We recently held a small private event in London to celebrate synthesisers. Our engineers and specialists brought an array of their favourite analogue synths and modular systems for guests to experiment with. We had a live performance from synth/programming expert Matt Robertson, who is the musical director for Bjรถrk, and a Q&A with Tim Noakes from Dazed & Confused and Finders Keepers Records about their synth heroes. We caught up with Matt after his performance to find out what was involved in the composition and performance of the songs, and to learn a bit about what he is trying to achieve in his music at the moment (go to our website to see the performance video).
“The setup used in this performance is based around a Novation Bass Station II, Elektron Analogue Keys, and small Eurorack modular. I am going through a phase of trying to do all my sequencing outside of the computer, mainly using the internal sequencer on the Elektron and some arpeggiation from the Bass Station II. The Elektron also sends CV to the modular setup”. All the audio comes from the external gear and gets routed through my computer, though. It seems counterproductive to buy an external mixing desk when the computer makes a really good recallable digital desk!
used a Launchpad to swap between scenes in the session. These scenes only had automation clips in them, which
I ended up with one Ableton Live session for the set, and
meant I could change levels, sends, compression, sidechains and FX per song. “In my head, and with what I’m trying to achieve right now, that seems like a good compromise of ‘live-ness’ and ‘recallability’. But I change my mind about that constantly”. The modular is the most hands-on approach I’ve found for interesting sound creation. You really have to start from scratch each time, which I enjoy. Keeping it in tune is a little challenging, but I like the way it forces you to think. “I also used the Animoog app in the iPad for one track, which I really like. Its slidey keyboard is, for me, the best example of new technology allowing a totally new playing approach. Not that the slidey keyboard is really ‘new’, but I think it’s really cool the way Animoog brings it to iPad users and makes it easy to use”.
Production/ Composition I put most of this song together with a basic Elektron sequence, adding parts from the modular and the Bass Station II along the way. I particularly like the way that, if audio is routed through the modular, you can get some really interesting cross modulations by using that audio as a CV to control aspects of different audio paths. The only limiting factor with the Elektron sequencer is that it is limited to 64 steps. Most of the time that’s ample, but occasionally it’s too short and I may have a MIDI clip from Ableton running the Expert Sleepers software, in order to send CV clips to the modular. Then I hit start and hope for the best!
I didn’t write this material in a DAW, I composed it all with this setup. For me that’s a really important aspect. If I compose something on one platform and try and translate it to a different platform for live shows, I always seem to lose something. Every platform – DAW, external MIDI sequencer, iPad, whatever – has its own strengths and weaknesses. If you make music on a setup that you can put into a suitcase and use for a live show, why translate it to a new platform? If you have a starting point for a track that is made of samples, and then you process those samples more and more to get where you want to be, then it makes total sense to use a laptop and controller to perform it live. However, if the starting point is really simple subtractive synthesis, then it makes sense to perform it that way too. I’m trying to have a good balance of those approaches, but right now it’s more synth-based. I love having the ability to really mess with sounds in real time, which is why this setup has equal measure of production and live components. Coming from a synth background, I like being able to trigger the sounds with MIDI / sequencing and really get into the sound sculpting that way.
Why Bass Station II?
Bass Station II is perfect for what I’m doing here. It sounds wicked, has loads of handson controls with one function per knob, and patch recall. The overdrive to the filter is especially fun; you always seem to be able to push it a little harder to shape the way the sound progresses through a song. It also has recall! I love the fact that the modular has no recall, so you have to make a patch for each song, but I’d be pushing my luck to try and do that for all the sounds in a song! That’s why I love the preset ability of the Bass Station II. Oh and it’s small enough to fit in my suitcase, too.
The Future of Production an I think people really want to see what is going on with live electronic music. There needs to be a clearer relationship between what electronic musicians look like they are doing, and what they are actually doing!
Most people understand watching somebody play the guitar way more than someone with a laptop and a sequencer. I try to have equipment that allows a gesture to be seen by people and somehow translate to what they hear. The tiny format of Eurorack is rubbish for that; you make these little gestures that have huge effects on the sound, and no-one really understands what you are doing. It’s a big problem. I’m trying to work those aspects into my shows, but it’s really challenging.
nd Performance Part of the solution is the ‘smoke and mirrors’ approach, and that’s great, but I really think it’s more to do with instrument designers and performers coming up with innovative ways to make that translation work. I hope things like Reactable, Launchpad, and devices with a very strong visual focus will help to make electronic music performance more interesting for people that don’t already know a lot about electronic music production.
In 2014, Lorde took the music world by storm with her brand of pioneering popular music. We caught up with her keys player Jimmy Mac to discuss his journey and find out how to replicate everyone’s favorite songs on stage. Jimmy’s background was originally as a drummer for a punk band, and along with Lorde’s drummer Ben Barter he also played in a few other bands which were under the same management as Lorde. After hearing Lorde’s EP, Jimmy jumped at the chance of joining her band, although initially wanting to be her drummer and not her keys player! Having two drummers in the band is not a bad thing though, as Jimmy tells us. “It’s nicer and feels real tight, having two drummers, you’re locking really well together.”
Impulse Control for Lorde live
Jimmy uses the Novation Impulse 61 on stage, running through Ableton Live. Most of what he plays live is percussive – Jimmy uses the drum pads to trigger the vocal samples, and the keys are assigned to drum racks with the samples taken directly from Lorde’s studio recordings on them. Jimmy says, “We worked with the producer (Joel Little), and he sampled everything off the record for us so we could MIDI map all the synth sounds to the notes. We wanted to make it as live as possible, as opposed to just playing off the track or playing over the top of it. It was a luxury being able to work with him that closely. Everything out of me is everything that’s not drums. I’ve got all the sounds automated for different parts of the song to turn on and off – the effects and program changes are automated as well.”
It’s so easy to use – everything’s just assigned to everything. So simple.”
Having the MIDI inputs and outputs on the Impulse is also an important part of the set – “It’s good having the MIDI options on the Impulse – there’s so much side-chaining from the album, and we can do it live now from Ben’s electronics into the Impulse. We couldn’t do it live before. The reason why I like the Impulse is that the pads are really big – and there’s lights around them! There are other keyboards with pads that don’t have any lights, and you can’t see anything on stage because it’s black on black.
sync your controllers When you’re playing from an expansive session view, it can be tricky keeping your controllers lined up to the same tracks. It’s especially awkward if you don’t have a visual indicator of where in the session view they are. At best, it’s frustrating. At worst, you can wind up launching or tweaking the wrong clip! That’s why we’ve been working with Isotonik Studios, designing a solution in Max for Live. It’s dead simple: we call it Launchsync. It’s free via our website. Basically, it synchronises your Launch devices and lets you bank them both around session view together. That way, you can keep them locked to the same tracks, so you know you’re mixing the same tracks that you’re launching, and so on. You can even synchronise two Launchpads and know that if you move around your set on one, the other will move too. Of course, you don’t have to synchronise them to exactly the same place: You can position one controller above, below, left or right of the other – they’ll stay locked together as they move around.
P-Funk and George Clinton Danny Bedrosian & Bass Station II
ADE 2015 Ninja Tune // Bleep // Novation
NAMM 2014 â€“ Novation // Serato Party The Gas Lamp Killer
ADE 2015 Soul Clap & Launchkey
The Horrors Tom Furse & Bass Station II
LA rooftop session Colored Craig & Bass Station II
These days, working with
There is so much to take in that it can be hard to find the time to get really detailed with your production.That’s why we created a video (on our website and YouTube channel) featuring our European Product Specialist Chris Calcutt demonstrating a hardware-based setup. He says “It lets me generate all the sounds and perform the music using nothing but hardware instead of a computer. It’s incredibly liberating: it’s totally selfsufficient and the workflow of the Octatrack means I play it like a real instrument. I just turn on a bunch of gear and start making music; it’s almost playing in the traditional acoustic way.” Read on for a full explanation of his setup.
A Hardware Setup “Everything here is in one chain, with all the MIDI signals routed to every device. That lets me use my Octatrack as the hub or brain, controlling my synths via the eight-track MIDI sequencer. To set up, I connect my Bass Station II and UltraNova to my Octatrack. I also connect my Launch Control XL to the MIDI input of the Octatrack, which allows me to take control of it. The MIDI signal flow is: – Launch Control XL MIDI-out to the MIDI-in of the Octatrack – Octatrack MIDI-out to UltraNova MIDI-in – UltraNova MIDI thru to Bass Station II (MIDI thru is essentially a repeat of what is received at the UltraNova MIDI input) The audio signal flow is simpler: the Bass Station II and the UltraNova are both plugged into the Octatrack’s four audio inputs, so they can also run through the Octatrack’s effects, like the filter and delays. Finally, I route one of the secondary (cue) outputs from the Octatrack back into the Bass Station II’s external input. This makes it easy to select individual channels to come out of the cue output on the Octatrack, and means I can play my audio samples through the fantastic analogue filter and effects on the Bass Station II. I can also essentially use the Bass Station II as a filter bank”.
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Novation has been at the centre of electronic music hardware for over two decades, but have you heard about our software? Launchpad for iOS has become one of the most successful music-making apps for iOS. Introduced over a year ago, the app has achieved well over 2 million downloads, and is used every day by countless music makers and remixers across the globe. It lets you easily make and remix beats and electronic music on your iPad or iPhone, then record and share your performances online. You can launch up to eight loops at a time using a special 8x6 version of the famous Launchpad grid, and experiment with ready-to-perform sessions from a variety of genres. There’s the option to download new soundpacks to expand your collection, or make to make custom sessions with your own sounds on iPad. Built-in time stretching and synchronisation keep your loops locked in time, while you use volume sliders and filters to control your mix on iPad, and dynamic filter, gater, stutter and delay FX on iPhone. We’ve also just introduced a new range of ‘Performance FX’ for the iPad version.
The app itself is free to download at the App Store and comes with a few soundpacks so you can start making music in no time.
Matt Robertson // synth night
Impulse control for Lorde live
sync your controllers
project CALC - all hardware setup
Launchpad for iOS