start working with a specific goal in mind, so I can go through a complete task from start to completion.
By reading the manual quickly first, I get a rough idea of how I can use something, such as:
– What areas does it seem to focus on, i.e. synthesis, sequencing, or sound manipulation?
– What areas does it NOT seem suited for? Do you have to stop playback to save your settings? If so, then likely not a good live tool.
– Is the noise floor really high? If so, then probably not something I’d want to master with, etc.
– Is it stable, does it crash or act unexpectedly even rarely based on user comments?
– Do I have to memorize a lot of cryptic symbols or abbreviations?
Figuring all this stuff out before I even buy something means that once it arrives, I can dive in and start working in the areas I think will make the most sense to me and how I envision it’s use in my studio. I don’t waste time at this point learning functions that I may or may not ever use, I jump in with the important tasks in mind. It’s all about breaking down a piece of gear into parts, and focusing on the ones I KNOW I want to use first. If it can’t do the main tasks well, then I don’t need to bother with the little features either.
Usually within a couple days I can dive in and more or less figure out the basic structure and how it works. I’ll probably sketch out a song using it, just to force myself to see how it works in a situation I’m likely going to use it in again in the future. Having the manual handy helps a lot for quick referencing, and I have to admit I love having all my gear PDF’s on my iPad next to me in the studio. Makes looking up the answers to a question very fast, so I don’t waste much time on it and lose a good idea.
After a couple weeks of use, I usually decide to change things up and try something new with it. I’ll force myself to use it in a way that I might not have initially. Maybe if I was sequencing it with a DAW, I’ll try using it’s internal sequencer instead. Or I’ll use a new EQ solely for a week for all my studio needs. Just setting some limitations that are different from how I’d normally approach a certain piece of gear.
The point is to approach it in a way that didn’t first occur to me. This means a lot more menu diving as I explore new functions I didn’t remember in my first manual read. Sometimes I’ll check out YouTube vids explaining these functions too, just to see how other people are using it. After a few little exercises like this, I then go back and….
…read the manual again.
I know, I know, it’s a sickness I hear, but I do actually read gear manuals to help myself get up to speed on how they work. Silly I know. 🙂 Anyway, this time I’m focusing less on the overall structure of things, and more on certain tasks that I find myself using again and again. Am I doing it the most efficient way? Are there short-cut key combos that will save me time? Am I backing up everything correctly?
This is where I get into the nitty gritty of certain functions and make sure I’m not missing anything that will save me time based on how I’m already using the new purchase. Slightly more in-depth, but I tend to skip over the sections of things I know I have a good grasp of already. Having whatever I’m studying about close at hand helps a lot, as I can actually go through the act of whatever I’m reading about. Meaning I’m that much more likely to remember how to do it in the future.
Doing something sticks with you longer than reading something!
At this point it’s probably been 3-4 weeks and I’d estimate I know about 90% of what I need to know. Depends on what it is too, a simple plug-in might only take me a couple of days to really grasp. After that it’s usually just the occasional manual dive to refresh how to do something I had forgotten.
For the more complex pieces of gear I buy, things like synths, grooveboxes, drum machines, DAWs, etc I might try and complete a couple projects using only those tools. Just to force myself to look at them in different ways, and re-evaluate what their strengths are.
For really complex things, like DAWs, high end synths, or complex plug ins, I might even go back and read the manual again a couple years later. Even though I probably know the item really well by that point, there hasn’t been a time yet where I didnt learn about some new function that was added in an update, or relearn about some time saving tips I forgot about.
I think if there’s any one rule I follow when learning something new, it’s to decide ahead of time to focus on the most useful functions first based on my own needs. Then slowly drill down and learn the things you’ll use less frequently, or maybe that didn’t make much sense at first. As you get more and more familiar with something, you can spend more time learning the finer points of it, when it’s not going to hold you back from using it day to day because you already know the major functions it has.
And of course, the more you do something, the better you’ll get at it always holds true, so just focus on spending as much time using the new gear as possible.
