Even in 2012, one of the great wonders of computers is, they sure make some damned awesome synthesizers.
Z3TA+ 2, around for about a decade, is one of the soft synths you might fairly call a “classic.” (Not just in a press release, either – I’ll defend that moniker.) You’ve probably heard it used in productions. But unlike a sought-after piece of hardware, you can make it your own for a hundred bucks.
And the one thing that kept this “classic” out of a lot of people’s hands has been, let’s be fair, the OS barrier. As the Mac has grown popular even with some ex-”PC people,” it’s just harder to talk about instruments that aren’t cross-platform.
So, the news today that Z3TA+ 2 is available on Mac means some attention can come from a lot of people right now saying, “zeta-what? or, uh, zuh-three-tee-uh-huh??!”
Z3TA+ 2 is now available on Mac – and stacks up nicely against other modern synths, especially at US$99. Go invent a replacement for dubstep (brostep?) with it, if you like.
Waveshaping synths are plentiful in number, and even the sound is something that a lot of instruments can accomplish. Z3TA+, now in its updated Z3TA+ 2 generation, sets itself apart with rich, balanced features and an easy-to-follow interface, so that you can get designing sounds right away – not just relying on presets – but delve deeper when you’re ready.
You need Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later, and can run in any VST or AU host. (VST3 is even supported, Cubase fans.)
I hope to take a little synth vacation with the instrument soon, as I haven’t used it heavily since its first generation on the PC, but in the meantime, here are some specs:
Modulation matrix with effects routing – and access to waveshaping
Performance Mode with Adaptive Pitch Bend (that’s what makes the QuNeo vid so much fun)
New presets from some really great names in sound design: Nico Herz of Big Tone, Francesco Silvestri (FI Sound), Frank Genus (Pro Sounds), Chad Beckwith (FI Sound), and others
Visual envelope generation
Graphical arps, gate patterns, more
XY speed control
SRC sound engine
Scala microtuning support
The performance control mappings are to me especially exciting. That video in the top from Encanti – who also has presets for this synth available for sale – is mapped as follows:
Each square pad is sending MIDI CC data on X and Y axes using “Latch” mode. The CC messages are sent to different synth parameters within Z3ta+2. The MIDI notes and drum loop are both pre-recorded in this example
Poor Encanti had to use Boot Camp to run this on the Mac – no more.
$99/€79/£69, available for download. If you do have a “classic” version of this instrument, upgrades are US$49 / EUR 39 with VAT.
Here’s a way to change the relationship of dancer and deck: instead of the record “triggering” dancers, the dancers move the record.
In “Autistic Turntable,” movement from onlookers gradually moves the platter. The work debuted earlier this year in the Nósomosòn exhibition at Normal at the Universidade da Coruña, España.
It’s just one experiment in turntable re-engineering from artist, open source advocate, and electronic composer Servando Barreiro. In BInaer Platten, he modifies the mechanical turntable to instead read binary-encoded records with other audiovisual media. Seen at this year’s Transmediale 12, Servando’s work was some of the most practical to respond to the theme of obsolete technologies. Among the discs you can load are instructions for turntable hacking, modification, and – crucially, for discontinued gear – repair.
BInaer Platten is an interactive installation in which an old modified 60s Philips Picnic turntable is able to reproduce “binary” vinyls containing all kind of audiovisual media. (video, images, 3d, 5.1 sound, FM synthesis, etc.)
Misinterpretations of the binary code “punched” in the vinyls will play an important role in the playback, adding certain grooves/random surprises to the content, making the sequence less repetitive, in a similar way to how probabilistic sequencers work.
This installation was shown as part of Transmediale 12 inside “Labor Berlin” in Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
And, oh yeah, Servando in addition to doing these kinds of excellent experimental installations also played some banging live dance music with Malte Steiner at the LiWoLi conference in Austria in May, all in Pd. Check out his work:
Music isn’t just syntax; it isn’t just a binary message in our brain. It somehow connects with our body in an intimate way. The music video “limbic” explores this visceral connection right at the level of the skin, at sweat and goosebumps and facial reaction.
“limbic” is both an aesthetic exploration and a statement about some of the science behind the experience. It comes at a good time, too – earlier this month, we were considering the relationship of body to musical interface, in the context of a bio-interfacing show at Berlin’s LEAP Gallery. Artist Marco Donnarumma also released his own open source toolset for working with muscles as input. And, for my part, I have to say that participating in that workshop really made me more aware of my physical being in performance. Related to this film, all of us were working with inputs at the level of the skin – Claudia Robles Angel with electrical impulses from the brain at the surface of the scalp, Marco with a microphone against the skin for “listening” to muscles, and me with galvanic skin response dealing with the conductivity of the skin. (See a recent blog by María Muñoz; more on this topic to come.)
Part of why it was compelling to use these interfaces in performance, though, was that these systems are all bi-directional. Your body may be an input, but it responds to the music, too. So, as musicians, it’s all the more intriguing to consider the film “limbic” as a view into how the body reacts to musical input. As the description puts it:
“limbic” as a Visual Music clip reflects the emotional processing of music in the limbic system and the resulting reactions of the body (the so-called “chills”). It has been proved that musical attributes like the violation of expectations, the beginning of something new, a new cue or a recurring pattern are more often leading to chills. Those can be expressed, among other things, trough a higher heart rate, twitching facial muscles, sweaty hands or even the
well-known goose bumps. The film discusses how far chill-experiences are part of the evolutionary and/or the cultural development.
limbic was produced as a Video 2 exam for Prof. Dr. Heike Sperling and Andreas Kolinski.
Music production tools like Renoise have a tremendous amount of power. But what if you could program grooves with the kind of touch-a-pad workflow offered by something like the MPC? In the latest example of users doing wild things with the powerful API in tri-platform tracker Renoise, mxb attempts to make a sort of Renoise MPC. It’s all made possible with the Korg padKONTROL drum controller. And he’s looking for testers – yes, while there may be a handful of people with this rig, you can bet many of them read CDM. mxb writes:
This tool is for the (unfortunately discontinued) Korg padKontrol, and presents an ‘MPC/Groovebox’ style interface to Renoise.
The tool is still in development and I am trying to get more testers to assist the debugging process. Finding users with Renoise and padKontrol’s is difficult.
Over the years, we’ve seen all kinds of far-out interfaces for music. But where do you begin if you want to just get started?
Interfacing a simple sensor with your music software is a decent place to begin. Nick Latocha, aka myredhotcar, uses Max/MSP to connect Ableton to the output of a photodetector (a resistive sensor that is sensitive to changes in light). Yes, in this example, the result isn’t so different from turning a knob, but that’s the point: starting with something basic like this is the best way to learn.
The result: move your hand around, and change the modulation on a wobble bass.
Max/MSP and Ableton Live are the ingredients in the example, but you could easily substitute other software for reading the sensor (Processing has a number of similar examples, for instance), and you could output communication to any music tool.
But if you’re curious about going beyond knobs and faders, this can be a fun way to get rolling.
And the next time a music artist accuses you of “pressing play” in your festival gigs, you can one-up them by not touching … anything.
Dubstep’s philosopher Rob Ellis aka Pinch from Bristol keeps alive the sound of early dubstep-days. In his mind, the tempo, the dark bass-lines and the meditative energy of the genre risen in south London create vibes of embryonal well-being. In the interview the thoughtful producer and founder of the label Tectonic also speaks about patience and pressure in dance music.
Complete darkness. A haunting sub bass makes my body. Even my viscera vibrate intensely. When I began to visit the FWD >> club night at Plastic People on a regular basis in 2011, I was immediately intrigued by the fact how little the traditional dubstep sound has lost its fascination. This music still provides a space, where the visual is secondary and the immersion in sound gets a new relevance. In this context, dubstep is also a rejection of the sensory overload of everyday life.
Although the sombre half step sound from the likes of Youngsta is still an unique listening experience, there is little musical innovation. The other extreme is the mainstream-step of people like Skrillex, in which reticent silence is replaced by the loudness of war and relaxed vibes are confused with gorilla posturing. An interesting remedy is coming from artists for whom dubstep is rather a philosophy than a style. One of those producers, who have never given up the constant pursuit of creative progress, is Rob Ellis aka Pinch.
