Equipment for making music with field recordings?

Hi, I’ve been using Ableton live to arrange short sound tracks I make, using field recordings and playing piano and guitar. I start out sketching ideas using guitar pedals and microGranny.
Some examples of my work

Using a keyboard and mouse feels un-natural and unsatisfying; since most of the arranging has been done in software. I want to change the way I make music, or at least change my perspective. I have been looking to buy a new piece of equipment for a while now, but I’ve been hesitant to purchase as I’ve really questioned if I really needed something new.

I want to focus on
Expressiveness
Exploration
Limitations
State of flow
Field recording
A new perspective
Minimal step up
Intuitive interface

I love working with limitations, thats why I’m not sure If I even need a new device.

I’m interested in exploring the connection we have with everyday sounds and our memories, and creating something musical with that. I want to be able to combine the instruments I play into a track, as well as capturing sounds and playing them expressively, like an instrument.

A few devices that I find interesting
Norns
Seaboard
Digitakt
Landscape Stereo Field
Chair.audio
OTTO Synth

From your experience what devices would you recommend, or something else entirely?

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Something I really like when playing with recordings is https://tidalcycles.org/

It’s a live coding environment where you can sequence and process samples. There’s a default set of sample but there’s way to bring your own.

Of course, it takes a while to get used to code as a musical interface, but it’s very expressive. But it completely replaced my digitakt. I could see this becoming very interesting if you then output this to a further set of hardware (tape loop, norns, stereo field etc), or to ableton live.

Happy to help you if that’s the path you choose :slight_smile:

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Thats interesting! I feel like it’s more geared towards expression of the mind. I want to explore expression of the body and using a physical interface controlled my movement (like seaboard).

Maybe also consider an Elektron Octatrack. I’m not sure how much overlap there is between that and the Digitakt though.

FWIW, seems like Jan Jelinek uses or used one quite a bit, as well as an MPC too at one point. His work is heavily sample based.

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Not a fan of the seaboard myself, but there’s plenty of interesting controllers around :blush:

I built my first eurorack setup around similar ideas. I had a morphagene and nebulae for the field recordings/samples then ran sounds through some filters, rings, and effects with some modulators. I considered getting a 4MS SMR for this too (seems like it’d be good), but I was trying to keep my skiff under 84hp. Over time I’ve personally found myself attracted to the immediacy of oscillators and making melodies/rhythms again so my system has evolved, but it’s something to consider.

I do think eurorack, if you choose the right modules, is a good way to break outside of the world of grids and loops (see: ableton, and probably the digitakt) and into something that’s a little more free-form.

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How about Push? Keep using Ableton but without the mouse.

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Digitakt, in combination with a eurorack setup can be quite fruitful. The Digitakt, for shaping and arranging smaller pieces of sound (or phrases, up to a minute or two), and something like the Disting mk4 (module), for longer sample (static) playback. You can get quite creative with a Digitakt–looping fragments of sound, deforming them altogether, and building small environments w/a rich interplay between the various sounds, effects, and rhythmic parameters.

The Digitakt is not exactly immediate, as other instruments are. There’s an element of programming, or arranging sounds (their placement, parameters, etc.), but once you have a working sketch, it becomes more immediate and fun (to play), freestyling and mutating objects (simultaneously, even), on the spot. It’s a blast.

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I’ve considered this, but I currently don’t have an audio interface and I want to be able to sample directly into the device. Push would be more of an investment for me. It also seems like more of a linear approach?

Have you considered a modular approach? Maybe a combination of…

Qu-Bit Nebulae v2 (Sampling, Granularization)
Intellijel Tetrapad (Trigger samples, Control parameters)
Intellijel Planar v2 (Control parameters, Record CV loops)

From the goals you outlined above this could be a good solution for…

Expressiveness
Exploration
Limitations
State of flow
Minimal step up
Intuitive interface

One key limitation is input. The samples would need to be preloaded on a card. Or you’d need an additional mic + interface module to get the field recording audio into the modular.

Is it important to record and manipulate the audio at the same time?
Is it important to use the same device to record and manipulate?

