You know that old saying? Practice makes perfect…well that’s precisely what I’m about to preach in this latest instalment, practice, practice and more practice, because at the end of the day, no matter how easy you make things for yourself even if you’ve implemented some clever procedurally generated musical content, you’ve still got to practice to understand the depths and complexities of what your system can do.
So in my last blog entry, I was talking about how things had changed quite a bit in my setup and history repeating itself: things have changed again. Not through powerful GAS or the undying need to acquire something new, but through relentless practice and playing a few more gigs I realised where things weren’t quite gelling or as seamless as I’d like. So what did I change?
Well, in true Tom Lewis style I added another Elektron box to the setup. Yes, another one. This time I added in an Analog RYTM MK1 which my very good friend Sascha from Northern Light Modular helped me obtain for a very reasonable fee, so you might be thinking “I thought you we’re done with complexity” and the answer to that is very much yes, but the addition of this formidably complicated drum machine means I’ve been able to better focus on improvising with the modular.
So I’ve set to work on building a tonne of patterns in varying styles and intensity on the Analog Four and the RYTM, whilst still using the Octatrack as a master clock, mixer, additional percussion, effects and transitional tool set. I’ve coupled these with my most favourite synth in the world, my beloved Monotribe and my modular system, which hasn’t changed at all.
And thanks to the latest firmware update for the Analog boxes, I can now sequence external MIDI gear using the comprehensive, flexible sequencing tools on the Analog Four…so I have a polysynth firmly in my sights (I’m looking at you ASM Hydrasynth).
I’m also getting to grips with the Westlicht Performer, writing complimentary patterns on this sequencer, which play in line with the patterns I’ve made for the Elektron boxes. Putting it plainly, I can have four to six patterns “written” and due to how things are constructed, I can make 45-60 mins of music just off the back of those alone. And due to how I have my gear connected, there’s still no mixer or a computer in sight.
So pre-writing material has become more of a thing for my writing workflow, but it means I can better focus on balancing the flow of a set rather than worrying about punching in a new beat…because I’ve already got a tonne made on the RYTM. Complexity comes at the writing stage, the performing stage is where all the improv practice comes to the forefront and makes those patterns come to life.
Just before we go any deeper, I’d just like to confess again my love for Elektron boxes, this is the first drum machine I’ve had from them and I’ve got to say, the RYTM is probably the finest box they ever made….the combination of samples and synthesis, with a workflow that invites a performers mindset – it is the nuts.
Oh, I also bought an Intellijel Shapeshifter and an SE80 CS-80 Filter….so some modular did change, but it wasn’t drastic…!
Right now, I’m building patterns on both the grooveboxes and the modular, whilst still retaining the ability the flip the set on its head and move it into another direction at the press of a couple of buttons…plus I can improvise on the DFAM, Monotribe and the complex voice of the modular.
And what does all of this pre-written, semi improvised machine driven music lead to? Cohesion. Quite simply put, I am putting less stress on content creation and more focus on balance, tonality and feel, and since more of the set is becoming pre-written, it means I can put more practice into getting the sounds right.
Practice and preparation - These are the single most important things when developing a music making system, through these two disciplines you can refine and evolve your sound and ultimately speed up your workflow to a point where even the writing process can become muscle memory.
Got that sound in your head? Well because you’ve now practiced and explored the outer limits of what each thing can do, you can get to that sound or that groove much much quicker. I've really found that through just jamming endlessly I can put idea together much quicker and get to the final result much sooner.
So whilst we can all get sucked into that GAS oblivion of acquiring that next thing....just hold steady, play with what you have and become the master of that...record everything you do and listen back, makes notes and be a harsh critic, this is the only way you'll ever improve.
So the next instalment of building a live set is going to be a video! Where I plan to breakdown the I/O of the setup, synchronisation and give a demo of what all this hard work and rigmarole has actually achieved! But for those of you who prefer some long form wordy write-y content, fear not:
Building a live set #4 and actually recording something and making some music people can actually listen to......
I've always banged on about being DAW-less, performing music without a computer, but there is bound to be a time where you'll need to listen to that MAC startup music and actually start recording these live sets into a formed piece of music, and that's where my next post will pick things up, because we're going to start talking about recording, mixing and editing audio, with a specific focus on modular synth audio capture, with a view to turn the sounds into full tracks, or sample fodder for your live shows.
As ever, hit us up and show us your live rig and shout us with any questions you might have about approaching performance, writing with hardware or anything else!