His label Tectonic is a refuge for some of the most innovative bass music releases, which the recent albums of Author, Pursuit Groove or the recent Distal shows. When Pinch released his full album with Shackleton last year, it not only felt really exceptional because it was released very suddenly, without any immediate notice. It was also one of the musical surprises of 2011 where Pinch´s soundtrack-like atmospheres and Shackleton‘s otherworldly percussion orgies amalgamated into a beautiful work of art. Since the mid-2000s, their sound has always pursued new musical crossings, which would never have been possible without the main artery: dubstep. But what is dubstep nowadays anyway? Sometimes it is worth to look briefly in the past.
His Fabric mix is able to transport visceral sub-basses and the meditative feeling of dread in the present, where the attention span, especially for music, has become a rare good. I met Rob in a café in London’s Farringdon, in which he indulged in one of these English breakfast plates, which make lunch and even dinner obsolete. When the Bristol-based artist had played his set on the previous night at his release party at Fabric, he proved once again that the quality of his music lies mainly in his eclectic approach on dance music and the intensity of sound that permeates the body. While pursuing musical innovation by making excursions in techno and house, Pinch has remained faithful to the original values of dubstep, such as the love of dubplate culture. “Because of the better sound,” as he explained, he did press some acetates especially for his gig.
How did you actually come to dubstep?
Pinch: When I went to FWD for the first time, around late 2003, I knew I want to bring it to Bristol. I immediately felt that it was something that could work in Bristol. Dubstep was something different, it was exciting. At the time I was mixing bits of garage and grime with techno and random electronica – having got bored with Drum & Bass scene. Kode 9 at FWD was enough for me to turn my attention completely to dubstep. I started a night called Context in January 2004 and began bringing up London DJs and producers to Bristol – people like Loefah, Vex’d, Distance, Cyrus.
Especially the classic UK dubstep has this interesting tempo mode. There is a deceptive slowness, behind which an enormous energy is concealed. I always wondered what was actually happening on the dance floor at the first nights. Did the people just stand around?
Pinch: [laughs] Well, standing around nodding to the tunes was a big part of those early nights! But yeah, I´ve got some specific memories of playing abroad – the first few times when sometimes people didn’t know how to react to the music and how to dance to it. You had these situations when people were kind of looking around at each other, a little confused. Often around half way through the set people would just suddenly get it and then it was like: “alright, yeah, it doesn’t matter how you dance to it.”. For me, I really liked this of challenge of “activating” the dancefloor. I always thought I was doing a good job and when you got people dancing from a standstill – it was really great. It was like: “Yeah, I´ve kind of changed the way the people think about this music.”
Did you use certain tracks to attract a lame crowd?
Pinch: Yeah, sometimes it was tunes like Loefah´s “I” remix or “System”, or early Skream stuff like ’808 Dub’. But it wasn’t necessarily a particular tune, it was more about building a certain momentum. Sometimes it was the tune after a big one that would create the switch point – it just meant people had started connecting with the music and letting go of being self-conscious.
Speaking of switchpoints… What do you think of the current development of dubstep?
Pinch: Musically I don’t generally like the majority of what falls under the term dubstep these days. At first I was kind of resistant to the more aggressive stuff and it annoyed me that it became representative of the genre to most people because for me, this midrange sound wasn´t really what this music was initially about – it was rooted in something more cinematic. But I’ve come to accept that it´s impossible to hold on to something like that period of time forever. What happened in 2004 and 2005 was a very special time and you can´t hold on to these times because the circumstances changed. It’s never going to sound fresh forever. There was a certain time when you had this kind of energy flash, there was a lot of genuine excitement. At the time no one was being driven by financial motivation because there wasn’t any money in it. Everyone was cutting dubplates to DJ with and paid for it from their own pockets. A few years ago it bothered me how the dubstep scene was changing and shaping up but I’ve long stopped worrying about all that – what´s more important is making the effort to keep things interesting in things that are relevant to me.
I think your Fabric mix is a good sign for this development. It’s like a succeeded continuation of dubstep. It’s like looking forward while staying faithful to a certain sound of the old days. It contains a lot of dissonant and spatial sounds that even appear in some 4 on the floor tracks.
Pinch: I wanted to include a selection of tunes I have been making and feeling recently, not just a straight dubstep selection even if most people might only know me for my dubstep productions. You’ve got to follow your heart and trust your instincts. I’ve always believed at the end of the day the first person that you have to impress, especially when it comes to making tunes in the studio – is yourself. If you genuinely like it – chances are someone else will too!
