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Gear geekin
August 30, 2012 12:32 AM   Subscribe

Starting package of gear for live electronic music?

I'm a keyboard player and know some classical music theory and want to try my hand at electronic music.

I want to approach this a bit differently than most others. I want to make the music with the desire to play it live from the start, meaning I want to be able to generate all the sounds on the fly without anything prerecorded. So far I have been thinking this means lots of looping and layering (ala Andrew Bird or Zoe Keating) and probably spending $500-1000 initially on hardware.

So far, what has enamored me (and is in my price range) is the Microkorg, the Kaoss pad, the Kaossilator, and the Maschine. I would be able to buy two of these things (with cables and such), three at the most. My minimum requirements are a keyboard, since that is my skill, with synth/effects, a loop station, and sampler pads or some kind of percussive input. The Kaoss Pad seems to have pretty good looping capabilities, and I'm thinking that the Microkorg + KP3 could be a really good minimal starting route. Paying 200+ for a separate small looping pedal seems kind of ridiculous. I'm really attracted to the Maschine for playing out beats and samples, so maybe that'd be good with the KP3/Microkorg. I'm not sure how dependent on software the maschine is though. Also, Daedelus' Monome is pretty awesome (or the Novation Launchpad, for my budget), but probably not necessary for me now.

I would like to avoid using a laptop, although I do have both Ableton and Reason. I'm thinking this would take away from my whole live playing goal, and it just seems less genuine. This could just be my own irrational hangup though. I'm a programmer by trade and can pick up the software pretty quick. If I were to go the software route, I could probably just get a Maschine and use the midi keyboard I already have and save quite a lot of money. That way I could loop on the computer, get synth and effects on the computer (eg. audiomulch), and not need the hardware. Maybe I could get a touchscreen monitor or something to make it better to use live. This route does not interest me as much as the KP3/Microkorg route though.

I really appreciate any suggestions.
posted by aesacus to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Another option is to go straight for the Elektron Octatrack. That seems to be the new hotness in the sampler world, though a lot of people still love their MPC1000s.

As far as synths go, I suggest you dig through your local Craigslist and research what you find there. Once you have a good idea of what things are, and what the prices are, jump on something that looks fun and is in your price list. There's a lot of under-loved gear out there that is still excellent. A lot of people are dropping their hastily purchased UltraNovas for Minibrutes. And then there are many others from the last 10-15 years that can vary widely in price from listing to listing.

I've got a Korg KP3, and am mostly disappointed with it. It really forces you into a fairly limited grid framework - I can't remember if it is one measure or four, but that's all you get. I ended up getting a vastly more expensive Eventide TimeFactor, and have played shows with nothing more than the TF and a contact mic. That said, the TimeFactor's power lies in its delay algorithms, I haven't used it much for "true" looping. The KP3 is fun, so don't pass one up if you find one listed for a good price.

There are a bunch of oldish rackmount units like the Korg DL8000r, various Rolands and Leixicons from around 1999 that are mostly under-loved in todays era of soft synths. The downside is that most of those 1u units have either few knobs, clicky encoders, or both. The upside is that they are almost always MIDI friendly, and should play very nicely with a BCR.


Try stuff out. Makes friends with other musicians who have similar interests, and mess around with their gear. There is a ton of good stuff out there, and you often don't need to go for the shiny new stuff or the expensive vintage stuff. Right now there's a sweet spot in late '90s Virtual Analog (VA) gear and digital FX units in terms of price to value. People are also discovering that the button-clicking interfaces of Yamaha's old FM boxes is actually a feature, not a defect. I haven't figured out how to do live FM yet, but I'm stating to realize that a lot of music that I've respected for a long time was made with these things and not necessarily analog gear.


Another thought on the looping and layering is to look for a Korg Sound-on-Sound. They were intended for guitarists, but have dropped down to less than $200 new. I'm not sure how well they would work live, but they seem to do some interesting things for a great price.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:12 AM on August 30, 2012


couple thoughts:

the Octatrack looks great, but is already over the high end of your budget...

as a keyboard player, will you be alright with the mini keys on the microKorg?

I think it's possible for a controller+laptop set to be just as "genuine" as playing things live, into a looper. example: this clip of Jeremy Ellis using Maschine + Maschine Mikro.

That's no less skillful than playing into a looper, i'd say. Obviously the guy knows his instrument; it doesn't fall into the "checking email" category of electronic performance...

Maschine works as a standalone AND with the computer, so you could go whichever route you're ultimately more comfortable with...but ultimately, you will get more use out of an instrument that you feel passionate about using. If that's the microkorg and kaoss pad, go for it.
posted by dubold at 3:07 AM on August 30, 2012


A lot of the guys that do really cool Looping stuff use Ableton Live with a Midi Footpedal Controller.

Its just so much easier and full featured compared to any of the Looper pedals around. The people that do it really well don't even look at the computer. - its off to the side of the stage doing its thing in the background.

You can do some really cool realtime sampling and looping with a Behringer FCB1010 and Ableton. So I'd probably recommend trying that out before you buy a Looper pedal.
posted by mary8nne at 4:46 AM on August 30, 2012


Buy a laptop and play around with ableton live first, and once you get a grip on what you can do with sequencers, samplers and synths, start thinking about either hardware synths or controllers. Nothing worse than dropping 10k on gear that you either don't need, won't use or will be out of date by the time you figure it out....
posted by empath at 7:14 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


You had best budget for an amp.

You get what you pay for when you buy a looper. A pedal on the floor is engineered to be operated with your feet, which if your hands are already busy could solve a lot of problems.
posted by Ardiril at 8:02 AM on August 30, 2012


since you say using Ableton &/or Reason would seem less genuine, you might want to check out PureData, which would allow you to custom-build your own software (sort of). With PD you're pretty much guaranteed that nobody is making music quite the same way you are. It's open-source and works well with MIDI on all platforms. There's a pretty active online community that will help you get started and answer questions.
posted by univac at 9:48 AM on August 30, 2012


After some thought I think I'll switch gears a bit and go the 'Ableton-in-the-background' route. So that means I'll be getting:

1. Behringer FCB1010 (midi foot pedals)
2. Maschine Mikro
3. M-Audio Axiom 49 keyboard
4. Decent sound card (not sure which one)

I think that'd be plenty to get me started. This way I could do pretty much anything through software, and I could always geek out more and expand the collection down the line with a real synth and the korg pads once I've actually done some stuff and have a feel for it.

I live in the Seattle area and checked out craigslist to find that there's basically a haven of used hardware around here... pretty much everything mentioned so far is posted up. I'll probably break down and get at least the mini versions of the Kaossilator and Kaoss Pads at some point... they just look so cool.

Thanks for the responses
posted by aesacus at 11:15 AM on August 30, 2012


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