Category Archives: gear

Decisions: Can’t keep them all (Part 4)(MPC Live)

Feeling the odd man out

I don’t know what it is about the MPC, but I always have one in my studio.  I’ve owned the 2000, 1000, 2500, 5000 and now the Live (never had the 4000…hmm.).   In the gaps between when I haven’t had one….I’ve always found myself lusting for one.  I even have the MPCPro iOS app on my iPad (for when I need a fix on the train).   I guess that makes me an addict.

So here we have the Live, which I’ve had for a good 6 months now.   I hate to say that this is the hardest review to write so far because…well….despite having it for 6 months, it hasn’t seen much action.   I poked it a bit the first days I had it.  Then Reason 10 was released and I became suddenly obsessed with software workflows based around that and Kong.  While I’ve been doing that, this lovely box has largely been gathering dust.

And that is a damn shame!  By all accounts, it’s the MPC I’ve been waiting for.   Battery power, HUGE RAM, better FX, touch screen interface…why haven’t I been using this?  Why has it not become the center of my rig as MPC’s have in the past?

Part of it is definitely the UI.  I don’t know why, but despite a touch interface, I often find myself getting lost trying to find what I’m looking for.   While the touch screen promises a simpler interface, this is one case where the old way was better.   I could *fly* around the older MPCs since their operation had changed little since the 80s.   The live upsets that rhythm (as I imagine the X does as well).

I feel like I haven’t really given this box enough of a fair shake to pass judgement on it, though…which is making me second guess this entire exercise.   I think I need to really force myself to use this deep beast and build something with it.  Or maybe I should take the last 6 months of non-use as a sign that I’m never going to use it?

Let me know in the comments what you think I should do.

Previous entries in this series:

Decisions: Can’t keep them all (Part 1) (Elektron Octatrack MkI)

Decisions: Can’t keep them all (Part 2) (Synthstrom Audio Deluge)

Decisions: Can’t Keep them all (Part 3) (Elektron Digitakt)


Octatrack (mk1) cheat sheet

I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while, so might as well now.

It seems that Elektron Octatrack was built with a built in neuralizer.  Despite having had it for years (almost since it came out) I can never seem to remember what combination of masochistic finger oragami I need to do in order to get to the parameters I want beyond some of the basics.   The manual for the OT is….just terrible, too, which doesn’t help (it’s a maze of partial explainations, and references to other parts of the manual that drive me bonkers).  I decided a while ago to compile a cheat-sheat of my own and post it here so it may help others.

Obviously, the list of functions below is not nearly complete.  I’m going to document it as I go and look for things so I an avoid the manual in the future.   I also plan to do this with other pieces of gear that seem equaly inscruitable.  I hope this is helpful.

To be honest, with as difficult as it is to use, I am amazed at how much I love the Octatrack.  I haven’t really even considered upgrading to the MKII (Though if a deal crosses my desk, it would be hard not to add one).  But I do, I love the thing.  It’s one of the enduring keepers in my studio.

Octatrack cheat sheet (in no particular order):
[name] = single tap
{name} = double tap
+ = press both together
(name) = hold button
<name> = knob turn
[RECORD] – enters grid record mode
[PLAY] – plays the current pattern
[RECORD]+[PLAY] – real time record mode
Record Triggers:
– Activate Grid Record
– Press [FUNCTION] + [BANK]
– Arrow down to record triggers and set what you want
– (optional) To make them ‘one time’ triggers press [FUNCTION]+[TRIGGER]. The step  LED will turn yellow.
– Press [NO] to go back to main screen
– Press [YES] to arm recording

– Press [Play]

Accessing Trigger Conditions:
– Activate Grid Record
– Press and hold the trigger you want to set a condition for
– Press the < or > arrow to bring up the micro timing display
– The Level knob sets the trigger conditon
– [UP] and [Down] set the number of triggers
– [<] and shift the trigger on the grid

Decisions: Can’t Keep them all (Part 3) (Elektron Digitakt)

(This year, I bought too many drum machines.  This is the third part in a series where I’m thinking out loud about which I should keep and which I should sell.  You can find Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking the links)

Ahh, the Digitakt. Of all my drum machine purchases, this one was the most impulsive.   I had literally *just* bought an MPC Live (the next one in this series) when an open box deal came across my desk that I couldn’t pass up.  I watched a few demo videos on it and, perhaps stupidly, snapped it up.

This is not to say that I am disappointed in the device…far from it.   I really do enjoy working with it…when I actually do work with it.  Which hasn’t been all that much.  Which is very, very unfortunate.

What attracted to me to the Digitakt is that Elektron seemed to be trying to do something I always wish they’d do: Cut out all the bullshit and just make an instrument that was straight forward and fun to use (I love my octatrack, but it’s not really fun).  They all got into a room and just said “Lets make a simple drum machine” and BOOM: digitakt.   But…then they started thinking…hm….maybe we can add some sample inputs….and 8 MIDI tracks…and…and….

Thankfully, the meeting ended and they didn’t add everything and the kitchen sink to it.  What they were left with was still pretty straight forward.