It’s interesting that you are sticking to these deep and dark atmospheres…
Pinch: Well, I found this darkness would give me space to let my head drift off. It’s like a meditation or whatever you want to call it. There’s a genuinely sort of meditative quality about that early sort of dubstep. I used to find that it was dark music but it would make me feel so happy listening to it, very genuinely so. But I think what is often forgotten are the people in the dance themselves. They are absolutely essential for the atmosphere conducive to a good experience. Around 2004-5, dubstep was such a small underground scene and it wasn’t even considered like a cool thing as such. But the people who were there, were there because they were bored with other music scenes and they were looking for something different – they had open minds. Having like-minded people gather like that brings a certain, special energy to the dance.
What exactly triggers this meditative effect? Whenever I read the expression “eyes down” I think it would describe the atmosphere quite well. It is actually a very different feeling compared to house or techno nights.
Pinch: Completely, yeah. Well, not completely. You can get into some very interesting head spaces with good techno as well. But I guess the difference is the level of the energy that comes from the drums and I think with early dubstep it was much easier to dance on the half-step. It was like 70bpm rather than 140bpm. Because 140 really gets your heart going, it’s like high energy techno. What’s important here is that as a raver you can switch between the half-step 70bpm and the full 140bpm pace. Half-step beats can have the energy of 140bpm if, for example, the bass line suggests the faster pace over slower beats. The result is that you can switch between this lazy skank-y kind of thing and a full speed, heart racing tempo.
When DMZ has started, it was the first full night rave until 6 in the morning. That was when dubstep became something a bit different. FWD was on a Thursday night and people would go to work on a friday. I realised that dubstep was in many ways the perfect kind of music for someone who didn’t necessarily want to take a bag of pills to go raving or whatever. You could just dance to it all night without exhausting yourself like you would do with drum&bass and it was just a real nice tempo to get a kind of long stamina momentum. FWD was more of an urban geeks music appreciation society than a rave as such – DMZ changed that.
Do you have these specific situations in mind, when you are producing?
Pinch: It depends on the mood I’m in really. More often than not I just sit down and play around with sounds until something comes out that I like but sometimes I do have this sort of idea of what I want to do. Like I decide I want to make a house tune, but a house tune that has a ’95 Metalheadz vibe to it. I kind of like to have the atmosphere of the early dubstep days and move it into some new environment. That’s how ‘Croydon House’ started actually!
What do you think about the progress in dance music in general?
Pinch: There is a heavy element of escapism that has driven the development of dance music. If you’re looking for escapist music then you can’t really escape from the familiar. When a new genre of dance music emerges, as dubstep did, the opportunity to hear it is very restricted at first – in the early days you could only really hear dubstep at FWD and a little on Rinse FM – so it felt very special and out of the ordinary. And as soon as something is becoming the familiar it’s getting boring. Once you get to a point where it’s being played on the radio all the time, TV adverts and so on – it becomes part of the everyday life and then it loses the power to provide such an escapist context.
Bass in general does have an escapist force. How would you describe your relationship with bass?
Pinch: I enjoy the physical sensation of good dance music. It’s supposed to arouse your very primal instincts as a human being. I mean, pretty much the only time in nature to experience extreme subbass otherwise is in extreme situations, like earthquakes, thunders, these kind of dramatic events. Situations that make you alert and excited. I have a little theory about ‘meditative bass’ actually. As an embryo in the mother’s womb, when the ears and brain are developing, the first sound you hear is bass as it is all that properly travels through the protective, embryonic fluids. And while you’re an embryo you are in perfect harmony, in total equilibrium with your mother – there is no experience of hunger or any other need. I would get a calm feeling from heavy bass-y dubstep sessions and it made me wonder if perhaps there’s an underlying subconscious connection between sub bass and this time of being in harmony with your mother as a growing embryo.
Besides the Fabric mix you did an amazing album with Shackleton, which sounds quite different from your previous work. How did this extraordinary collaboration come about?
Pinch: I’ve known Sam for years and I guess it all started when he was in the UK. He stayed at mine for a few days and we decided to make some music – we were thinking – maybe do a single. I think he came up to Bristol two times and I went up to Berlin for a few weeks. We spent about probably 7 or 8 days in the studio there and we just got so much done in that time until we thought it’s kind of enough for an album so we just carried on working on it. It was quite easy to work together. I think we complemented each other well in terms of knowledge and stuff.
