Performing Modular Live


#1

Inspired by,

Would be interested in hearing any tips on performing Modular live. Do you use a cue / dj mixer to prepare patches? Do you live patch, or play an existing patch? How many points of control (my phrase, meaning the knobs or controls you plan to manipulate during the performance) do you shoot for in designing a performance?

I’m new to performing live. My first show I relied on an Octatrack (which I’ve since sold) to mix the modular with samples. The samples helped me transition between sections. I built a four by four matrix for the show, with four segments, each with four points of control. I gave each segment a quarter of the time (5 minutes, for a 20 minute performance). New rig, that I’ve yet to test in front of an audience, is OP-1 for samples and ‘fill’ and a 104HP skiff modular with a complex oscillator, lpg, random source, function genertor and sequencer, with clouds for some dsp. (DPO, lxd, wogglebug, maths, ansible / kria / grid).

I’m working on another 4x4 grid using the above for a show in a few weeks. I’m leaning towards creating a patch and playing it with only knobs as control points. Would love to hear other approaches. I’ve been checking out videos on youtube as well, any recommendations there would be great!


[Fictional Book] A Modular Improviser's Handbook
Making stand alone modular instruments
OCTATRACK // uses / tips / tricks //
Composing on modular
#2

It seems like everyone has a different approach to playing live. I would love to discuss all of the different ways. Much like recording, I think we find comfort zones based on our needs and get used to that.

I have done only a handful of modular live performances in front of an audience, but almost every time I just sit down with a patch, I practice the things that I would do if I were playing live to learn techniques for giving natural movements to a patch.

For the sets that I have played, my process was to arrange some kind of patch that had three main elements : bass, middle, and sparkle. I would start with a drone, manipulate it a bit, then fade the next part in, mess with that, etc. I use the K-Mix when I play live and I just tell the sound person to give me a stereo DI so I am in control completely of the mix. I love the K-Mix and definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a really sturdy portable mixer solution. The only downfall is that in direct sunlight it is hard to see the fader lights. Anyway yeah, work out a patch at home, practice improv on it like X0 times before the show (and it is different every time of course), and then when I arrive at the venue I tune all of my oscillators and patch up the core of it before the show starts. Then the performance is just improving on things that I already vaguely have ideas for, adding some patch points here and there, and basically just using my musical intuition to create a 30 minute piece from those voices that has a couple different movements.

As for gear that I rely heavily on for performance:

  • K-Mix as already mentioned. I know it well and feel so comfortable mixing my modular with it now. I use 3.5mm to 1/4" mono cables that go direct from the outputs on my synth to the ins on the k-mix.

  • Make Noise Tempi. This was one of the first modules that I got and it is so so crucial to my performance. This is definitely something that I just grew into, but now I can’t imagine really doing a live set without it. I honestly don’t even know a lot about all the crazy things you can do with it - but I “play” it, and it is an irreplaceable way for me to make tempo changes in a patch that can be really emotional and natural sounding.

  • Three Sisters. Best filter ever… I’m sure most of you agree. I always have a voice going through this module, and manually making it self-oscillate is a big part of the beginning and or endings of most of my performance pieces.

  • o’tool +. My biggest fear before my first show was “what if I can’t get anything to be in tune when I arrive at the venue”… having this thing in my rack relieves so much of the anxiety that I have around things going bad. I use it to tune but I also use the scope to see what is going on with my waveforms when sometimes you are behind the speakers or wherever and aren’t getting an ideal sonic image of what you’re playing.

  • 4ms DLD. Delay. Lots of delay… lots of delay. Can’t live without it.

  • Rene + PP. Another case I think of being so comfortable with a module(s) because you started with them that you can’t perform without them. When I am performing, I love interacting with the synth with my hands. To me that is what I am supposed to be doing… these two modules are brilliant and so useful for keeping sequences that go for 15-40 minutes interesting.

One more thing - don’t be afraid to go slowly, and listen to the synth. During every performance I am so outside of time that I get worried it is going on for too long and is boring to people who don’t know what I’m doing, and every time after the show a lot of the people say they could listen to it for a lot longer (playing ambient music for people who came to see ambient music). You want to rush and make things more interesting, but to the people who have never heard your patch before - it will be interesting. They aren’t hearing it for the 100th time.

That’s my input – excited to follow this thread!


#3

Do you preview elements befoe fading them in?


#4

Not when I am performing. I usually listen for a bit during soundcheck and get a feel for what I will be fading in when I do - but also the nature of the patches that I have performed with are very “stable” until I start messing with them, so I knew for the most part what I was going to be fading in at the beginning of the set.


#5

So far I’ve always played an existing patch. Usually I have 2 - 4 voices set up, and some kind of sequencer that lets me improvise easily. In the past I’ve used the ER-301, Meadowphysics, Rene, and Metropolis. I don’t really do any kind of cueing because unless I mute them, the voices are always doing something. I use mutes and filters to bring them in and out. I’ve also used the Octatrack for drum sequencing / programming, and to sequence the modular itself with a MIDI interface. In another show I’ve used the Linnstrument to play one of the voices live.

A critical thing I always do is run the final output through a compressor. When I’m using the Octatrack I always run the modular into the Octatrack outputs and use a compressor there. In the performances without it I used an Analog Heat set up with a patch that worked like a compressor. Reason for this being there’s a lot of sounds with feedback and other things that can grow out of control in a modular pretty easily. The compression helps keep things under control.

In my last performance I was trying to use a spring reverb and I had a very slowly growing rumble that would build over the course of a couple of minutes in my patch. It was really hard to figure out what it was but eventually I realized the stage monitor was pointed at the reverb tank and was building a really gradual kind of feedback. I ended up just disconnecting the reverb from the patch instead of trying to fix it.

My process for setting up and practicing is basically the same as @stripes, as my modular stuff tends towards improv (is there any other way to use a modular live?!).


#6

The Mylar Melodies stuff that’s been trickling out about his live rig is a really great starting place. That and his links to Steevieo make a comprehensive model to build from.


#7

I use a 200e, spend about one and a half year to arrive at a patch that is flexible enough that I can coax the sounds I need out of it without having to re-patch, so I can store and recall sounds.

For each gig I create new sounds, typically like 5 different ones. I practice with each of them, getting to know them, so that I know what I can do with them, in which directions I can tweak them, which controls I should turn, which ones I should avoid, and which notes sound good with them – and then I write these things down.

Finally I condense these notes so that I have a maximum of like 5 very short lines per sound, so that everything fits onto one page in large font, like something that is really easy to understand (both from looking at it a low light, and from grasping it while my mind is actually supposed to be occupied with music, not reading).

These notes are really important for me, more important than the patch storage capabilities of the 200e. I do suffer quite a bit from stage fright, and I found that this single printed page really helps with it: it allows me to be calmer as I know that I do not have to remember everything, that it is OK to forget things while I try to be “in the moment” when I improvise my way thru the material – i.e. I don’t have an pre-planned order in which I use the sounds, and I don’t know in advance the order of the notes I will play with each sound, and I don’t plan what I will lay down as a loop during the gig.

Here’s myself in one of these moments when I was really glad to have this little piece of paper (hopefully the video starts at position 44 min 10 sec, if not, you have to scroll manually).


#8

Here’s a breakdown of my set up for playing at Unsound recently.


I have six modular voices: Tides unfiltered (clean bass) uni out, Tides thru L-1 2180 VCF uni + bi mix, VCF modulated by SSF PTG plucky env (main bass), Warps through spring reverb & modulation delay (feedbacky noise swash / lead), Sputnik DWG x-modulated oscillator pair (rhythmic noise / bleeps / bass), tELHARMONIC H OUT (melody / sfx), tELHARMONIC P OUT (same).

Everything is controlled by two tracks of KORG SQ-1. Modulation is handled by 4ms Pingable Envelope Generator, controlling e.g: clock divide ratio of rhythmic pattern played by Sputnik; resonance on filter using OR output; mix on Spring Reverb & centroid frequency on tELHARMONIC. The divisor channel also is patched to V/O of one of Sputniks as a pitch envelope. Processing & fm inputs on the module are used for cross-modulation, and as one of the oscillators goes low enough, this gives me both slow frequency LFO modulation & audio-rate FM.

Warps is used as a tiny self-patched complex VCO, with its internal oscillator track going back to audio input, this gives me a huge variety of timbres. I also use L/R inputs on my mixer for crossfading between different sounds, this really makes for a very flexible mixing environment: you may be able to notice some moments in the show when I fade out the bass & tinny sounding melodic line comes in, this is what is causing it.

Additionally, I use a plenty of tricks like using my panorama knobs as effect send (dry/wet type x-fader): I use two channels on my zoom R8 for sub-mixing of kind, where one of them acts as bypass more or less (EQ/compression aside), and another has quite some delay & reverb. Then also I have compressor / limiter / EQ set differently for these two. One example would be mid cut by some dB on FX track, so that to be able to work with higher feedback.

The tracks that have shared channels (Tides / tELHARMONIC) don’t have this flexible control over effect amount, instead I allocated L to bass parts & R to melodic, where reverb is almost mandatory. One of the drawbacks of my routing would be mixing in mono, but… what is this stereo thing? :stuck_out_tongue: I don’t really need to pan hats, or anything, plus DSP delays in R8 are stereo, so there you have that. What’s best, however, is that I can look on a mixer, and in a fraction of a second know the amount of reverb on all my instruments, as it’s very visual.


I don’t use any cueing, patterns, samples, presets, or backing tracks, I just come to the venue, set up & rock out :raised_hands:



#9

Great thread idea! I’ve only integrated modular into my live set up once so far (don’t play out very often, but it’s a goal of mine to do more). Here’s what helped me:

  • Rehearsing and practicing with a system/patch that was ‘frozen’ a week or 2 before I would be performing.

  • Using a mixer with aux send (reverb/delay on the aux). I like the idea of having several outputs from the modular going into a mixer - it feels more controlled.

  • Play for your family/friends/significant other and get feedback. My brain works differently when somebody is actively listening - I am more mindful.

  • During the performance/practice have a clock or timer visible somewhere. It’s so easy to lose track of time and you can work on pacing.

I’d be really interested in hearing how these folks approach it and how they prepare
@analogue01, @fourhexagons, @marcus_fischer, @shellfritsch

:smiley:


#10

I’ve been performing with the modular pretty regularly these days, here’s what I’ve been doing that’s working pretty well for me:

  • pre-patch enough that there’s a starting point and some ideas of where to go
  • rehearse starting with the patch and creating changes/movement my patching and sequencing, knob twiddling, etc. I usually do this a few times in the days leading up to the show
  • put reverb and delay on effect sends, it’s really nice to be able to move voices and parts In and out of these effects during the performance
  • as with any improvisation, a mistake is only a mistake if you don’t repeat it :slight_smile:
  • go with whatever happens, including silences
  • don’t be afraid of repetition, it can go on longer than it feels like it should
  • continuing, more repetition is better than too much change
  • have some backup plans, I often have another few things patched up and ready to go in case I forgot what I want to do or run into a wall

Some of these may or may not apply to the type of music you’re playing, but they are working for me. A lot of it is based on my experience performaing and improvising with guitar and more “traditional” instruments…


#11

All of my live sets are improvised within a specific performance system that I assemble for each performance. By system I mean a set of tools for sound creation, capture and manipulation. For various reasons, I never try to recreate any of my recorded material in a live setting. Instead I start with a blank canvas as build up layers of sound live. If I do use any prerecord material it is usualy just a simple field recording to kick things off.

The best thing I’ve found to aid in live performance is this app: http://lightningtalktimer.com
I will set a timer for 30min with a marker at the halfway point and another five min before the end.
I try to never play longer than 30min.


#12

Great thread. I’m not sure I have all that much to add to what’s been said above. I use a Radio Music as a good way of filling transitions, or as a safety net for when I need to buy myself some time (as well as good sound source for Phonogene, Clouds etc).

I’ve found re-patching during a performance really hard, even when I leave one end of a patch cable ready to go. I find this conflicts with any attempts to manage the spaghetti such as using velcro to keep spaces clear for my hands.


#13

I’m pretty much similar to Marcus in that I prepare a specific system (i.e. patch plus pedals) for each performance/tour. In fact, for the last couple of years I’ll usually play a patch out n number of times and if I feel good about it I’ll do a studio version for potential release and then retire it.

Unlike the (maybe) received wisdom, I never use a mixer on stage unless I’m playing in a group. Mixing within the synth is almost always fine. But I also don’t use sends and don’t really mind an effects chain at the synth output if there are proper wet/dry controls. One of my live goals has always been to carry around as little stuff with me as possible lol.

I also rarely use or look at a timer. I think I must just have a pretty good internal sense of when I’m bored or out of ideas. If anything I often need a clock to remind me to go longer.

In general I would say:

  • practice, practice, practice
  • play out as much as you can, it’s fun and the more you do it the more relaxed you feel
  • it’s fun to use different systems/setups, but there’s huge value in having a setup that you know well. in other words, i try not to switch out too many modules too often as I need some degree of familiarity with my instrument - ESPECIALLY as an improviser
  • we all have pretty idiosyncratic instruments and musical voices so it’s okay to have an idiosyncratic performance practice too

Okay, I think that’s it.

If you’re curious what I’ve been up to lately, here are the most recent live recordings I have:
https://soundcloud.com/karlfousek/live-spectrum-nyc-april-29-2017
https://soundcloud.com/karlfousek/charuest-caloia-fousek-live-le-cagibi-montreal-april-11-2017-second-set


#14

I personally do a bit of both heavy pre-planning and periods that are open-ended for improvisation. To echo @analogue01, being very familiar with your setup is incredibly important. I’m usually already working on something when I get a show, so I’ll finalize whatever I’m writing and then dive into trying to make a patch out of it.

As I’m patching, I’m always trying my best to remember the order in which I came to something, so that I can re-perform that kind of discovery. I like to incorporate my creative process into the performance as much as possible. I do show up pretty pre-patched, but improv is built into what I do so I don’t find it limiting.

My setup these days is an iPad usually running Borderlands or Samplr, usually with some material I’ve recorded from while I was coming up with the music/patch, and then a 3U 120hp rack, and a small mixer with some effects, a line for reverb and a line for compression &/or distortion. The main mixer helps me navigate through which part of my rig I’m dealing with, and then I have a Verbos Scan & Pan for either using as a second wet/dry mixer with the euro channels, or as a regular mixer. Sometimes I’ll bring a little something extra to improv with, if the spirit moves me. I just picked up a Stereo Field that I’m excited to bring in.


#15

Though I’m on the novice end of this conversation, I was struck by the value of these ideas during a session last night. As I sat with a decently patched starting point, one that I’d already recorded for notes, I began fiddling and over the course of 30 minutes I eventually found entire new depths through very small changes. It followed basic improvisation principles – listen, respond, listen.

Though I wished I’d hit ‘record’ again, I realized that having the starting point documented was still ideal to prep for a live performance. It was the point of entry for my discovery, where play and work converged. It’s a nice place to meet with audience.

From here, I want to spend more time with @Rodrigo’s Improv Analysis Framework so I can better understand how I navigate this convergence.


#16

Lot’s of really great advices here!
I don’t have much to add to that, if now that I have been kind of obsessed with making the modular more gestural for some time, with the idea of taking out to live performances.
I did play live with the modular only a few times. One went quite well and I actually got quite close to putting together something that was kind of playable in a gestural way.
It was for a vernissage in an art gallery, we made an impro session for two modular synths and a Hang. I prepared a basic patch that would use the Vectr (a 3D controller module) to control various parameters of the patch, and added a small keyboard to determine the pitches. The rest was basically just opening and closing channels on the mixer and tweaking a handful of parameters.

I must day that it was fun to have something more gestural to play the modular with, but the Vectr was not working fully for me. From there I would have had to invest in some other modules… but my priorities changed. I’d still like to explore this direction in the future though.


#17

I have nothing to add from my own experience, but this thread reminded my of this:


Part 2:


#18


#19

I would like to add my approach as I am mainly improvising and this is the reason I got into modular.
I believe that modular can give you that flexibility that a computer based rig lack many times, unless you haev spent ages preparing it.

I have a relatively small set-up that to be honest is quite sufficient for the moment.
As you can see there is a monome on the right + tanzbar and MI ANushri.

The idea is that I can modify whings on the fly (even patching sometimes) and create generative melodies via O_C and Rampage.
The monome provides the base melodic build via ansible.
And the mixer is the swiss army knife for song constructions and fx (Cathedral reverb and Boss RE20).

I have to admit that the patching is tending towards a semi static set-up as it gives me a lot of flexibility even in this version.

I organise a monthly event in London where we actually focus on improvisation and we do streaming if you are interested.


#20

@Jonny i pretty much follow all the same practices you’ve outlined. instead of performing my practice set for someone, i record it and listen back the next morning.

on the technical side, i’ve designed a patch that i find to be reliable and flexible. teletype is huge. i have scenes that recall memories for meadowphysics, ansible & earthsea, store melodic sequences and introduce a lil chaos. er-301 allows me to work with delay buffers and samples. i’ve done a full transcription of the patch so i can easily rebuild it if i have a show coming up. the other key thing is that the patch serves as a platform to compose within, so i can always add to my live set without having to start from scratch. i find that maintaining this familiarity helps build muscle memory. also allows me to refine that patch over time.

on the performance side i like to keep things moving - usually only spending about 5 or 6 minutes on any one vibe. i love long slow meditative works, but for live i try to keep the novelty flowin.

this is a great thread! y’all are awesome.