(Still) Almost Live
Back in April I posted about the steps I was taking while preparing a new hardware based live set:
Well, things are getting much closer to wrapping up finally, so I thought I’d update people on some of the other aspects of what’s going into this set. Probably a bit overkill since it’s a relatively simple affair, using only the Machinedrum and Monomachine, but people seemed generally interested the last time I talked about it.
So, when I last discussed this, the core patterns in the Monomachine (MnM) had been written, covering the bassline, lead, pads and fills, and other random synth sounds. I had the basic beats sketched out in the Machinedrum (MD), mainly just some simple kick, snare and high hat patterns though. I was planning on using 16 patterns as songs to fill up an hour live set, with transitions being handled by the real time sampling functions of the MD’s RAM machines.
The next step was to start adding in supporting percussion parts in the MD, and for this I wanted to do something a little different. I decided that all of the percussion sounds would be made of of found sounds, basically me running around the house with a microphone recording myself hitting and tapping random objects (note to self, the dog does not appreciate being a drum). I didn’t need a lot of sounds, the MD has quite a bit of sound sculpting ability, so I narrowed it down to only 23 samples in the end. You can download them here if you’re curious:
From there it was just a matter of fleshing out the Machinedrum patterns with these new sounds, as well as some cymbals using the built-in synth engines (as well as my samples). At this point I was also balancing all the levels of the different drum sounds, adjusting the panning on the less important sounds (main sounds are always right up the center), and programming some parameter locks here and there to keep things interesting and evolving. I’m a big fan of using the LFO of some parts like HH’s to modulate volume in a semi-random fashion as well, keeps things a little more organic sounding and less static.
Once done with that, I’d say 95% of the music on both the MD and MnM was written, so I was able to start working on the track order for the live set. I like to start out a little slower but still catchy, build that up for a bit, then break up the set in the middle with some slightly weirder and perhaps even darker sounding songs. Then I can come out of those and increase the complexity and energy to end on a strong note. I’ve always found that Ableton Live is a really good tool for helping me to figure out the track order of live sets, since I can easily move clips around in session view to see how the set flows from start to finish.
The first thing I do is create 3 audio tracks in Live, one for the MD, one for the MnM, and one that I actually record to. The MD and MnM tracks are routed to this third record channel, which lets me record both instruments into a single clip for each pattern. I do this, naming each clip in Live the name of the patterns in the Elektrons, and then play around with the order of things until I like the way it flows as a set.
Once I’m happy with the order of things, I take a screen shot of the clip order in Live, and then it’s time to start playing with sysex. The Elektron boxes don’t have a dedicated librarian for moving things around on the computer, so it all has to be done old-school style with sysex. Luckily, Elektron has built some really clever sysex functionality into each box that makes this a lot easier to manage. For starters, since a pattern will always call up a kit when loaded, it’s possible to export both patterns and kits in one go, and they will be tied to each other. So the first thing I do is export the pattern and kit sysex for every pattern in both machines, naming them appropriately according to the track order I want.
Here’s the neat bit though, once the sysex is named and ordered on the computer, I can send it back to the Elektrons and specify the exact locations where I want both the kits and patterns to load into. When receiving sysex dumps, the Md and MnM can be set to load the sysex into the same locations it was originally, or I can specify an exact starting point for the both kits and patterns. This means I can send all of my sysex in one go, in the correct order, and I know that the Elektrons will store this data in the correct order as well. Sounds a little confusing, but it saves a TON of time compared to having to manually send each kit and pattern and save them individually to the right locations.
I should also note that during this process I culled two songs that just weren’t really working in the set. Rather than back track and trying and write new material, in the interest of moving forward and getting this set prepped, I’m just going to go with 14 patterns.
So, once the track order is set and addressed the way I want it, the last step is to go back and do one final adjustment of all the volume levels. I’m trying to make not only each patterns full and balanced sounding ala a mixdown, but also making sure that the volumes are consistent from song to song. I also make sure that the low end is nice and balanced (as much as I can), since the Elektron boxes can output gobs of sub-bass if you’re not careful. Full range monitoring definitely helps here!
I also tend to write my Elektron sets with the master volume knob on each machine all the way to max, so I’ll double check that I’m not clipping my audio interface by sending too hot of a signal to my Fireface400. I don’t perform with the volume knobs at max, I tend to put them at about 3:00 to give myself more of a safety margin when I play out. This just lets me know that even with things maxed out for some reason, I will not be clipping either a PA or anything I recorded into.
And of course I’m backing up all of this work daily too, sometimes more than once a day depending on how much work I’ve done. Better safe than sorry!
And now we come to where I am at the moment with the live set. All of the above has been done so far, and I’m pretty close to being able to perform and record the set. As I mentioned earlier, the songs are all about 95% of the way done, so I’ll take my time over the next couple of weeks to go back and fine tune everything until I’m totally happy. After the last couple of weeks of heavy writing and tweaking, it’s nice to have a couple of days away to give my ears a break and get some fresh perspective.
Then it’s just a matter of waiting for the right time to get inspired to play and record the set. Hoping to have this done in the next couple of weeks, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve said that about this live set! 🙂 I also plan on trying to video tape the performance, so people can see how I ‘play’ a live set on hardware. No promises, but I’d like to do a close up of the MD and MnM and annotate what I’m doing through out the set if I can.
So, there you go, an update on the live set. It’s been a lot of fun working on the set, I always enjoy the mental process of composing on hardware in a groovebox fashion. but, I’m glad it’s almost done too. I’ve been working on this for a long time, so it will be nice to put this behind me and move on. I’m tentatively planning on starting a new full-length album after this, focusing on Ableton Live and Max4Live, using the APC40 and iPad apps to control and write. We’ll see though, after this project I might need a break and who knows what new ideas I’ll get then.
Thanks for reading as always, hope some of you found this interesting. Just a note that I’m now on Facebook as well, so stop by if you want to follow or say hi: