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.