Performing Modular Live


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.


I don’t have an octatrack because I shared your concerns about the UI. I like the ER-301 because it has so much I/O. Pairs very nicely with arc and grid (and 37 key keyboard with cv out) for control. I’d like to add a Touché eventually.

For button pushing elektron style sequencing I have an eloquencer. I like it but it honestly doesn’t speak to me the way live control does. Still, handy for drums (though if that’s all I end up using it for I might swap it for a more modest sequencer).

But maybe I’m selling the octatrack short?


I also wonder about iPad/Audulus/Samplr for sample mangling.


Out of curiosity, have you tried Ansible/Kria for this? I use it a lot as a drum sequencer for polyrhythms, probability, and just straight ahead x0x-style step sequencing. I like it because I can use my grid as a multi-purpose live controller for Ansible and ES.


I used to. Then I bought an arc, and my ansible has been stuck in cycles mode ever since. I need to trade my white whale for an earthsea or another ansible. (Because the white whale is basically a smaller eloquencer).


My first (and as of yet, only - more on this in my next post) show was almost exactly the setup you describe. OT as a mixer and effects unit with a small modular for beeps and boops. Live sampling here and there, but also using the OT for beds of sound and live manipulating samples. It worked really well. Elements of it could have been described as a DJ set, but hey - I like DJ’s. As for action - occasionally throw a finger up in the air and pump it along with the beat. SOLVED.


That’s why I have two Ansibles and an Earthsea :slight_smile:

That combo has become my entire sequencer section, with some help from NLC 8-Bit Cipher and Teletype.


I started this thread a few weeks ago because I had booked a live show (my second, ever) before really deciding if I was capable of putting together a 20 minute live set I could be proud of. Based on the really great information in this thread, and a lot of advice in the Disquiet Junto Slack, this is the rig I put together for the show.

Close up of the skiff via Modular Grid,

Earthsea controls the main voice, switching back and forth between the sine waveform and final out on DPO (a tip I got from @shellfritsch in the Earthsea thread and Ears adding envelope weirdness through a Maths channel (a message by @emenel convinced me I wasn’t using Maths to its full capacity, still have more room to grow there). The DPO runs through LxD into Clouds (running parasites, but I’m choosing to use the core clouds mode) and into a small mixer. The effects send on the mixer runs into the OP-1, where I can use effects, and also loop in the op-1 four track. I have a sample on the four track I’m going to use to kick things off, from this interview with David Bowie. His description of black noise and noise bombs. I’m convinced the cosmos (by way of youtube algorithms) delivered that sample to me as a way to define the set. It’s like - 110% pretentious, and I hope I can live up to it - but…maaaaaaaan, I love that sample.

Short loop that came out of a rehearsal over the weekend,

And now - after all this work, the show is booked and there’s a flier in the window of the small Boulder coffee shop. It’s a thrill to see. If you’re in the Boulder area, here’s a link to the show.

Thanks a ton of the advice I received in this thread, in the Junto slack, and in other threads on this site. Can’t say enough how much I appreciate this community!


That’s great, good luck on the set!! I hope you are able to record audio/video so that we might see the performance. :slight_smile:


I’m in a very similar position, with regards to intent and musical objects. I’ve been finding it really difficult to dive in an find a place where my larger 6U 104HP can intersect with how I use the Octatrack. I’m selling off a bunch of modules and my case in order to go back to having a small focused 3U 104HP case that looks something like this:

The idea is to use a lot more of the Octatrack’s potential in track composition/sampling, while shuffling the more interesting ideas of live coding and timbral drone music over to the modular. I’ve found that gear acquisition has really burned me out and find it hard to sit down with my modular anymore. My ideal live set up will be this euro, an Octatrack and I’m looking at the Eventide H9 to replace my current dual Clouds setup for ambience.


I have been using the Octatrack for several years now solely for live looping + field recording playback (no sequencing or typical drum sampler stuff). It is a fantastic live tool for this purpose although it took me a bit to find my footing with it.

my set up would typically be:
tracks 1-4 would be armed with pickup machines (the live looper function of the octatrack)
tracks 5-6 would be loaded with flex machines pointed to the same buffers as tracks 2+3 (flex machine plays back samples from RAM and has the most flexibility for sample manipulation - playback speed, directions, slices, etc)
tracks 7-8 would be loaded with static machines playing back field recordings (static machines let you playback loooong samples from the CF card so they don’t take up any of the RAM you use for other sampling functions)

Octatrack lets you set up your outputs in a flexible fashion. I would use the main outputs to go out to my mixer and use the cue outputs to go into my modular for processing. each track lets you control your main vol and cue vol separately so I could use the cue as a kind of effects send.

the Octatrack also has three internal LFOs for each channel that can be mapped to pretty much any function. This is really handy for things like creating gradual movement in a track (assigning a slow LFO to pan a channel, sweep a filter or bring the track volume up + down)

