M-Dot – Live Elektron set


M-Dot Live PA

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


The Wayback Machine

Had a few dicussions recently with some other musicians about making music “back in the day” and what some of our earliest recordings sounded like.  Figured it would be fun to post what I believe is the first recording of  my electronic music.  I had some earlier stuff than this recorded from back in my guitar/punk band days somewhere, but we’ll leave that buried for now.  🙂

rEalm – Morphing Mechanism.mp3

This is a live set I made back in 1999, when I was still going by the artist name “rEalm”.  Recorded live in one pass (to cassette of all things) using a Roland MC505, and a couple samples from the Roland SP808 I had just bought.  This is a direct transfer from the cassette, no mastering or anything, so it’s pretty raw sounding, though I guess that was kind of par for the course compared to what we do today.  And yes, I was really into trance at the time, so no need to comment on that  🙂

As I’ve mentioned before, I initially got into writing electronic music from a live pa perspective.  So the title of this set is something I’ve always thought was very descriptive for the way I perform, and I’ve continued to borrow the name for all of the live sets I’ve created since.

Anyway, hopefully some of you get a kick out of this or at least a chuckle.  Feel free to share your earliest recordings in the comments too!


The Flickering Dark

This is a sort of proof of concept for a new type of live pa I’ve been working on for the last 8 days.  Not so much a demo as it’s only 20 minutes long, more an experiment for me to see if this was a valid way to play live.


There are some benefits to being left home alone (plus a dog) for 16 days, while the wife goes on vacation with her sister.  Knowing I’d have this time to myself to work any schedule, and do whatever I wanted in the meantime, I planned on writing a LOT of music.  I prepped material for a new Machinedrum live set, I bought some new apps for the iPad, I even prepped some song writing templates in Live just in case I got an idea.  In short, I got all the BS out of the way before she even left 🙂

Of course, things never go according to plan, and literally on the day she left I got this left field idea to try and get a working live pa set up with Stylus RMX and Omnisphere in Ableton Live.  I’ve tried it a few times before, but always ran into hurdles that kept me from getting it set up in a fluid, performable way.

The key this time, was that I realized I could use Live’s Looper devices, much like I do with the Elektron RAM machines in my Machinedrum live sets.  So I have one instance of RMX and one Omnisphere (Omni) in the set, and I use them both in Multi mode.  This way I could use a Multi in each device for each of my “songs” in the set.  With a Looper on each of those tracks, I can capture the audio from them, and have it start looping immediately while I switch to a new Multi on the plug ins.  Switching the Multi in Stylus was only time I needed to use the trackpad in fact.

The only tricky bit was figuring out how to fade from the audio looping in Looper on each track, to the new material I had just loaded.  I ended up using an audio effect rack, with one chain for the Looper, and one for the dry audio.  Using a track fader on the APC, I could crossfade from looped material and new stuff for the next song by mapping a fader to the chain selector.

I used 3 tracks of drums from Stylus, and 4 tracks of synths in Omnisphere.  The APC40 would handle clip launching, and tweaking all the Stylus and Looper parameters.  (Stylus and Omni both have excellent MIDI mapping utilities btw.)

Here’s a couple views of the Live Set:

I used OmniTR on the iPad2 to control everything in Omnisphere, from switching sounds, to tweaking everything live, to selecting the Multi for each song.  Strangely I’d get an audible glitch when switching Multi’s with TR, a super short audible pop.  Even more strangely, this did not get recorded in the audio I saved to post online.  ????

Anyway, pretty happy with it overall, even if it does sound a little confusing on paper.  I’ll start working on some more material for the set over the next month or so.  Fun stuff, enjoy!

