February 4, 2014

It's Process Day!!!

by Chris Randall

My attempts at creative endeavors over the weekend were utterly and completely foiled by hardware (not software!) problems. My Maschine Studio got crashy all the sudden, I had to whittle a new tape loop for the echo, the old Doepfer modules/Stackables problem reared its head, and basically everything was conspiring to keep me from making music.

However, creativity struck last night and I was able to pull things together on a track I've been making on and off for a couple weeks now. Just for fun, I let the GoPro Hero 3+ run while I was trying to come up with a part on the DK Synergy for this track. So the video above is actually a snapshot of my writing process, not a finished and arranged song (or real-time improv, like most of my videos, although it does smell like that.) When I'm doing a track with full production that isn't real-time, I like to separate the parts out in the Clip view in Live, blow up the UI so I can run it from the touchscreen, and dick around with different arrangement ideas while I'm trolling for sounds, and that's essentially what I'm doing in the above video.

Sidebar: the DK Synergy is a strange and wonderful beast, and I dearly love owning and playing it, but Jesus fuck the fan in that thing is loud. Something needs to be done about it.

I'm intrigued to learn about your writing process. Since electronic music is almost more about sound design than songwriting, do you play parts first, then do sound programming like me? Or do you come up with cool sounds, then figure out how to use them? Or some other method entirely?


Page 5 of 6

Feb.11.2014 @ 11:18 AM
Oh, this is interesting on so many levels! First, I like to see someone playing an Access Virus without honking out bloody Trance sounds all the time. Then, I like how you integrate the DAW in the songwriting process - I am trying the same right now with a few hardware synths etc. too. And then all the interesting ideas popping up here...

Well, I've done most songwriting in my current musical incarnation in-the-box, i.e. lately, I used Reason to make everything. Usually, it was either a drum sound or any random synth patch that made me noodle beats or notes or harmonies for hours until something interesting came out of it. Then, I basically just added up more layers in more or less the same way. This obviously tends to be a pretty long-winded process, but it has some advantages for me: I learn a lot of details about the individual synths and other units in the DAW of my choice (did the same with Logic for ages). Second, I get to practice my playing skills, although admittedly not in a very controlled or structure manner.

A couple of years ago, I had a project with a friend, who played drums. We met twice a week - once to fiddle with Ableton Live (and only that!), experimenting with all kinds of sounds and effects, and then we met in the rehearsal room to play. He played the drums, while I "improvised" on the sounds and melodies we had come up with the other day. Then, we recorded all our free improvising back into Live and in the next session, we'd listen all the way through it to pick out what would be interesting enough to keep. That way, we came up with a number of tunes that made it into actual song arrangements. Next step then: remembering what we played and how...

Right now, I am working my way down another path: I aim to keep all songwriting and sound design (btw, I do consider taking a preset and twisting it to taste and match inside your current tune as actual sound design too - it is not necessarily trivial to make something match and sound unique, but it is definitely a sometimes very effective short cut instead of programming each and every sound from scratch) *outside* the box. I've got a Tempest, a Nord Electro, a MoogerFooger Analog Delay, and soon also a Prophet 12 module, so the number of layers is limited by the hardware at hand, while it feels so much more like actually playing instruments. I noticed that I never ever recorded all external hardware simultaneously, so now I've got a simple rack mixer and an Apogee Duet to record stuff.

I always kept everything MIDI as long as possible in the process - both in- and outside the box, so I could change sounds even last minute, which of course hardly ever happened... But this way, I can improvise and write the tunes on the synths, record whatever MIDI notes and CCs into Logic (for which I've got a template now with all external instrument tracks configured), and eventually record the audio parts piece by piece.

Feb.11.2014 @ 1:40 PM
mike kiraly
Ok, as promised here's a video attempting to explain my process. I realized very quickly that I could talk for hours about the specifics of how my template works and the choices I've made to get it where it is today. So it was very difficult for me to keep my big fat mouth in check - what you have is a 12 minute high-level overview of the foundations this process is built on and not the 4 hour dissertation I would gladly give if I was given the chance. I suspect it will generate more questions than it will answer.

Just trust me when I tell you that the basic principles I show here are just the tip of the iceberg of potential within this process.

Video Link: link [youtu.be]

Feb.11.2014 @ 4:30 PM
Chris Randall
That was really great, Mike. I've often done similar things (and most of my scattershot drums are via follow actions) but nothing near that sophisticated. In truth, it never occurred to me, but now, shit is ON.

I've often told my EM3 class that one would do well to think of Live more as an instrument than a DAW, and this video goes a long way towards proving that point.


Feb.11.2014 @ 4:53 PM
Thanks for posting this Mike. Really eye-opening. Like Chris said, it never really occurred to me to do this. I can totally see how this can work for me in my own way...which is my own way of saying I'm stealing this technique.


Feb.11.2014 @ 5:44 PM
mike kiraly
Thanks guys - If you've come this far and are still interested, let me deliver a few more tricks for you:

1. This doesn't have to be just an in-the-box process. If you've got hardware that has MIDI or CV, than you can use clip envelopes and follow actions on them in the same exact way. I have a large modular (with 2 AD modules of course), all of the Elektron boxes, a Tempest, OP-1 and an MPC2000XL that are all incorporated into my template. And because I'm using a SyncGen, which is possibly the best money I've ever spent, all of these things clock and run in perfect sync with Live. I push out all sorts of craziness via MIDI or Silent Way, record the audio and edit accordingly. Sometimes I'll chop it up and use random follow actions once again on those new clips.