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Minimal set-up and limitations… use tape recorders

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I’ll tell you my biggest gripe with Push: it’s not as programmable as it should be IMO. The intended workflow is very dominant.

That said, I’d start with software and find sounds (and effects) that suit you, then look into investing in expression.

A nice place to start is DIN is Noise, which has a free trial so you can try using your keyboard and trackpad to express yourself. It looks a bit strange (some say primitive but don’t let them fool ya) but in reality it is actually VERY specific about what it does. Just poke around and don’t be afraid of your record button and you can really generate some nice things while playing with your hands and an interface device you already have.

Also mlr is super fun. Maybe look into Norns on an rPi or something equally open and hackable so you can play with interfaces?

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I do similar stuff with field recordings + instruments :slight_smile: I use a Novation Launchkey because I can load up my field recordings, play synths and do some mixing with the faders, all on the one interface. That being said, I guess it depends on whether you’re focusing more on studio/installation work vs live performance?

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Don’t have a Norns (one day… one day) but from what I have seen, it might really work well for you. But you need to carefully look into it, it’s a very poweful instrument, but also one that needs a certain commitment and it’s also very peculiar concept-wise. But that’s just my feeling from watching the videos and reading what some people say about it. It also seems to me that Norns is best when paired with a grid, especially, since you mention expression being important.

I’ve been using the Octatrack for years now, and a lot can be said about it (so feel free to ask if you have specific questions).
My feeling is that the OT is really great to do the kind of stuff you intend to do, but it has some specific aspects which might or might not gel with you and some thing you need to be aware of. Mostly:

  • Gain staging can be a bit of a pain to get right, but it’s mostly a matter of learning some basic rules
  • While it’s called “performance sampler”, the performance aspect of it isn’t really its focus, it feels more like a backing track machine. But of course, people have done great music by using instruments in creative ways, so it’s a bit of a non-issue. At the beginning you get the feeling that it’s not really an instrument that you can play much, beyond scene-fader wiggling. It needs some time and practice to figure out a way to work past that. Adding a midi controller helps a lot and gives you the ability to have all the controls you need in one non-modal interface, or you can just build up a solid muscle memory and do some virtuoso page-hopping in the menus.
  • The OT is made to do what I would generally call dance music. From what I have seen that should work for you, since you like to add beats. But be aware of the fact that it’s not always easy to eschew the OT’s tendency to put everything into a metric grid.
  • I found parts to be more of an issue than a useful tool

You can read more about the OT and what people on the forums think of it here: https://llllllll.co/t/octatrack-uses-tips-tricks
Also, Marcus Fisher used to do great things with it! There should be some videos in that thread worth checking out.

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Organelle is cool, I use mine with the dac bypassed and a Mix-PreD which has DPAs plugged into it amongst other things

Izotope Iris is loads of fun with field recordings.

Warning - I’m going to bang on about my favorite bit of kit again!

What about the Synthstrom Deluge?

It meets a lot of the criteria… Sampler, with built in (quite reasonable) microphone and is also battery powered for the field. You can edit and modify samples internally without the use of a computer.

It also has a synth engine which is pretty nice, and a surprising variety of ways of working which don’t just tie you to a grid.

There is midi connectivity too if you want to connect up a midi controller for expression, or you can play the pads like a keyboard.

I promise I have no link to Synthstrom!

How do you bypass the dac on the Organelle?

not to discourage you at all (quite the contrary actually), most elements of this list, to me, feel like things one can gravitate towards and get closer and closer to in the continuum of a life-long (ok, maybe “PhD thesis”-long for some items) process. None is trivial but each is an exciting endeavour.

I would think (but it is merely a reflection of my own preoccupations at the moment) of what you feel is missing in the control/interaction/gestural domain, in your practice. Then try to build with software (max/pd/csound/anything with OSC/midi in) around a controller (or a set of controllers). Software might be less a financial involvement and more of a time sink, but it is easy enough to throw some samplers in Pure Data and prototype/experiment with ways to control them.
I just mention that because imho a laptop with controllers can be a very minimal and interesting setup. The limitations have to be self-imposed, though, as opposed to hardware.

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Organelle can use any USB class compliant audio interface.

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