Have you sent the tracks back and forth to each other?
Pinch: Not really, we did it all together pretty much. Most of the album was done in his studio in Berlin. It was about a year and a half from start to finish.
Somehow it seems to be a natural thing that you’ve made an album together. Both of you have similar musical backgrounds and you are always one step ahead of the scene. But I can imagine that i’´s really hard for two such idiosyncratic producers to work together.
Pinch: What I really like about collaborating with someone is that you have to come to a point where you compromise. So there are certain things where I would maybe think: “That’s OK like that” and he would be like: “No, I don´t like this kind of snare” or something like that. And when you find something to replace it that you both agree on – the result is stronger. I really enjoyed making the album with Sam – we had a lot of fun with it.
You already played in the states several times. With regards to the development of the american dubstep success, do you think the majority is still able to understand your music?
Pinch: I’m kind of lucky. My agent in the states understands very much what I do. He is more a foundation fan and so I never really get booked for these shows. Frankly there are lots of situations in the states where unless you’re playing stuff that tears the ceiling off people don’t really get it but thankfully I haven’t had to deal with that too much.
They might not have enough patience.
Pinch: Yeah, exactly, I mean culturally in general people all over the world have less patience for music than they used to have. If it doesn’t grab your interest immediately you click on the next thing. Whereas when I grew up I could buy a CD and it was like: “I paid my money for it so I will really listen to it.” Sometimes I didn’t get stuff immediately so it took some time. But those were often the albums that changed the way I would think about music. Today, it’s so easy to just click on the next thing people run the risk of missing out on something that’s rewarding in a slower or more long term kind of way.
On Friday, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit followed the FCC's lead in denying the NAB's request for stay of the requirement for TV stations to post their public inspection files online. Accordingly, that rule goes into effect on Thursday, August 2, 2012.
Effective that date, TV stations should post all new public file documents online in the FCC database created for this purpose. Stations will have six months in which to post pre-existing public file documents into that database. The online posting requirement applies to TV stations only...not to radio stations or cable systems.
Posting of the political public file will not be required until July 1, 2014, except for the top four network affiliated stations (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox) in the top 50 markets. No station will be required to post political file documents created prior to August 2, 2012.
To facilitate the process, the FCC is holding online/teleconference seminars on Monday, July 30th and Tuesday, July 31st. The Monday seminar will be held from 9-11 AM EDT while the Tuesday seminar will be held from 4-6 pm EDT. Details of how to join the online seminars are available at the FCC website here.
Can make the biggest acts’ live shows tick – but can also rock a live performance like she’s just landed from a flying saucer. Check. Laura Escudé, achieving superhuman levels of music-technological knowhow, can still share what she’s learned with us Earthlings.
It’s one thing to talk about tools. It’s quite another to put them into action, to make them withstand the rigors of creative process and idiosyncracy, let alone the torture test of touring.
Laura Escudé is as deep in the trenches, on a day-to-day basis, as just about anyone on the planet. The music tech guru has worked with some of the world’s best-known artists, bending technology to their imaginative desires and world-trotting live shows. (Think Herbie Hancock, Bon Iver, and Cirque du Soleil, among others.) But she’s still found time to develop her own, unique sonic voice and live performance style, working with a violin on one arm and laptop on the other, now under the name Alluxe. And she’s not shy about what she’s discovering.
We’re pleased to get Laura visiting us in Berlin – and here on CDM – from her Los Angeles home base, as she crosses Europe, partly with Kanye West and Jay-Z. Tomorrow at FEED Soundspace, we’ll be talking about live performance with her, Gareth Williams (of Liine), and others, and playing live ourselves. (Facebook event, if you’re in town and want to join us; Laura also leads a workshop in the afternoon.)
For CDM, we get a chance to talk to Laura about her approach to music and technology alike, and where she sees the direction of live performance heading – her own, but also the rest of us, across the spectrum from big-festival “push play” to experimental soloists. She name-drops a whole array of tools – I’m taking notes, you? – but there are some philosophical messages, too. And what’s unique about Laura is, she doesn’t just bring the perspective of a single soloist or act. She’s worked with artists from very different backgrounds. That gives a reality check to questions of live performance. I look forward to continuing that conversation tomorrow.