Wired Roots – Downtempo Live PA



Start Time – Track

00:00 – Leav
02:45 – Leak
05:57 – Trient
08:43 – Whithr
10:54 – Stalke
14:50 -Furow
17:53 – Brancht
21:31 – Biome
24:44 – Chlorl
28:30 – Petl

I’ve also posted YouTube videos of the set being performed live, along with comments describing what I’m doing as I perform it:

Wired Roots 1

Wired Roots 2

Also, for those of you with an Elektron Machinedrum or Monomachine (or people who just like really short samples), you can download the sysex and samples used in this set (included the songs I didn’t include in this performance), along with details on how to install them:


As regular readers of my blog know, I’ve been working the last few months on putting together a new live set using only the Elektron Machinedrum and Monomachine (no laptops this time).   You can read about the process here: http://tarekith.com/almost-live/ and here: http://tarekith.com/still-almost-live/.

Well, after months of work, I finally got the first demo of the set recorded at long last.  I have to admit, trial runs of the set had me wondering if perhaps I had decided to do too much this time.  The plan was to start off kind of chill and flowy, go into a middle section that was darker and more ‘minor’ sounding, and then end the last third of the set on a stronger note with more positive tunes.  After a couple of run throughs of the set to get used to everything and try different camera angles, it just seemed like the middle section of the live set was too different from everything else, so I regretfully decided to remove those songs and save them for a later date.

While this was a sizeable portion of the set I originally planned, I think ultimately everything worked out for the best as a result.  That, combined with trimming the original 16 patterns down to 14 before I even started recording, means the set is only 31 minutes long.  While frustrating initially, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes you start hitting a point of diminishing returns.  So going back and trying to write more material was honestly not going to improve things all that much at this point.  Sometimes you just need to use what you have, and then move on.

So, I’m really happy with how it all turned out, and now I can move on to my next big project.  More about that later though.  🙂

Hope you enjoy!

Ableton Live & APC40 Live PA set up

A few people over the last couple of weeks have asked me how I use Ableton Live and the Akai APC40 to perform my live pa’s.  I’ve covered it briefly on the Ableton forums over the years, but I figured it was time to go into a little more detail.

While I tend to write brand new material for my hardware live sets, my Ableton Live sets are my chance to perform the studio tunes I’ve written and released during the previous couple of years.  To make things coincide with the APC layout, and to keep the set from being too complex, I use 8 tracks of audio clips in my Live sets.  To make it easier to remember which sounds are on which track live, I use the following layout for all my tracks:

Track 1 – Kick and Snare
Track 2 – Percussion
Track 3 – Cymbals and Hi Hats
Track 4 – Bassline
Track 5 – Lead (synth or guitar)
Track 6 – Synth 1
Track 7 – Synth 2
Track 8 – Pads and Fills

Tracks 6 and 7 are basically for any sounds that don’t fit into the other categories, things like secondary synth lines, supporting guitar parts, weird effects or vocal samples.

So the first thing I do when prepping material for my sets, is to open the original song project file and start combining everything down to these 8 stems.  One of the things I’ve learned over the years, is to not try and include everything single sound from the original song in my stems.  It makes the overall sound too busy in a live setting, and often it’s better to just focus on the strongest, and most important parts of the song.  So a lot of fills, and sounds that only were used occasionally in the original song will get deleted.

Once I decide on what sounds will be part of the 8 stems, the next thing I do is work on making these into 32 bar loops.  I grew up performing with grooveboxes, so I’m used to working with loopy material and creating the song structure, builds, and peaks on the fly.  I find that 32 bars is the best compromise between the loops being too short and repetitive, or being too long really not giving me a chance to interact with them to create something live.  Typically in a live set, I’m only going to loop each clip 3-4 times before moving on to the next song, so it works out well.

In this phase I’m basically trying to condense the song into the strongest 32 bars I can, so that when all 8 stems/clips are playing at once, it’s more or less the peak of the song.  Mainly because I find it’s easier to play with the song structure on the fly this way.  I have a lot of tools to make complex parts simpler, loud parts quieter, and important sounds less in the forefront if I want.  More on that later though.

As part of this process of paring things down to 32 bars, I really try and re-use my programmed fills from the studio version to make things more exciting and less loopy sounding.  For instance, in the studio version, I have programmed a kick and snare fill every 16 bars.  When combining everything down to the live versions, I’ll pull the best of these fills and put them every 8 bars maybe.  The strongest and most exciting fill be placed at the end of the 32 bars as well, so that when the clip loops, it does so in a way that avoids being too monotonous or boring.

