The Best Laid Plans… S8 Live PA
I seem to be on a roll lately when it comes to prepping a new live set, lots and lots of work that seems to ultimately not pan out the way I intended. This time I had decided that it was time to explore using the Traktor S8 controller as the center of my live rig, indeed as my entire live rig actually. Ever since I got the S8 I’ve been intrigued by the idea, since it gives you so many hands-on controls for the Remix Decks in Traktor. Not to mention a 4 channel mixer, 4 seperate effects units, and built-in soundcard. It’s not a small device by any means, but if it’s all you’re carrying to a gig, it’s really not as bad as setting up multiple bits of gear either.
It’s been awhile since I played live of course, not since I sold off my Elektron Machinedrum and Octatrack a couple years ago really. I realized that even with that set up, I was rehashing material that was by now 3-4 years old anyway. I’ve released quite a few songs since then, and I had been slowly gathering them all this last year with the intent of grabbing stems from them for a live set I’d perform one one way or another. With the S8 live pa once again coming to mind, seemed like a good way to kill two birds with one stone as it were.
So for the last few weeks I’ve been going back to my old song projects. Stripping things down, combining sounds, adding new fills, enhancing things to work better in a live setting, revisiting mixdowns, and generally doing what I could to capture the essense of each song in 8 stems that were 32 bars long.
Long enough to avoid being repetitive sounding, but not so long as to be wasting disk space for no reason. It really forces you to get to the core of each of your songs and see what’s important.
After weeks of work I had my stems balanced, level-matched, tagged, and finally imported into two Traktor remix decks, one for each side of the S8. Drums and bassline on the left deck, synths, guitars, and pads/fx on the right deck. This was not easy actually, as Traktor is a bit clunky when it comes to assigning lots of sample loops to the remix slots. For one thing, there’s no way to delete a sample if you make a mistake and put it in the wrong place. WTF?
Also, Traktor guessed the tempo of my perfectly trimmed loops wrong every single time. Literally, all of them. Surprising in a lot of ways as it’s excellent at guessing the tempo of whole songs and setting beat grids these days. So it was a pretty arduous process getting it all set up, but I kept plugging away and eventually it was done.
Once I started practicing the set though, it became apparent that things were not as ideal as I had thought.
For starters, I was having issues triggering all 8 stems at once and actually getting them in sync. Of course I had Traktors Snap and Quantize on, but for some reason even though I KNOW that I was pressing all the remix pads at the same time and hard enough, one or two of them wouldn’t trigger at the same time as the others. They would be late by whatever the quantize value was set to (usually 4 beats). Or worse, hitting them all at once would cause a slight hiccup in the audio no matter what my latency was set to.
All in all, just didn’t feel reliable enough for a live gig. Who wants to build up a song to an epic point and then have the critical sound not trigger on time?
The other thing I wasn’t expecting, was that when you use the Remix Decks in Traktor, the only way you can apply effects is using the performance knobs set to send mode. Basically this means that you get a send knob for each column of loops, and it controls the send amount for that column to all effects units the deck is assigned to. If you don’t use Traktor I’m sure that doesn’t make sense, so I’ll explain it another way.
I had planned on using two effects units for each of my decks, and each deck has 4 loops playing. Because each effect unit can also be a group effect with three effect types, this means I could have up to 6 seperate effects for my drums and my bassline, and 6 additional effects for my synths, fills, and pads. When you’re working with only audio loops, you need as many ways to manipulate them as possible, otherwise it’s just a some what rather boring to perform DJ set.
But with this send effect limitation, that means I could only apply all 6 effects at once to each sound via a wet/dry control. There was no way to send the kick and snare to one effect, and my high hats to different one. This greatly reduced my ability to shape and manipulate the sounds the way I was intending, and more or less put me back into a DJ mentality (to be fair, this IS a DJ controller afterall).
At the end of the day, it just seemed a little too limiting for what I was trying to achieve, so I might just have to write this one off as experimentation and move on to something else. I’m going to mull over some other ideas over the next few days to see if I can still make this work, but it’s looking less and less likely.
Oh well, sometimes you have to fail to learn, and at the very least it helped me prep some stems in case I think of another sample-based method for playing live.
Now if only Korg would release that bug-fix update for the new Electribe. Hmm…..
Stay tuned for more adventures in prep work!