Normally when I wrap up a project, I look forward to moving on and putting it behind me. But I’ve been having so much fun performing on the Machinedrum and Octatrack this week, I wanted to give it one more go. Plus, I felt bad that I wasn’t able to capture the last peformance on video, when I knew so many people had asked for it. So today I did another short set, only 15 minutes or so, and took some video so people can see what I’m doing. It won’t be annotated this time, but if you have any questions about what I’m doing, just post them in the comments.
Sorry for all the Octatrack related posts lately, what can I say, it’s my new toy and I’m having fun with it. 🙂 And of course, if you want to hear a full hour long version of the set I’m doing in this video (with a lot more songs in it), you can find that here:
Been getting a few questions about how I did my recent Elektron live set, so I’ll tackle the set up and how I performed it here on the blog. The set can be downloaded here if you haven’t heard it but are curious:
So the basic idea was pretty simple, could I take my current downtempo live set that I’ve been performing in Ableton Live, and transfer that to my new Elektron Octatrack. It’s probably the number one reason I wanted an Octatrack, so it was the first project I decided to tackle.
You can get a run down of how I do the Ableton set here:
Even before the Octatrack (OT) arrived I was already getting all my sounds from the Live set prepped and ready to load into the OT. Like all Elektron gear, the OT has a maximum base pattern length of 4 bars. There’s a lot of little tricks and work arounds to use longer loops, but for maximum flexibility I wanted to stick with 4 bars for most of my loops too. Since the Machinedrum (MD) would be doing all the drum sounds, I only need to edit and transfer my instrument loops. This was usually 4-5 loops per ‘song’.
First step was to get all the bass, lead, and synth parts trimmed to 4 bars, and to make sure they still looped smoothly. The pad sounds would be left as 32bar audio files that looped, and I would use one-shot triggers in the OT to trigger them. Gives the songs a little variation and keeps them from getting so repetitive. For those that know the OT, typically my Lead and Synth tracks were done in Flex Machines, while the rest of the sounds were Static Machines.
Since the MD would be doing all the drum sounds, that meant I had to transcribe all the drum sounds I had in Ableton onto the MD by ear. I mainly was worried more about keeping the same vibe versus having exactly the same sounds. Kind of hard to mimic something as complex and processed as Stylus RMX with just a few effects and drum synthesis. I didn’t even want to set myself up for disappoint on that front. Later I switched a lot of the beats from being more of a breakbeat feel to more of a 4/4 feel. No real reason other than I’m digging that sound lately.
The OT would be the centerpiece of the set, since it could not only hold all my instrument samples, but it would also be sampling the MD for my transitions:
The layout of sounds in the OT was the same for all of my songs:
Track 1 – MD inputs, resampling channel
Track 2 – Bassline
Track 3 – Lead
Track 4 – Synth or Empty, depending on the song.
Track 5 – Synth
Track 6 – Guitar, Synth, or Empty
Track 7 – Pads and fills.
Track 8 – Master track
Around the time I had all of my loops trimmed and the basic drums on the MD, the OT arrived so I was able to dive in and get started prepping everything on day one. I wanted to do more than just reuse my usual loops in the OT, as I already knew that was possible and honestly I needed to hear something different 🙂 So the plan was to more or less remix each song once it was in the OT. This would give me something “new” to perform, and let me get up to speed on most of the OT’s functions asap.
There were so many ways I did this, that I can’t possibly cover all of them. Some of my favorites though:
– Slicing a loop up and then randomizing the slices to get new melodies. I’d cut and paste the best parts to a free track and then assemble the 4 best bars.
– Filter envelope being retriggered at different times in a long sample, via triggerless trigs.
– Intentionally messing with the time-stretching parameters, things like rate and pitch, as well as abusing the transient detection to give me new rhythms.
– Slicing melodies into individual notes, and then playing a new melody with the Trig keys.
– Parameter locking effect parameters, especially for the flanger and phaser.
Overall I was really impressed with how easy and fun this was to do. I think in the end most of the songs will still be enough like the originals to be recognizable, but with lots of fun new tweaks to the way certain things sound.
It probably only took me 2-3 weeks of tweaking to get the set to point where I thought it was playable, and I had been planning on spending months doing this. After everything was remixed in a way I was happy with, the hardest part was just balancing all the levels. When you’re dealing with drum synthesis like the MD, the levels can actually be hotter than they sound, so it’s a combination of using my RME metering and my ears to get everything in the right ballpark.
I don’t want the songs to vary drastically in volume as I perform the set (though I do intentionally use some quieter sections). A lot of times I’m using filtering and EQing sounds in both machines to keep things from being too bass heavy or not bright enough overall, as well as to tame stray peaks. Luckily both of the Elektrons have well thought out features when it comes to shaping your sounds. Usually takes me a few days to listen to that much material and make sure it sounds the way I want.
And then I’m ready.
The actual performance of the set is the easy part in comparison, heck that’s the fun part! I’ve happily performed with the MD many times since I’ve got it, and the Octatrack is just as well designed when it comes to the performance side of things.
Anyway, pretty basic ideas when I’m performing. I can mute and unmute parts on the OT to bring in new sounds. The muting on the OT is like an audio mixer though, it mutes the audio output of the track (including effects!) and not note events. Not my preferred way of doing things, as it kills delay tails when you mute a track, but I mostly adapted. There’s a couple parts of the live set linked above where I maybe triggered a part too soon or too late. After years of having to pre-trigger sounds in Ableton so they start on time, I forget to trigger things exactly on the beat. Ooops, oh well. 🙂
I also use each track’s volume control to bring sounds in and out. One of the things I do when prepping the set, is to set each track volume to max, and use the machine volume parameters to do the ‘mixdown’. That way I know I can just slam a volume knob to max if I want, and know that the sound won’t be too loud. All volume knobs at max means it’s the actual mixdown I created in the studio, the default state if you will.
While I’m doing the above to control and change the layout and structure of each song, I’m also jumping between tracks and tweaking sounds directly. Each of my tracks in the OT typically has the stock filter and delay effects assigned to it. Some use a flanger or phaser before the delay, but only a couple. I’m a sucker for delays, what can I say?
The actual transitions between each song are linked to in the middle of the post. Basically I have a looper constantly recording the OT and MD in the background (you can’t hear the output), capturing a new sample every 4 bars. When I want to transition to the next song, I break down the current song until only a few sounds are playing at once. Things I think will sound good when looped. Once that has played and been automatically captured by the loop recorder, I can slide the OT’s crossfader over to the right real fast and hear a perfect copy of what was just playing live.
The switch from the live sounds to the loop happens seamlessly and with barely any difference in audio quality to my ears. At least not enough to be noticeable in a live setting, which is good enough for me! Once the loop is playing, I quickly switch to the next pattern on the MD and OT, since you still can’t hear them. I’ll then decide what sounds from the new song I want to start with, and then slowly bring the crossfader over from the sampled loop of the last song, to the live sounds of the new one. I can affect the sampled loop with filter, EQ, delays, etc too.
And that’s about it! I’m sure there’s a ton more I didn’t cover, but feel free to ask questions in the comments if you have them.
This set was recorded live on Jan 28th, 2012 using an Elektron Machinedrum-UW and Elektron Octatrack, recorded via an RME Fireface400 at 24bit/96kHz.
This set is the first thing I’ve recorded with the Octatrack, and I knew before I even got it that I was going to try and recreate my laptop live sets in it before anything else. All of the drums are done on the Machinedrum, and the Octatrack is playing back edited 4-bar versions of the loops from my Ableton live set. I basically redid the drums for everything, and then remixed most of the stems I had in the Octatrack.
Overall I’m really happy with how it turned out, and the Octatrack ended up being an excellent audio manipulating device and live performance tool.
Start – Track Name
00:00 – Pieces
05:16 – Together
08:09 – Rooftops
13:30 – Four
17:50 – Coil
22:19 – Slopelifter
25:58 – Bluelines
30:37 – Cord Binds
33:24 – We Can See
36:13 – Nimbus
38:19 – Tidal
42:06 – Seven
46:27 – We Think
49:58 – Six