The last thing I do before rendering these stems, is to make sure that they actually do loop and repeat smoothly.  There’s no clicks or pops, and that no matter which combination of the stems is muted, it sounds natural and flows nicely.  I don’t want people to think “oh right, that’s where his song looped and repeats again” if I can help it.

Once that’s done, I render each stem as a 24bit/44.1kHz wav file, and name it with the stem type and the song name, i.e. “Bassline – Disappear.wav”.  This just makes it easier to quickly find the audio file if I need to later on.

(Click image above to see full sized image)

From here it’s time to organize the live set into one Ableton project in Session View.  As I mentioned, I use 8 tracks, and each scene in Live is a different song.  Sometimes if a song has a solo that doesn’t fit into my stems, or maybe I have a really long drop I like, I might create a second scene for just those parts.  In the screenshot above you can see I did this for the song “Tidal”.  It has a very strong solo I recorded in the studio, and I want to make sure I don’t accidentally trigger it until I’ve built up to it appropriately, so it’s on it’s own scene.  It’s a way for me to visually know that that clip is special in some way, and to not trigger it as if were a normal stem.  When I say visually, I mean both by looking at the laptop screen, or by looking at the APC40’s grid buttons.

So, the next step it to put all my stems on the appropriate tracks and scenes, name all the clips and the scene, and give each song it’s own color (both the clips and scenes).  I’m a visual person, so if I DO need to glance at the laptop to see where I am in the set, the colors help me break up the set in a way that I can quickly see what I need to.  I also put the song tempo in the scene name. Because my downtempo sets can cover a large range of tempos, this lets me know to change the set tempo to match the original song tempo.  I do this by assigning the Cue Volume knob on the APC to Live’s tempo field.  Generally if I know the next song is at a faster tempo, I’ll slowly start increasing the tempo during the current song to make the tempo changes less noticeable.

The next thing I do is warp all the clips.  The drum clips usually get warped with Beats mode, basslines with Tones, and everything else typically Complex Pro, though admittedly it depends on the sounds too.  I’ll use whatever sounds best over a +/-10 BPM range.  I double check that each clip is set to loop properly, and that Live guessed the correct location for the start marker (sometimes it offsets this a tiny bit, which throws everything off).

The last step in prepping the clips is to basically do a mixdown of each scene to make sure everything plays back at the right volume, and is consistent song to song.  I like to have the faders up all the way on the APC for this, so I can easily slam faders up and down on stage without worrying about boosting too much.  So I’ll set the volume fader for each track in Live to max, and use the clip volume controls to adjust the volume of the audio.  This is a great way to give the whole set a more cohesive feel as well, since I can redo the mixdowns to be similar song to song.  Typically I try to leave about 4-5dB of headroom on the master channel when prepping the set this way.  I do put Live’s Limiter on the master channel as well, but only for catching stray peaks that might happen when I perform, mainly from effects usage.  Rare that it happens, but better to be safe than sorry.

When it comes to effects in the set, I have 2 return tracks in the set, one for reverb and one for delay.  I also have a custom effects rack on each track, and this is made up of 8 of my favorite DJ EFX from the packs I’ve released here:


As you can see the rack has a high pass and low pass filter, some gating effects, some chorus and ambient generating effects, and more delays (I love delays).  I use the same rack on every track, again, just to be consistent so I know what I’m tweaking no matter what track I’m adjusting.  I can do the whole live set without looking at the laptop, so this type of consistency just helps me avoid any unexpected things happening as I jump around the set looking only at the APC40.

And that is how the Live Project is set up for my Live PA’s.

The APC40 I use to control the set is basically set up to use the default mapping it comes with right out of the box.  The grid buttons launch clips, the faders control track volumes, and the solo and mute buttons work as you’d expect.  I use the Track Control knobs to control what feeds Send 1 (Delay) and Send 2 (Reverb).  Because I only have one Effects Rack on each track, the Device Control knobs control my track effects depending on which Track is currently selected.  The only non-standard mapping is the tempo control I mentioned earlier, where the APC’s Cue Level knob is assigned to global tempo.