2. Guitarists of the world, be not afraid. Do you have any stomp boxes or amp sims that have MIDI? Nuff said.

3. Ever heard of Dummy clips in Live? If not, the interwebs will reveal all. Dummy clips combined with follow actions factor heavily into my master template.

4. Use this method as a jamming partner. Some times I'll leave one or two elements un-modulated and map key parameters of those elements to a controller. Then I hit record - because I don't know what the follow actions on all of the other tracks will spit out, I'm forced to spontaneously react to the music and tweak accordingly. It's like playing in a band where the other guys are all high as fuck, but still manage to keep the timing tight.

Honestly, I could talk about this process for hours - the potential is limited only by computing power. I run out of CPU long before I run out of ideas about how to make this template better.

Feb.11.2014 @ 5:51 PM

Thanks Mike!

Feb.11.2014 @ 7:51 PM
@Adam: Yes, thank you! If you have that 1212I/O, I would love to have it. It would be nice to have in the system. Just tell me how much to ship and whatnot.

@mike: That video was great. I do a bit with follow actions and dummy clips, but I have never gotten near that level of depth with it. Inspirational. I'm definitely going to be trying some of those techniques out soon. I would suggest doing the 4+ hour version of that video and charging people at least $50 a pop to get a look at it. That's a class if I've ever seen one!

As far as the great MIDI vs audio debate goes, I am a proponent of committing and dropping channels down to audio as early on in the process as I can. It saves processor power (which is key since I can't afford to upgrade my 2008 MacBook to something shiny), and keeps me from noodling around tweaking sounds forever. I'll keep a backup of the nonrendered MIDI chain in another copy of the Live session in case I need to refer to it later. Also, this makes it much easier to go back to older projects at a later date. OS changes, software changes, everything but rendered audio changes. Before I went almost entirely audio, I would lose projects all of the time because the Gnomes Of Cupertino decided that something small but crucial needed to be different in the next version of the OS, or because Native Instruments [normal word but spelled with Ks instead of Cs] decided that it no longer considered itself registered even though it worked that morning.

- William

Feb.12.2014 @ 4:58 AM
William, you have a very good point with the MIDI vs audio thing. I suffered from this already plenty of times, when I had to go back to older projects, where a certain plug-in or so would not be available anymore... And as I wrote myself above, it hardly ever occurred to me that I actually changed some sound after I first chose to use it. So, maybe, I should consider moving away from my old habit.

As for Mike's process - I was extremely happy to read that it would be applicable to external hardware, too. It is going to be an extra motivation for me to try and up my game on Ableton Live again!

Feb.12.2014 @ 7:45 AM
mike kiraly
I'm really glad to hear that some of you are getting some ideas from this.

Honestly, I love talking about this stuff. I've done a few video tutorial courses for Lynda.com (including a Bitwig one which I'm finishing up now). But those courses are aimed towards users with little or no knowledge of DAW's and are therefore a little less exciting for me.

I'm happy to share more. If there are enough of you who would like to see a more in-depth look that would include features I haven't mentioned yet, I'd gladly participate in a screen sharing type of conference call. I could go over the specifics of some of the devices I use, their key parameters, and how they function within the template. As long as someone is willing to organize a group and set it up. And I would ask that there would be at leads 4-5 people on it.

Feb.13.2014 @ 3:13 AM
very nice video, Mike! i really like the 'carving out' approach of using liberal amounts of silence.

i must confess, my approach is less exciting than yours sounds. for me my weapon of choice is FL (Fucking Logic) and i tend to have a number of slicing/FSU plugins that i enjoy using, as well as numerous Logic plugs. one common approach is to create a central riff/idea and then layer parts until i've essentially maxed it out in terms of density - basically the climax of the piece. then i backtrack and go forward from there, figuring out how i get to that point and how i get out from there. i also like the idea of creating my own complexity by layering multiple plugs on one track, running the outputs into busses where i further mash it up filter it, distort it, or create silences to open spaces. during this process a lot of approaches can be taken to provide contrasts and unpredictability. in one case i used 8 duplicates of a simple mono voice sequence each running through a beat slicer, with large amounts of silence to end up with random 3-4 note chords shifting unpredictably but within a fixed range and scale. also, although i'm an improviser, when composing experimental electronic pieces in Logic i take a very linear, fairly composed approach.

one thing i've been thinking about is creating plugins that can modify settings on other plugins without having to be automated. not sure if many of you ever used Pluggo back in the day, but it came with a number of effects that acted like LFO's, S & H, sequencers etc that could change parameters on any other Pluggo plugin. i think Bitwig can sort of work like this, and i imagine Max4Live is quite flexible, but i never got the hang or feel for Live, so i'm thinking of doing my own thing. i am hoping that Sandboxing doesn't mean inability for one plugin to control another's settings via OSC or MIDI.

at any rate, i hear Logic X has some limited capability with this with the new MIDI effects, but most of my FSU plugs are all 32 bit so i'm stuck for a bit until i can purchase a wrapper like 32 LIves.


Page 5 of 6



Sorry, commenting is closed for this blog entry.