So you’ve worked with some pretty disparate artists – Bon Iver and Jay-Z are, to me, at least, a bit different in spectrum. How do you change your approach with these different artists, artistically, technically, personally? Is there a common thread in terms of how the technology brings this together?
When I go into working with an artist or any sort of live act, I usually have an initial idea of how they might want to build a live show, based on listening to their music and perhaps watching clips of previous live shows. Then, after our first meeting I’ll start to tailor my approach to their current needs. Most of the time they need backing tracks to be arranged in a way that either I or someone else can trigger during the live show. I arrange and edit the tracks, sometimes with ways to loop certain sections for function (Cirque du Soleil) or for improvisation (Niyaz) or add effects to certain parts. Sometimes these sequences change on a daily basis on tour, so it’s important to know the music top to bottom. Backing tracks are the basis for almost every show I’ve worked on, so it’s the first thing I usually design, because without this aspect the songs won’t sound like they do on the record—which is very important to most artists because the fans expect it to be true to the original sound.
With the backing tracks, there will usually be a click for the band and time code for video. At this point, most shows are done. Where it starts to get interesting and more creative for me is when extra things are added. For example, in Kanye’s show, I trigger different vocal effects in real time and improvise a bit. This led to working with Bon Iver, which was a lot of fun because I got to attend rehearsals and experiment with different vocal effects for different songs and help them create the desired vocal sound. Then they were having some trouble with their keyboard preset modules, so I converted all of it into Ableton Live and utilized Kapture by Liine so that they could trigger a different song and the tempo, vocal effect presets, and keyboard presets would change. Since I wasn’t going out on the road with them, Kapture made it easy for them to tweak if needed and simply “capture” the state of all of the parameters.
In Garbage’s show, I added patch changes for the keyboard and guitar rigs and this information was sent out to these respective worlds for every song, which makes things a bit easier on stage. In Silversun Pickups’ show, I added a bunch of drum samples that change automatically per song, as well as some painstakingly sampled keyboard sounds that became one monstrous Ableton Live Sampler instrument that changed every song. They have the ability to add effects on any of this stuff during the show, as they can be improvisational as a full band.
Probably the most interesting show for me to design was Herbie Hancock’s show. This guy continues to blow my mind. I helped him edit “Rockit” and was amazed to find out that the drum beats were programmed by hand—it sounds like a sequencer. Herbie’s show has evolved a lot over the past year; whenever I’m in town, I help to bring it up another level. The initial idea was for him to be able to improvise with various synths and tracks in a way that he hadn’t done before. I got him a Livid OHM RGB and had a custom script made for him that allows the colors on the controller to change depending on what state he is in. He has the ability to loop all different kinds of synths, both hardware (various) and software (Omnisphere) and choose on a foot controller (SoftStep, Pok) which ones he wants to combine at any given time. He can easily change the key of a song when he improvises and this sounds great because we actually put every permutation of the song in the Live set. There is also a second station set up so that he can walk over with his keytar and control the same set from a different location. There is so much to touch on here, but working on his show really gave me the ability to “think outside the box” and go beyond the more “safe” ways to run a show, because of the more improvisational aspect and the use of custom and more obscure controllers. This is definitely one show that never sounds the same night to night.
The common thread is using Ableton Live for all of these shows, other than that the controllers and ideas are suited for each individual act. Some people are surprised to find out that I run vocal effects and keyboard and drum stuff through Live, but it’s gotten to a point where the computers are fast enough that this can be achieved and it sounds really good. In some cases, what once took racks of hardware now happens with a few rack spaces or none at all.
You’re working on everything from scoring to studio production. How has working with these artists allowed you to create musically? What is your toolset, currently? What kinds of tools are you called upon in these collaborative ventures?
Working with these various artists has definitely led to work in the musical realm, which is my first passion. For example, I recorded violin and made string arrangements for the H.A.M. Intro of Kanye’s show from 2011-2012. I played violin on the “Watch The Throne” album on the song “Made in America” with Frank Ocean. I played violin on three songs for Hit Boy’s (producer on “Watch the Throne”) upcoming album. I am producing the music for Yemi A.D.’s first album (Kanye West “Runaway” + show choreographer). Through Bon Iver, I met the up-and-coming band Polica and just completed a remix for “Lay Your Cards Out” that will be released on a comp soon. Through working with M83, I got the opportunity to remix their song “Steve McQueen,” which will be released later this year. Through working with Garbage, I got the opportunity to open for their Los Angeles shows in April. I also recently scored two short films for Visa and have been working in the studio programming and producing for artists. I really thrive with helping others to realize their musical dreams and at the same time, their influence helps me to realize mine.