Also, as you can see above, I have colored the Clip Stop buttons red (with a Sharpie, nothing fancy).  This helps remind which buttons are the Track Select buttons, and which will stop my audio at the wrong time.  Honestly, this is pretty much my only complaint with the APC40, I still don’t understand why Akai didn’t use red LEDs for the Clip Stop buttons.  Red means stop, green means go, duh.  🙂

From here it’s just a matter of performing the set.  I use track volumes and muting to define the song structure on the fly, create drops and build ups, and slowly morph from one song to the next.  Track effects let me alter my audio loops in different ways, and with my Delay and Reverb sends along with my Weird Wash effect (in the track effects rack), I can turn any sound into a texture or a pad.

Probably my favorite part of this set up, is that I can do a whole set without looking at the laptop, it turns  the APC40 into almost a groovebox.  I don’t feel like I’m using software and a MIDI controller at all.  In the future I’m thinking about using Kapture Pad on my iPhone or iPad as well.  That way I can use a lot of effects to mangle the set into weirdness, and with a press of a button (errr…. on the screen) bring it all back to normal instantly.  Haven’t had a chance to play with this yet, but it’s definitely something I’m keeping in mind for the next time I do a software based live set.

Anyway, that’s how I do my Ableton Live sets using the Akai APC40.  I’m happy to answer any questions if I didn’t explain something clearly enough, just post it in the Comments section below.


Oops, I forgot to post a link to one my sets that I did via the above:

Downtempo Live PA


Machinedrum DJ Set Vol. 2

Machinedrum DJ Set Vol. 2

This is the second in a series of collaborations initiated by the Elektron-Users.com community.  The basic idea is that each user contributes a pattern they wrote using only the Elektron Machinedrum SPS-1.  Then, users of the forum can perform a sort of combination DJ and live set using only those patterns.

Unfortunately I was pretty busy around the pattern submission dead-line, so none of the songs in this set were written by me.  Still, it was great fun performing the set, so thanks to all of the producers who let me use and modify their patterns so I could still participate.

This set was recorded live in one pass on 05-07-2011 using only the Machinedrum recorded direct via a RME Fireface400.  2dB of limiting was applied to tame one large peak during the set, otherwise no additional processing was applied.

Here’s the tracklist:

00:00 – Dubathonic – SubTerra
03:10 – Catabolic – Biz’n’Veetz
07:52 – Catabolic – Escalate
12:04 – djd_oz – Monopoly
15:37 – Jonathon Doe – Derive
19:10 – djd_oz – Jenga
22:44 – Jonathon Doe – Fraktur
26:23 – djd_oz – Scrabble

The sysex files of my edits to the original patterns can found here:


Here’s a link to the first Machinedrum DJ/Live set I did as well:



Almost Live

Recently I’ve talked a little bit on my Twitter feeds about how I’m prepping a new hardware based live pa, and I’ve had a few people ask me questions about it.  Namely, why hardware and not Ableton Live anymore, and how do I go about creating a strictly hardware based live set.  So, I’m going to talk a little about that for this week’s blog entry.

To start with, no I’m not ditching Live and the APC40 completely for my live sets.  I’ve been happily using that combination for a couple years now, it’s just time to revisit my past a little bit.  If you were one of the bored people who made it all the way through my “History” blog post from a few weeks ago, then you’ll know that my very first introduction to writing electronic music was to put on live pa’s in the late 1990’s.

I’ve revisited the idea a few times over the years since then in a series I call “Morphing Mechanism”, but for the last couple of years I’ve really been itching to put together a brand new live set that doesn’t involve a laptop at all.  It’s both a challenge to me, and I think a way to sort of set myself apart a little bit from the plethora of laptop based performers in Seattle these days.  I’m sure one day I’ll revisit the laptop based live set (in fact all this hardware work has given me some new ideas on how to do so), but for now I’m focusing strictly on hardware grooveboxes and drum machines to perform with.

