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 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.

10 Replies to “Laptop, I love you, I hate you.”

  1. full acknowledge Tarekith.
    I thought owning APC40 & Maschine would turn my computer into a groovebox
    but it doesn´t (though both devices are great) there´s always a little aftertaste of software.

  2. tarekith, I share your exact story and feelings…in my case my love for gear made me to not looking too much into controllers and take the hardware-only way some years ago…I never look back again since this.

  3. I still need a computer for a lot of different reasons in the studio, so I doubt I could ever go fully hardware again. It’s tempting, though honestly the few times I’ve tried I realized just how spoiled we’ve become by certain aspects of DAWs (easy arranging, endless processing, instant and exact recall, etc). In general I tend to use hardware to make the sounds, and software to arrange and compose with them. The one exception is probably Omnisphere, which is more or less my only poly-synth these days.

  4. …my website’s up again…

    I’ve gone through similar phases, trying out lots of MIDI controllers, soundcards, even laptops.
    Truly, instruments and hardware cannot be replaced altogether; the style and feel of ‘playing’ evokes much more passion (for me) than the virtual experience.
    Thanks for the commentary.

  5. I had a very similar journey. But I still find myself thinking of how messing with cables and little tiny screens on hardware and sysex and all that drove me nuts and I quickly appreciate simple things like File/Save with my laptop.

    But many things you describe are why I’ve been using a combination of my Laptop with an Analog Modular rack. I detail this here if anyone is interested in an approach for combining Analog Modulars with Ableton Live and Maxforlive.

  6. I actually started with my laptop and software so I am just now starting to explore the possibilities of hardware.
    A good laptop and Ableton Live are the first things that made music feel accessible to me. Like it was something I could actually do.

    It’s just in the past year I started exploring hardware. I do admit that I have come to prefer the feeling of using a hardware synth. I can see myself in the future going the same route as Tarekith, sounds made with hardware and sequenced with software.

  7. Interesting. I’ve always wondered if I preferred that method merely because I started with hardware first, or if there was some other underlying cause of that.

    Clint – I’ve love to get a modular, but I have a feeling that’s a rabbit hole that would take ALL my money in the end 🙂 Some day!

  8. Yeah, I regretted selling my EMX-1, did the whole plug-in, MIDI controller thing too….nothing can explain how much I hate MIDI mapping lol

    Nothing like sitting there and twiddle knobs. Ultimate solution would be stacks of grooveboxes, a small mixer, and just abletoning the sequencing, manipulating all the sounds on the boxes.

  9. An easy way to see what it’s like to work with a modular is to try the Arturia Moog Modular V software simulation. Or scrounge a Nord G2 🙂

Leave a Reply