Laura on violin, as Alluxe. All images courtesy the artist.
In the past I used many different programs—Pro Tools, Logic, Reason, etc. But given that I specialize in Ableton Live and I happen to love it as both a live performance and production tool, everything I am creating these days happens within Live. Inside Live, I am using all of the latest Native Instruments stuff, I’m really into the newer Reaktor ensembles like Lazerbass [included ensemble in Reaktor 5.7] and Razor [add-on] — I’m really into the Twisted Tools ensembles. I’m using Maschine quite a bit to make beats. I use Omnisphere quite a bit now, I was lucky enough to work with Eric Persing from Spectrasonics on Herbie’s show and picked up a few tips. Rob Papen’s stuff has always been my go-to synths and I have worked with him quite a bit in the past as well. I really like FXpansion’s new DCAM synths and have been using those. I have a million controllers that I use with this stuff that I’ll touch on in a bit!
Now, a lot of the time, the tools I use are different people’s expertise. As I get more experienced, I realize that I don’t need to be the best in everything, and I can’t so I should stop trying. I reach out to my trusty network of professionals that also happen to be friends and we collaborate to deliver the most pro project and elevate the project to a cutting-edge level. I have also realized the true meaning of the word “producer” and I have started to bring in different instrumentalists, programmers etc. and guide them through my artistic vision to create something much more interesting than I could have alone. Plus, it’s fun working with other people.
Tell us a bit about yourself as a solo artist. How has your live performance evolved?
I’ve been gradually refining my live show over the years, and feel like the performance aspect of it has gotten pretty engaging. I definitely feel that if I’m going to perform my own music live, I need to do it in a way that entertains the audience and shows them that I am being improvisational and willing to take some risks. I feel that while the music alone can be very powerful, I am most inspired by bands and artists that grab your attention by their performance techniques and aren’t afraid to look silly, fail or have crazy displays of showmanship.
I’ve been inspired by a lot of people around me that have been experimenting with controllerism. In the past year or so, I’ve really tried to upgrade my skills and I think I’ve landed at a pretty unique combination of things. In the past, I played violin through effects, but now I am actually controlling synths using just an electric acoustic violin due to a new program called MIDI Merlin [built in Max/MSP, but available standalone], created by my friend Randy George. I’m actually controlling Native Instruments Razor with it during the show, it’s so cool and it works quite well!
I’ve changed up my main controller in the last year as well, now I’m using a customized Livid OHM RGB controller. The design and build was done by Mike Russek and the concept by Henry Strange, who I collaborate with quite a bit and who has many next level projects. The controller has addressable LEDs along the sides of the instrument, and I can control the patterns and colors using MIDI clips in Live. I’m definitely really into the visual aesthetic of live shows, so I like having a bunch of blinky lights on stage. I am using the OHM for pretty much everything—playing back clips, effects, volumes, looping violin, changing tempo. I use the crossfader to blend the sound of my violin with the synths I am playing with the violin. I had a custom script made by James Westfall, who helped make different buttons change colors to reflect different Looper states (he also did Herbie’s script) and allow me to navigate in the way that I want to. I also use foot controllers like the SoftStep for turning on different violin effects while playing.
Most recently, I’ve been getting into finger drumming using Native Instruments Maschine. I’ve been inspired by guys like Araabmuzik and Jeremy Ellis and DiViNCi from Sollillaquists of Sound and found an amazing teacher while in Berlin, Boris aka Comfort Fit. I took a few lessons with him and learned so much that I want to practice and incorporate into my upcoming shows. This aspect of performing can truly fail, yet it is very exciting to be playing beats live and perhaps not on a grid at all and even not on top of other sounds! A whole song can be played entirely from a drum controller, and that is something that I never even considered before for myself.
The last main piece of gear that I use is the Wii controller, which is great because it’s small, something people are familiar with and a very visual piece. I use it to control [iZotope] Stutter Edit, and it’s great for transitions during a live set. I also use it as something to connect to the audience with. I’ll pass out a few Wii’s and have people mangle sounds or play drums and it’s so entertaining for me to watch people have fun being a part of my show. Sometimes I have to crack down on how often they press buttons because then I can’t hear any of my original music and it messes me up!