I started work on this project early last year with the intention of it being based around an Elektron Machinedrum-UW, and an Access Virus TI2 Polar.  In this instance, the Machinedrum (MD) was going to be doing all of the drum sounds, as well as being the sequencer driving 4 tracks of synths in the TI.  Unfortunately, after 8+ months of work (and literally on the day I finally considered the set done and ready), I ran into a nasty bug in the Virus OS.  An hour before I was to record a demo of the set to pass out to promoters, I lost all of the sounds TI and there was no way I could get them back.  Yes, I had been making daily sysex backups, but the bug was such that the backups the TI sent were corrupt and I had no way of knowing this.  So after loading one of these corrupted sysex backups back into the TI, all of my sounds were over-written with garbage noise.  To say I was upset would be a huge understatement.

A few days later Access confirmed the bug (and released an OS update correcting it shortly after), but by then I was pissed off and fed up, so I sold the TI.  Of course, this left me in sort of a quandary.  With the TI and all of my synth sounds gone, what was I going to replace it with?  In the end I decided to finally take the plunge on an Elektron Monomachine (MnM).  The Machinedrum is my favorite bit of gear ever, and I figured it was time to see if the MnM equally as good when it comes to synth sounds.  Based on other user reviews, I was a bit fearful that it might not be a sound that I liked, or that it would be too simple for me, though luckily in the end these fears proved to be completely unfounded.  The MnM is a very deep synth, and while not as oriented to performance as the MD is, I knew it would work nicely for my new live set.

By this time, I was beginning to think it would be best to just scrap everything from the last live set attempt and start over with a clean slate, so that’s what I did. All the MD sounds and patterns got deleted, and I started with an empty palette on both the MD and MnM.  Because the MnM has it’s own built in sequencer, there was no longer a need for me to use the MD to sequence my synth parts either.  So for this go around, I’d still be doing all of the drums on the MD, but both sequencers would be running slaved, with the MnM being the master clock.  No real reason why the MnM is the master rather the MD, other than the fact that I have the MD on the left and MnM on the right, and it just feels more natural to hit start and stop with my right hand.  I again decided to use only 4 synth sounds on the MnM, which leaves two of it’s six track free to assign as effects.

One of the things I find most helpful in preparing and performing live sets, is sticking with a set layout on all my gear when it comes to instrumentation.  For instance, I know that no matter what song I’m playing, Track 1 on the MD is always my kick, Track 2 is snare, Tracks 9 and 10 are the HH’s, etc.  Likewise on the MnM, Track 1 is the bassline, Track 2 is my lead, Track 3 is the effects for the lead, Track 4 is a random synth, Track 5 is my pad or fills sounds, and Track 6 is the effects for Track 5.  Setting things up this way right when you beginning writing and prepping the live set really makes it simple to know exactly what you are controlling at any time in the set.  Not to mention trying to troubleshoot things in the heat of the moment when something doesn’t sound right.

The other thing I do when working with hardware live sets, is to treat each pattern like it’s own song.  In most hardware grooveboxes and drum machines, your sounds and sequences are organized into short segments called a pattern, typically from 4-32 bars long.  So when I’m crafting the set, I basically treat each of these patterns as a distinct song in the live set, and I write between 10-16 patterns to last me an hour or so.  Of course, this means that all of the drops, build ups, and variations in each song need to be done on the fly, they can’t be programmed in advance.  Normally this is accomplished via muting individual sounds, and tweaking the parameters of different sounds as I play.  This is actually my favorite part about performing, as it means that each time I do a set it’s completely unique, and I get to orchestrate it on the fly depending on my mood.

In the case of the MD and MnM, they both have a maximum pattern length of only 4 bars though.  This presents some interesting challenges when writing and preparing a live set.  Namely, how do I keep things interesting enough and not too loopy sounding?  With software, this is less of any issue, it’s easy to add in complex pre-recorded fills, or use longer patterns.  So one of the things I’ve learned over the years, is to just not worry about that too much.  I just embrace the fact that this is going to inherently be a bit loopy sounding, and focus on making the strongest grooves I can so people don’t mind listening to them for 3-4 minutes a piece.  Again, this is one of the great things about playing live versus writing in the studio, in all likelihood your audience will only ever hear these songs this one time, so you can get away with a little more repetition.