I could go on and on…
you can see some of the things I talked about in action in this video that Datachoir shot of me playing around in my studio last year

so all that being said… I picked up an ER-301 late last year as an attempt to replace the octatrack. I liked the idea of there being similar functions but contained in a modular environment. one huge thing I miss is the stereo tracks. with the er-301 if you want to do anything stereo you have to use up two channels… so you start using up channels pretty quickly (BUT! you can have multiple stereo samplers/players on the same channel so there are ways to work around those stereo limitations). I also miss the effects section of the octatrack. while the effects struck me as being kind of lame when I first got it, I sat down and really spent some time finding the best way of using them to fit my needs. you get two effects slots per track with the octatrack. Between the 3xLFOs per track + 2xEffects, it saved me a lot of pedal + modular space on some basic effects/utilities.

anyway, that’s just my two cents on the octatrack as a live sampling/field recording performance environment.


oh also, don’t underestimate the power of an old iPod you might have laying around in a drawer as a field recording playback device.


I’m quite optimistic that the ER-301 effects story is going to get more interesting over the course of the next year or so.


Yeah, if the ER would have came out earlier I would probably have gone with that instead. Maybe. I’m not the person who sells something just because something that might be better has come out. The best gear is not the one that has the best specs, but the one you know how to use best, and I still have hope that I might learn how to make the OT work for me.
Also, while I have many questions and concerns, I do like a lot of things about the OT, so I still have hope that it will work for me once I have everything figured out.

I do have all three of them and have used Samplr in many occasions. I do love (and I can’t stress this enough) the concept and idea behind the app. It’s one of the few apps that make it worth to get an iPad, since it just makes so much sense on that platform, from many points of view. I just can’t stand the iPad itself nor can I stand iOS. The way it makes really basic things incredibly complicated and cumbersome (like copying files). It just doesn’t work for me, and has caused me only frustration in the past, so that’s a route I know I won’t take. Apple has lost me on that one.

Hehe, I should try that. I do DJ from time to time, and I really enjoy it, to be honest what I enjoy most with DJing, is to play trashy party music, and stuff that is just great to dance to (Junior Boys anybody?), something totally different from what I am interested in making as a musician. I also am seeking for ways to perform electronic music that are different from performing as a DJ. Mostly because I like the challenge, and because I like the idea to explore this field first hand. It’s part fun, part work as well…

Love it! Too bad I’m kind of not close to where you’ll play.


I should add that I originally picked up the OT as what I thought was a beefier OP-1, which is sort of kind of true. I ended up selling the OT when I realized I liked the slightly clunky way the OP-1 treats samples as ‘pretend tape.’ It fit my brain, was a bit more straightforward and the limitations kept me focused. @marcus_fischer’s post above is pure gold. If you’re interested in the OT, absolutely go for it. It’s a fantastic, creative tool.


@marcus_fischer: I see your approach is pretty close to mine. The whole shared buffer for pickup machines and flex machines, and splitting the signal between the main and cue outs. So I think I can certainly learn a thing or two from you. Thanks for the insight and I’ll check out the video now!

That is actually my plan B. I have a bunch of old mp3 players that I don’t use anymore, so I could repurpose those. The advantage would be that I also get a visual indication of play position, which is something I miss with almost all other solutions (and which can be very handy).

I did use the OT’s static machines for playing back long field recordings, but the main issue I have with the OT and that is that it forces me to a series of awkward choices like keeping everything in one part, and using a lot of tracks to just play back audio and little more… which feels a bit like a waste since I could use these tracks for more interesting things like looping slicing etc.

A more bulky option would be to just dump the recordings onto a 4-track tape (I have a Yamaha Mt4x). But… it’s very bulky. Apart from that though I like the idea of something that is a tangible object, with a clear musical function in the context of the performance, and also gives you nice hands-on control. I have also been looking into small cheap 8-track digital recorders. which also could be an interesting solution somehow.
The main drawback would be the inability to start/stop individual recordings, but that is something one can work around with some planning I guess.


Although, if you have an old iPod, Baby Driver just created a pretty fantastic retro market for it. Might be able sell it for a downpayment on a OT :wink:


Something I’ve been wondering about that you have kind of hinted at here, is it possible to read from the buffer and automatically slice the same track while it plays in real time? I only just picked up an OT again, and need to do a deep dive on all the stuff I watched to learn it the last time I had one.


same here - but after jumping into kria i’m definitely planning on getting another ansible. best sequencer i’ve ever used.


I’m a huge fan of the OT coupled with the modular. Even if you’re sequencing a four to the floor pulse out to clock the modular via MIDI or audio click and then just use the live sampling potential and effects. It is a fantastic hub. Plus, I love the four inputs and while there are times I wish it had more, it’s a nice limitation to work within. It is a fantastic tool with so many possible workflows. It can be a little tricky to wrap your head around some aspects of it, but I think the time and patience invested is worthwhile.