A look at Alluxe [Laura Escudé] in action with the Wii, in a live performance video from earlier this year.
Where would you say your musical voice comes from in the album and the new work? How have your traveling adventures influenced your music?
Recently, I have started using a new moniker for a new style of music that I am producing and performing, called Alluxe. The music that I released in the past under my own name was more downtempo and cinematic. I’ve decided that I’d like to try making people move a little bit more and have been crafting some tracks that draw influence from hip hop, trap, bass music, and juke, with a taste of my cinematic flavor. I have released one tune called Shades so far and two mixes, Alluxe Future Forward Mix 1 +2. It’s my intention to expose people to the freshest beats around, and I have spent a lot of time curating these sounds. In addition, I am cultivating my new live performance, as detailed before.
I’ve started experimenting with vocal textures and collaborating with some vocalists on this project. I feel that the voice is a key element to any song and it really connects with people on a conscious and subconscious level. I personally have been influenced quite a bit by all of the adventures I’ve had over the past couple of years. I’ve been to more countries than I can remember and have had a chance to connect with other musicians and artists that are doing similar and drastically different things. It is really these connections with other people that keep my music moving forward. I draw from these experiences and feelings to create my sound. It’s been great because wherever I go I always seem to find people that are making music, performing, doing innovative things. We share techniques and collaborate, and I bring these experiences into my own music.
In the past month, I’ve been traveling around Europe to different cities and writing music and performing. After Watch the Throne ended, I stayed in London, did a presentation at the Apple Store and performed a show for Soundcrash. In Paris, I played a show and did an online show. In Prague, I worked on writing Yemi A.D.’s album in a beautiful countryside chateau. In Berlin, I have been meeting with various technology developers, refining my live performance, and working on tracks. The world seems to be getting smaller. Every place that I travel to I end up meeting people that are friends of friends, or running into people that I know from different continents and the constant synchronicity of these events is the fuel for my music and source of daily inspiration.
We’re talking this weekend about live performance. I suppose it’s risky, in that we can only really answer this for ourselves one performance at a time. But looking to the larger scene, where do you see potential in live performance? Obviously, it’s easy to criticize press-play sets – or, alternatively, defend them for their reliability. But what sort of live performances excite you?
Obviously, in working with large shows with thousands of people attending, it can be a pretty scary scenario if something doesn’t work properly. This is the reason why we have redundant systems, to switch over in case something fails. I get the reason why some artists like keeping things safe; a lot is riding on the performance being flawless, and in many of these cases, it’s more about the party than about what the performer is doing. A lot of times, you can’t even see the performer on stage, and it’s more important to dance and express yourself. Plus, a lot of the lighting and video is synced to key points in the music, and although it can be done in a way that respects both needs, it’s difficult to be improvisational.
Recently, I went to an album release party for an artist that I was really excited about seeing live. I thought that because she had just produced an album I would get to see these songs performed live, and since she performed vocals on the album maybe she would even sing live. I was very disappointed to find a standard DJ set, with no real interaction with the audience. I might have been the only one disappointed, as the music played was entertaining and provided for a great danceable party—though I couldn’t help but wish she had actually performed her own songs and really connected with the crowd.
I think what I’m saying is that there is a time and a place for more improvised performances as there is for more straightforward performances. If I’m checking out Moldover, I would expect some improvisation and variances in music and controllerism. If I’m at Ultra, I am probably going there to dance and party and not be concerned with the DJ’s playing style. The visual aspect of shows is becoming more and more prominent, and I think this is great, because rather than trying to fixate on a person, you get this great entertaining video and lighting that enhances the music and envelopes you in audiovisual pleasure. I’m such a nerd, though; when I see IMAG screens, I want to see close-ups of what the DJ’s or band members’ hands are doing onstage.
In the future, I’m really keen on incorporating my own live performance techniques as part of a large-scale live performance—using controllerism in a way that a band member might play a keyboard or a guitar. Plus, these same controllers can control lights and lasers, so it can make it even more fun. I think that although mistakes can be scary for a big show, showmanship through controllerism can also be an incredible way to elevate the sound and visual aspect of any performance and provides an engaging atmosphere in which artists can express their art.