Relearning the Octatrack


I bought the Octatrack with a very specific use in mind, to replace my laptop when playing live.  Even before it arrived I had read the manual and knew exactly how I was going to use it.  My loops were trimmed and prepped, I had a mental idea of the workflow I was going to use, and it only took me couple days to get it all functional and paired with my Machinedrum once the Octatrack (OT) arrived.

I’ve been using that set up for awhile now, and it’s worked out great.  My best shows ever have been when just using the OT and the Machinedrum, lots of power in a small package!  Even though I’ve skimmed through the manual again later on to refresh my memory, I always feel like the OT is something I still haven’t really explored fully.  There’s just so many ways of configuring it for what you need when it comes to audio sampling and manipulation, sometimes it’s hard to know what to try next.

So I’ve had this nagging urge for a while now to dive in deep with the Octatrack, and really get to incorporate more of what it can do when I play live.  Not at all helped by Mr. Elektron himself, Dataline with another really awesome video like this:

The problem is I know that this kind of exploration of a single bit of gear can take a level of focus I just didn’t have at the time.  I’ve been playing with Push and Live, or messing about with the iPad app and things like the QuNexus, and just wasn’t in the right mindset to tackle that type of task yet.  Over the last couple of weeks though, I finally managed to get enough time to really explore everything the OT can do, and rethink my live sets in the process.

The previous material I had used to play live with the Octatrack, was originally loops from my Ableton live set.  I just trimmed them down to fit the OT, and more or less played things in the same manner as I had with Live.  Basically just working with loop stems from my studio tracks, and writing the song structures and transitions on the fly while tweaking the sounds.

It was a really flexible way of working, as it let me play my studio songs with a degree of flexibility that let the live show be truly live.  But I knew that sticking to my original loops was holding me back from really using the OT to it’s full potential.

So one of the first things I did this time, was to sit down and watch a bunch of Octatrack videos on YouTube while taking notes on things I wanted to incorporate in my new live set, or needed to revisit in the manual.   It let me see the ways different people were organizing and performing their material with the OT, so I got a nice broad overview of a few different ways I could structure my own live set.

For starters, I wanted to do a few key things:

– Get better at real-time resampling on the OT, instead of always using my old crossfader transition trick.

– Incorporate sample-chains this time around, to give me more flexibility when it comes to fills and variations while I perform.

– Use less tracks for each song, maybe 5-6 instead of 7-8.  I want more time to tweak and control each sound, and I want to make a live set with more space between notes and sounds than I’ve done in the past.

– Do a live set using ONLY the Octatrack.  I just think it would be cool to walk up in a club and hook up one little box to rock people out.  Maybe it’s too minimal, we’ll see!

With these core ideas in mind, it was time to sit down with the manual and the Octatrack and start really learning how to use some of the functions I rarely had a need for before.  For about a week now that’s what I’ve been doing with my free time in the studio, just going through the manual page by page and working through what I’m reading on the OT at the same time.

I made some quick sample-chains to use while doing all of this, though I know I’ll still need to spend a good bit of time creating proper ones now that I’m hooked on the idea.  In fact, this would all be a pretty fun process were it not for the fact that as it’s a sampler, I have to actually MAKE something to put into the OT before I can use it.  Creates sort of a conundrum of how do I create samples that will work for me with a new live workflow, without knowing what that workflow will be?

Oh well, these things happen I guess!

So that’s about where I am now in this process.  Just about done with the manual and I have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to set up the new live pa with just the Octatrack.  I’m just trying out a few different ideas and variations with my temporary samples, sort of proof of concept.    Then I’ll go ahead and create a template project set up exactly like I need to perform, and use that to write each song.

Should be fun.  Except for having to make all these sample chains.  🙁

9 Replies to “Relearning the Octatrack”

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  2. I’m new to the OT and am wondering what you mean by “sample chains”? Your OT vids and workflow are so great to watch and I love that you stop and point out little hiccups that kill the flow.

    1. Sample chains are just a bunch of hits placed into a single sample, spread evenly apart. Check youtube for Secretmusic’s new tutorial, it covers the basics.

  3. I’ve filled mine with all kinds of samples from sample cds, downloads, sampling my own stuff, etc with no particular goal in mind at that time. Only my drum hits are sample chains (64 kicks, 64 open/closed hats, etc). Now i can input a drum loop in no time and just browse for sounds that i like. Instant fun! Just be shure to organise everything in folders (chords, leads, pads, bass, vocals) and let your intuition guide you to the right samples and start mangling them. Have fun 🙂

  4. I’m going they the learning stages correctly, but I’m a slow reader…
    I’m interested in you last statement here, “create a template project set up”. This looks like a good blog topic me thinks. It’s where I get stuck, the direction!

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