First up, sorry for the blog seeming to wind down the last few weeks. Every year the end of summer becomes an incredibly busy time for me, both with the mastering business and my own personal life. Hoping to get back on a weekly schedule with the blog now that things are getting back to normal. And thanks to all the people who continue to recommend my studio to their friends and fellow musicians. Recommendations like this still help a lot, so I really appreciate it.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to figure out what type of music project I should tackle next. I’ve been getting the itch again lately to put together a new live set, I just seem to be in a performance-oriented mindset lately. Having just wrapped up the Monomachine and Machinedrum live project, I thought it might be an interesting exercise to see if I could do a live set 100% on the iPad.
So far I’ve done two complete songs on the iPad, one using Garageband (Slip), and one using NanoStudio (Slat). So I know that there’s apps out there capable of making some good sounds. I just hadn’t spent much time thinking about the platform as a live tool, aside from say Ableton Live controllers like TouchOSC or TouchAble. I really didn’t want to just use a controller though, I wanted to create and perform an entire set using one app natively on the iPad.
Of course, I often get ideas like this without doing any research first, and it soon became apparent that there just aren’t a lot of apps out there capable of being used in a live manner. I was willing to deal with a lot of limitations however, so I started looking into a lot of apps that might fit the bill. My only real requirement was that I was able to write songs or patterns with the app, and somehow switch from one song or pattern to another on the fly. This way I could chain together songs to do a full hour set, and hopefully there was at least some measure of real-time control and sound tweaking too.
One of the first apps that caught my eye was TechnoBox2, which is basically a really nice looking 909/808/303 clone ala Rebirth. Much cleaner interface though, with 2 synths and 2 drum machines active at any time. It supports up to 12 patterns per device, and you can switch between them in real-time. However, each pattern can only be one bar long, and with only 12 on offer, I wasn’t sure I could do anything interesting for more than 20 minutes straight with it. Plus, I’m not sure that the old school Roland sound is really something I want to limit myself to for this project. Been there, done that. In the end, I decide to pass.
Honestly, for the longest time I just didn’t find anything else out there that looked like it would suit my needs, even with imposing some severe limitations on my working methods. Most of the apps that seemed to maybe be oriented to live use, were straight up drum machines like Bleep!Box or Korg’s iElectribe. Powerful and fun to use tools, but I’ve owned a real ER-1 in the past and know how frustrating it can be to create good synths sounds from a drum synth.
Then I started looking into maybe trying to figure out a workaround with one of the DAW style apps like BeatMaker or NanoStudio. Certainly they offer a lot of sound generating capabilities via sampling or synthesis, but I just couldn’t come up with a fluid way of using them in a live situation. Too much jumping around between screens trying to both tweak sounds and work on some way of switching songs on the fly.
Then by chance I ran into a review of an app called Electrify, which to be honest looked perfect. Sort of a mini version of Ableton Live, it has 8 tracks and 8 scenes available at once, x-y pads for tweaking effects, and the ability to load your own samples. More than anything, it looked like a fun way to create your own loops and grooves, and it even had a pretty decent factory set of samples to get you started. I set to work making material for a new live set, and I had a great time doing so.
Unfortunately, the latest version of the app is super buggy, and before long I was running into issues and other weirdness that more or less made me give up on the idea for now. I think for what I want to do, it’s definitely the best app out so far, but it’s just not stable enough, or even fully useable to see this project through. I’ve been writing music for too long to feel I need to soldier on and deal with buggy software, so for now I’m stuck waiting for the developer to release an update which sorts out the confirmed issues. The good news is that he’s aware of the issue and has promised an update soon.
So, I then started considering doing another Machinedrum-only live set. I know a lot of people have told me they feel my Machinedrum (MD) sets are really basic sounding compared to my usual downtempo productions, but honestly using the MD is the most fun I’ve been had making music lately. I know it very well, and can get ideas down pretty quickly on it, so it just feels like a real instrument to me. It’s one of the only bits of hardware I’ve used that feels truly performance oriented. Same sort of vibe I get from say, playing my guitar.
I decided that if I was going to go down this route again though, I needed some new samples for the UW aspect of the Machinedrum. For this project I wanted to stick with the internal synthesis engines for all of the drum and percussion sounds, and use the samples for my instruments and synths. I spent the last week or so using Live and softsynths like Omnisphere and Synplant to get about 40 samples created, all totalling only 1.3MB. Remember, the MD-UW MKII only has 2.5MB of sample space, and some of that I need to save for live on the fly resampling 🙂 Always fun trying to get samples as small as possible, and a good reminder these days that you don’t need GB’s worth of samples to make compelling music. At least I hope it’s compelling….
Just when I had all the prep work wrapped up and was ready to start writing though, I suddenly got it into my head that maybe it was time to revisit the idea of turning Ableton Live and the APC40 into a super groovebox. Something that I could use not only to quickly sketch up loops and grooves, but also perform and manipulate those in a live performance setting. All centered on MIDI loops and softsyths. But as this is already getting to be pretty long, I think I’ll save that topic for another time. 🙂
Still got room for a couple more questions for next week’s Production Q&A as well, so if you have any questions, please submit them via email or in the comments of this post asap. Thanks!