That’s not to say I still don’t try and keep things evolving and interesting either.  I try and keep each song pretty short, and add a lot of variations with real-time tweaking and mute variations.  You only have two hands, so there’s only so much you can do, but I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now so I have a good feel on how to pace things to keep it moving.  It helps that the MnM has 3 really slow LFO’s for each sound, so it’s not too difficult to make things slowly morph over the 3-4 minutes I’m playing each song.

The other trick I’ve learned for keeping things interesting, is to not worry about the drum parts until later in the process.  I try and really focus only on the synth parts initially, so that they are strong enough to stand on their own without relying on complex drum parts or familiar rhythms.  When I do this, it seems that the songs ultimately are more interesting than when I start with drums like I normally do when writing music.  It might seem odd at first, but when you have really strong instrumentation, it’s a lot easier to write drums to fit, versus the other way around.  Especially when each groove is only going to be 4 bars long.

Of course the one thing most people ask me, is how do I transition smoothly from one song to another?  Let me start by saying that you don’t always have to worry about this.  I know a lot of really awesome live acts that only play one song, stop, load up the next song, and then perform it.  It’s a perfectly valid way of performing, and arguably has it’s own advantages (like not having to stress about transitions).  But, for whatever reason, playing electronic music live has always been about crafting a continuous piece of music for me.  Because of this, I’ve always gravitated towards gear that has some sort of facility that makes this easier.  Initially it was the Roland MC505 with it’s Megamix, then the E-mu Command Stations with their similar XMIX function.

The Machinedrum UW has a rather unique function in that you can sample both it’s internal output signal, and/or anything coming into it’s inputs at the same time.  Samples are mono, can only be 2 bars long at most, and quite honestly sound rather digital since they are played back at a bit rate of 12bits.  Still, despite being a limitation, it’s a lot of fun and offers me an easy way to move from one pattern to the next.  I merely sample the MD internally at the same time as the MnM coming in externally, loop that, mute all other parts, do the pattern switch while the sample continues to play, and then slowly unmute the new parts from the next pattern.  The whole time you can freely tweak and re-sequence the audio you previously sampled too.  It’s a terribly difficult thing to describe succinctly, but trust me that it works great and is very simple to do once you get the hang of it.

Initially I was running the MnM directly into the MD’s inputs, but to be honest, anything coming through the MD directly like that ends up sounding rather flat and one-dimensional.  All the depth and subtlety is gone.  So now I use my RME Fireface400 as a small, but very high quality standalone mixer (it doesn’t need a computer connected to work like this).  Both the MD and the MnM go into the FF400’s inputs, where they are summed and sent to a master stereo output.  I also have a copy of the MnM’s audio signal going to a separate output which feeds the MD’s inputs strictly for sampling for these pattern switches.  The best part about this set up is that both machines sound fantastic on their own, and I can still feed the MnM to the MD for sampling.  If the Fireface is out of your budget and you’re interested in this idea for your own sets, the MOTU Ultralite can do the same thing at less than half the price.

So there you have it, a somewhat brief run down of how I’m prepping and preparing my new live set.  Currently I’m about halfway through writing material for the new set, though it’s coming together a lot faster than I thought it would.  If all goes well, I hope to have a demo recording ready to go in a couple months or sooner, with some live gigs to follow shortly after that.  If you’re interested in hearing some examples of material performed like I’ve described, here’s links to two of my previous live sets using similar gear.

This set is done using only the Machinedrum and nothing else:


This live set was done with the Machinedrum doing the drums, and a Korg EMX-1 providing all of the synth parts:


Both sets were done 100% live and on the fly, with no additional editing or processing aside from normalizing done to them.  Enjoy, and stayed tuned for the new live set in the near future.


Also, if anyone is curious to see what your’s truly looks like (shudder), I just recorded a new video introduction for my mastering business.  You can view it here: