I’ve been thinking a lot about the various interesting thoughts that have emerged from this topic (and others). I have started to consider what a minimal modular-centric set up could be for me. Starting from the idea that what I want to do is two thing: processing field recordings and sounds coming from contact mics, and build on those using sampling techniques and synth drones to add density and foundation. I have ended up with a couple of ideas of what could work live.
The centre would be a small modular, it’s function would be dual: to provide the necessary playback means for field recordings, to process these (mostly Clouds and Rings or other resonator) and it would also provide a synth voice. The signal paths of the concrete and the synth part could of course partially converge into the granular/resonator part.
To extend this rig I’d add the Field Kit which would serve as a hub for the “live concrete” part. Even if it is its own box, I see it as part of the modular.
To be able to sample and mangle both concrete sources I am thinking of employing the Octatrack, using it mainly with 3-4 tracks set to sample (either continuously or as one-shots) and play back at the same time. I’m not 100% convinced though of the Octatrack being so great for live performances (even though that is still its main sales pitch), mostly because it has such a narrow UI funnel for performance.
Apart from the above mentioned doubt about the OT I find myself facing these questions:
- what is the best way to play back field recordings for modular processing? I do have a radio music, which is ok, but the sound is mono and I’m not sure if the 12-bit DACs are really up to it. Still a couple of simple “playback” devices could do the job.
- a very central element for the performance would be the mixer. This one would be the used for both fading materials in and and as a routing controller to determine which sound will go where. Maybe I can keep things minimal and just use the Field Kit for that, but I would like to maintain the stereo field of the recordings at least for the dry sound.
- How do I expose as much as possible to the audience in terms of what is going on in the rig? That is the most complicated part because as many electronic sets it mixes very acousmatic elements (the field recordings) with more or less attended machine performance elements (sequences) with good ol’ hitting stuff and getting a sound out of it.
Again in these regards the Octatrack is what seems the most complicated element to fit in. While the modular literally exposes its guts (at least to those who who knows what they are). The OT is a black box (literally and figuratively) that conceals most inside its metal shell, and only exposes few curated controls (the fader, the trigger buttons… and to some extend the encoders). This problem is even more pronounced with another project, where the OT is actually the centrepiece of the set up. There I find myself facing one big problem: I can either have a bunch of things attached to the OT (drum machine, looper, etc.) or keep the set up both light and manageable and compress everything into the OT’s 8 tracks. Doing the latter though makes the performance become closer to a DJ set with many materials just playing from the card (this is due to having to merge multiple materials into bigger loops, which then leave less room for variability).
Which takes me to the last point. For me the biggest challenge is to keep the set up small and easy to understand/memorize. This article actually provided a couple of very interesting notions that help a lot in conceiving a live set up, mainly the concept of musical objects and that of variability. I think the trick is to keep the number of discrete musical objects low, maximizing each one’s sonic potential and effect. This has three advantages: the performance becomes easier to follow for the audience, it makes it much easier to memorize/manage everything and removes the need to fall back to things like “backing tracks”, which are probably the death of live performances.