Laptop, I love you, I hate you.
First up, if you haven’t seen the new teaser for the Elektron Octatrack, it’s definitely worth a look:
Obviously I’m a huge Elektron fan already (owning a Machinedrum and Monomachine, as well as moderating the Elektron-Users.com forums), so I’m interested in the Octatrack a lot. Thinking it might let me use all hardware again to play live, leaving behind Ableton and my laptop for samples of my studio work.
Which brings me neatly to my main topic, the simplicity of the laptop, and why I’ve never been able to completely embrace it no matter how hard I try. Like a lot of musicians, I went through a phase early on of owning a lot of studio gear to make music. Multiple racks, keyboard stands with multiple synths, grooveboxes galore, you name it. Then of course the digital audio revolution happened, and slowly but surely I started selling things off and moving more and more to producing entirely in the box.
Of course, in many respects this was really not at all that different from having lots of hardware initially. Like so many others, I became obsessed with ‘collecting’ plug-ins. Dozens of dynamics processors, too many softsynths, and more than a couple DAWs. Slowly, I realized I was turning to a select few plug ins though, and I began to whitle down my collection.
Then I made the jump from a desktop to a laptop, and suddenly things changed. I realized that here was a really compact means to making and performing music. This one tool reduced clutter and cable nests, removed the need for external monitors, keyboards, and mice. Paired with something like Logic or Live, I could basically create anything I wanted with such a simple, and yet extremely powerful toolset. It was a sort of revelation, and in the years since prompted me to sell more and more gear, to the point where my studio looked more like a beginner just getting started, instead of someone with almost 2 decades of experience.
There was a problem though. Despite achieving my dreams of a minimalist set up, I really wasn’t enjoying the music making process anymore. At the time I thought it was the lack of physical controls that was throwing me off, and thus began the great MIDI controller experiment. I think I must have tried dozens of MIDI controllers trying to find one that reminded me of using a groovebox. Sadly, nothing ever really worked like that, at the end of the day a laptop is still a computer, and a generic MIDI controller still requires too much configuring to be useful in the heat of the moment. I didn’t want to stop to remap every parameter I wanted to control when I thought of it. Even things like Novation’s Automap just didn’t sit well with me, very unpredictable in use.
So for now I’ve accepted the fact that I just can’t work with only a laptop, I need at least a few pieces of hardware to use when making music too. Someday I hope a more elegent solution is found, in the meantime I’ll have to live with the love-hate relationship when it comes to the laptop.