Well, the past 3 weeks have been eventful! It’s tough to spend the music-making season (eternity) dealing with the Holidays! Yes, I was up after Midnight on Christmas Eve – sneaking and watching Ableton tutorial videos long after the family was sleeping:
— Ocsprey (@Ocsprey) December 25, 2015
I even took a trip to the middle of nowhere to go camping. I took my Launchpad Pro, Laptop, and UE Megaboom and did some synthesizing from the back of a work trailer to absolutely nobody. It was sort of like Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii concept – sort of, ha! It was an incredibly memorable Christmas Eve though – a blazing full moon, exceedingly warm temperature, a fire, and a sky full of stars.
What I’m most excited to report back from these past 3 weeks is my search for Gear. Does anyone else love shopping and evaluating gear? I love analyzing platforms and ecosystems. Not just the music ones, but software, cycling equipment…. many others. You have this matrix of decision-making factors and try to figure out the best product to meet expectations. So What are mine? Well, this is where it gets interesting. In my case, being utterly new to music production is the toughest aspect of the purchasing aspect to factor. So here’s how I put it all together:
- Taking stock of what I have:
- Novation Launchpad Pro
- Novation LaunchControl XL
- Novation Audio Hub 2×4.
- MacBook Pro w/ Ableton Suite & Synthmaster
With this existing set-up I can get a lot done. But at the same time, I’ve been having some expansion ideas, including:
- Hardware sound generation vs. mouse-based.
- Analog Sound
- Thinking about Live Performance
- Creative Possibility
Let me expand on these ideas a bit. Regarding Hardware sound generation – I think this mainly comes from inexperience with Ableton + thinking about Live performances. I want to have more hands on deck than I currently have. I like the idea of maximizing both automation and on-the-fly creativity. It’s also a more inspiring workflow. I spend a tremendous amount of time on the computer – it’s a love hate relationship so software/hardware allows me to have a workflow free from constraint in this regard. This is what leads me to think about #2 up there – sequencing. While sequencing is certainly doable within Ableton or VST’s like Geist, or even M4Live devices like Polyrhythmus – it’s just not for me at this point. Physically controlling the sequencer during live performance seems essential. I also like the idea of being able to use multiple sequences to allow more robust modulation, both during production and live performance. Also, no sequencers have been developed for the Launchpad Pro – which someone should really do. Lastly #3, Analog sound – As I’m listening through all the native sounds in Ableton, and the Presets from Synthmaster and others I’m finding the sounds lean too far into the big-banging EDM sounds – which I don’t dislike, and which is understandable given the marketplace. However, I like a little fuzz, wind, warmth, randomness and the like in my sounds. Similar to hardware/software, the analog/digital dichotomy for me is about creative possibility. Sometimes I want crystal clear crackling beats, other times I want to listen to Shoegaze underwater while my girlfriend breaks up with me over the headset on our snorkeling expedition I never wanted to go to in the first place.
So given the above factors, and given my Christmas bonus (let’s not forget having $ on hand is also a good Gear incentive!) I started searching the interweb…
So what did I find? Well, sequencing was the easiest. The Beatstep Pro is easily the most versatile at its price point, with plenty of integration, features, and randomness options. There are some pricier exciting options like the Cirklon, Pyramid, and the OP1. All are 3-4 times the cost of the BeatStep Pro – and to my reading, do not have 3-4 times the functionality. So this was a fairly easy choice for me.
Now, along with the BeatStep Pro – as I mentioned above, I wanted some more physical creation and manipulation of sound. I ended up with 2 selections here. The first is Novation’s Circuit.
Part sequencer, 2 part synth – and the familiarity I already have with Novation via the LP Pro and LaunchControl XL made this a fairly easy selection for me. This became especially true in the past few weeks as Isotonik released their editor for the Circuit:
which really reveals how deep this device can go. I’ve done so much research on these first two that I’m fairly certain I’ll be pleased with them.
The last part of the equation has been the toughest, and the most undefined. I don’t play keyboard. I decided to study pads, and have been using Melodics, which I love. That being said, I figure having some keys with some knobs and the like would be a good addition to my rig. If you recall though, I wanted some warmth, grit and the like as well. Enter Analog. This was the most challenging aspect for me. What to get? I looked at probably every current synth of the past few years, along with grooveboxes, sequencers, drum machines and grids like the Linnstrument, Behringer 2000, or the Monome. I looked at Novation’s Ultranova, BassStation 2, The Akai TimbreWolf and Cat, The Korg Electribe, Arturia’s SparkLE, amongst others. My budget here was around $500 – which is why there are some digital synths there as well. All of these, however, eventually succumbed to potential issues such as:
- too much menu diving
- lack of connectivity options
- no editing or saving patches on the fly
In the end, the sound characteristics I mentioned above ultimately combined with a few other factors to result in me picking the Korg MS-20 Mini. Here’s the other factors:
- Analog Sound with grit, noise and the like
- Good Connectivity, especially with the new Editor which allows uploading and editing patches
- Plenty of knobs to turn
- An awesome intro to Modular sound creation
- Adding Keys to my rig
- Price Drop to $450 bucks put it well within my budget
Now, even though I can run the Korg MS-20 mini through the CV of the BeatStep Pro, I wanted an analogue sequencing option. So I added in the Korg Sq-1. I just like to synthesize from scratch, sequence the sound so I can enjoy it while adding more sound to it – repeat. I think Production should be as close to Performance as Possible.
I also wanted to add in an analogue Arpeggiator – but there is really nothing out there short of the Tangible Instruments Arpeggio and a few other very hard to finds like the Kawai K5000 . I probably don’t need this option, but the idea of sequencing and arpeggiating analogically from the MS-20 just appeals. The Arpeggio seems too small for my fingers, and is yet unreleased. In the meantime I’m hoping the Sq-1 will be great in my rig – coupled with the BeatStep Pro and the Circuit, I can do some excellent varying sequences from multiple sources at the same time… digital and analogue.
I’m hoping my new set-up will really increase both my production and performance possibilities. Though from an impractical standpoint – I can guarantee you I’ll have fun with the gear! I’m ordering it all tomorrow and will be able to report back in 3 weeks when the next article in my Production Series comes out. What do you think of the selections?