Setting Up A Vocoder for Production and Live In Ableton

Here’s  a video I just did for Dubspot on setting up a vocoder for production and live use in Ableton. You can also find a long post I wrote about it here.  The track used, btw, is ‘Sudden Entropy‘ by Comandante Zero (C0) off our record ‘Slouching Towards Babylon, Part I’.  Enjoy…

Dubspot Ableton Vocals Video Finished

The instructional video for Dubspot about setting up live vocal processing in Ableton is finished.  It will be released this week.  Tomorrow I’ll will write up the accompanying blog post for it.  In the meantime, working to finish C0’s ‘Slouching Towards Babylon, Part II’ and two other projects in the studio including and electro-funk release for the Winter Music Conference.  It also looks as I’ll be heading to Colombia with C0 in April to perform and present at the Festival Internacional De La Imagen.

How Depeche Mode Uses Ableton Live to process drums

Recently I’ve been really into ways of creating electro-acoustic drum kits (melding the feel of a live drummer with electronic sounds).  I feel the technology is really there to do some excellent stuff and I’ll be doing a video for Dubspot on this topic after the release of my vocal processing video which should be out this week.  Here’s a nice video off the Ableton site on producer Kerry Hopwood, the musical director and programmer for Depeche Mode and how he gets their live drum sounds.  In this case, he uses the natural sound of the drums, through mics, and processes that raw acoustic sound through Ableton.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t go too much into the routing of this set-up which I think would be extremely useful.  Something else that struck me about this video is the simplicity of the set up in Live and also the fact that he uses only Live’s plug-ins for performance.  I agree with both of these approaches 100%.  Enjoy.


Kudos to Ableton guru and Dubspot instructor Jon Margulies for this cool profile in Wired.  I’ve seen Jon play live and he’s a killer DJ/performer, but I really appreciate the minimalism of his set-up.  The fact is that you really don’t need a lot of stuff to perform great music and while there is a kind of fetishism about controllers, the key is being the undisputed master of 1 controller rather than the owner of many.


Bjork’s Biophilia

On February 3, Bjork will be here in New York at the New York Hall Of Science and the Roseland Ballroom presenting a live show that’s at the cutting edge of digital live performance technology sponsored by the Creators Project.  Check out this great article on the technology behind the show.


Does Ableton Have New Competition?

Last Thursday the Berlin-based software company Bitwig, which has several ex-Ableton Live developers, announced the impeding release of Bitwig Studio 1.0.  Bitwig 1.0, like Ableton Live, plans to be a platform for both music production and performance.  At first glimpse, it seems to have taken many of Ableton Live’s workflow and layout innovations and incorporated them.  They are promising a couple of features, however, which if they come off as promised, will raise the bar for the use of laptops in live performance:

1. The ability to synch laptops into one set via LAN: This would be a huge step for live performance since multiple performers could synch their laptops allowing for the integration, not only of different musical sources, but video as well.

2. The ability for different laptops to synch onto the same set via internet so that production could take place over the internet: Again, great idea.  Imagine a show where the performers are based on different continents?

3. The ability to create your own instruments with a modular system.

Now, I think Ableton is a fantastic piece of software and I completely endorse it for both performance and production.  That being said, I think competition (if Bitwig is in fact able to compete) could be a good thing for artists and performers because it will accelerate the pace of innovation.  It’s also striking to me how so much of this cutting-edge development is now centered in Berlin.  It’s really too early to predict how Bitwig will change things, if at all, and there is also the unanswered question of what innovations Ableton will include in its version 9.

The Orchestrion – Another take on merging the digital with acoustic

I recently stumbled across Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion even though it’s been around for over two years.  I was really blown away by the sound and concept of it (check it out below).  What he did is rather than digitally recreate acoustic sounds to play along with, he used his guitar both to play acoustically and send MIDI information.  He then set up acoustic instruments – pianos, drums, bass, percussion, etc. to accept MIDI information.  The MIDI information essentially was able to trigger the mechanical movement of beaters, keys etc.  The robot instruments were created by Eric Singer at LEMUR -League Of Electronic Musical Urban Robots here in NYC.  (I’ll do a future blog post on the GamelaTron, which was created by my Dubspot collegue Zemi 17, also a member of LEMUR).

Metheny uses Ableton Live as his live performance software to control the robots.  Here are some great quotes from a Sound On Sound Article:

“Most exciting for Metheny are the improvisational possibilities available to him in performing with his Orchestrion. Rather than simply playing on top of sequenced parts, he is in complete control of the parameters of every instrument via Ableton Live and can switch between, say, having a marimba or a vibraphone shadowing the guitar top lines he improvises on stage.

“Live, I’m able to do a lot of variations on things. I can also start with nothing and build a whole world, using Ableton… Ableton is a sort of 3D environment, if you’re using velocity. I can have lots of things kind of lying in wait that I only get to by increasing velocity. So there’s a lot of control aspects of the Orchestrionic instruments that I can do live that are really fascinating. The panorama available is everything from the most composed, the most planned-out to absolutely improvised. And sort of every shade in between.”

Vocals through Ableton Live

I spent most of the day yesterday in the studio solidifying some techniques for running live vocals through Ableton.  I’m going  to be shooting a video today at Dubspot dealing with using Ableton as a live vocal processor and techniques for creating a vocoder and performing with it.  One quick suggestion: try this signal chain if you’re interested in doing this.  Mic -> Pre-Amp-> Compressor -> Soundcard -> Laptop -> DI Box -> PA.  I’ll talk about this a lot more in depth in the video, but this is also the optimum signal chain for recording vocals in the studio (with the exception of the DI Box and PA after the laptop).

Sidenote:  Check out Dear Comrade’s new record ‘All Wisdom Is Gone’.  Dear Comrade is Arthur Kremer’s project from Stellastarr*.  I recorded some of the bass tracks on the record.

More Squarepusher

Here’s a 2010 feature on Squarepusher in which he talks about his live set-up and his approach to making music.  I found it on a thread, so it’s a couple of hard-to-read jpgs, but it’s totally worth reading for both the technical content and the artistic philosophy.  My favorite quote from the interview was:

“My advice to anyone who’s reading this would be: Don’t worry about what I’ve got.  Don’t worry about what anyone else has got. Take whatever’s in your studio and make music.  The most important thing is that you keep the free flow of ideas.  Keep pushing your imagination.  If you can only afford two bits of gear…. fine! Use them.  Push them as far as they’ll go”  (Squarepusher 2010)


Great Squarepusher Interview

An absolutely must-see interview with Squarepusher at the Creators Project.  What he’s going for is absolutely on the cutting-edge of the integration of digital, acoustic instruments and visuals.  Here’s a video of a track that he talks about in the interview.