What happened next…eh.  I don’t know.  It seems like the ordered the hardware, started work on the firmware and then let marketing publish the specs and features they hoped to have two years form now.  Why?  Because what arrived on launch day was *not* what everyone had hoped.   To put it mildly, the system was buggy, overbridge wasn’t even implemented and there were a number of issues with the MIDI track.   Oh and, yeah, they didn’t bother to build in a song mode.

Yeah.. Read that again NO SONG MODE.

So…lets get this straight.  They made a great sequencer with great external control that can’t be used to chain those patterns into songs?




Of all the decisions Ive seen developers make, this is the most blisteringly stupid.   A drum machine with out a song mode?  Ok, that’s fine for a Roland TR reissue or maybe some machine trying to emulate an analog workflow…but this was positioning itself as competition for an MPC, and an MPC IS ALL ABOUT MAKING SONGS!!!

I love Elektron..but I will never understand their decision making process.

Back to the question at hand.  Do I keep it?   The answer is…maybe.   Even without song mode, the thing is really, really good : As simple to use as my EMX 1, but with a better sound and a lot of cool slick tricks.   I haven’t sampled with it, but loading samples in was cake (the +drive is Elektron’s best idea ever) and because of that, I’ve got a huge library of sound that’s a button push away from being in a track.  Slaved to the input of the Octatrak, it’s a great sound source.  All of that plus Elektron’s history of great software updates makes me want to hold on to it for a while and just see what develops.  Maybe even it will get a song mode…




Decisions: Can’t keep them all (Part 2)(Synthstrom Audio Deluge)

(I buy to many drum machines / groove boxes.   I’m in love with the concept.  I need to get rid of some.  Lets think out loud to figure out which).

Synthstrom Audio Deluge

In a technical sense, I have not yet bought the Deluge.   I have it on loan from Atomic Shadow on a try-to-buy deal.  As such, I’ve got the least level of experience with it of any of the gear I am presenting here.  These opinions may change radically as I use it, as my opinions on gear often evolve.

When I first heard of the Deluge, I was intrigued by its concept (of course).   Its a sampler, synthesizer and sequencer all in one box that runs on batteries.   Its from a new company, crowed funded, and is an example of the good things that can happen when developers work very closely with their customers.    The unit is in very active development from the manufacturer and new operating systems with bug and features additions are being released regularly.  There is a very active Facebook group dedicated to the product where you can ask questions and get good support.  They also are on twitter, which is where I’ve had a few of my angry rants quite calmly addressed.

This Is all very good because the written manual, frankly, sucks.   Its written in a very conversational sort of way but seems to take for granted that you already know how to use the device.   They don’t publish it as PDF but rather a google doc and forgo having an index because you can just ‘ctrl f’.   This all sounds very good and clever, but in practice its terrible for finding what you want.  They excuse this by putting out training videos you can watch on YouTube.   Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I HATE this.   When I’m working with a piece of hardware, I generally DON’T have my computer screen where I can be staring at it.   Also, the videos aren’t redone every time functionality or features change, so you often stumble across outdated information.   This has created a greater learning curve for the device than I think it deserves (I have started taking notes on all the functions with the intention of creating my own ‘quick start’ guide.  I’ll post it up here when it’s done).

All of that said, I still the deluge is pretty awesome.   With it’s 8×16 grid, it is very easy to get a multitrack pattern going.  Because of it’s lack of a display, I have not done any sampling on it, but loading samples in is easy enough and once you do great things can happen.   I could seriously see this as the bedrock background machine for a live set.  As a test, I loaded the stems to one of my new tracks onto it and I was up and running with simple backing tracks within a few minutes.   No laptop required!

If I could fault it in anyway, I’d say the display is my only complaint.  Yes, I get that all those buttons mean you don’t need to display so much, but a proper OLED would have given it so much more potential with regard to sample editing and other utilities.  As is, it’s like learning a new language with all the indicator lights being used to inform you of state.  Hopefully, some day there will be a Rev II.

Another area of disappointment are the FX.  They aren’t bad, but they aren’t very good either.   It would be nice to be able to have FX blocks you could select and edit like you can on the Octatrack or MPC.  This is particularly important because the Deluge only has one stereo output.   That is, more than anything, a problem for a unit of this type.  Moving work done on it into the DAW for mixing is going to be….laborious.

I guess the final question is if I will buy it.  I am 90% sure that I will.   I think it’s workflow will be very welcome along side the Analogue Keys and Octatrack.   Its small and light which makes it ideal for live use ( and battery powered!).  Once I get past this learning curve, I expect years of productivity out of it.


Ableton Live 10

Hmm…should I bother?

Nope. I think I’ll skip this one. I don’t really use Live much anymore except in specific instances. Those use cases are covered in Live 9.

I have no use for the Max integration. I should probably just export my stems and sell the license. That’s more work than I care for right now.

What do you think? Live 10 worth it?

Decisions: Can’t keep them all (Part 1)(Elektron Octatrack MkI)

I have a tough decision to make in my studio.   I went and did what I always seem to do and overbought on drum machines/samplers.   I have an absolute weakness for these machines, and there have been some NICE machines released recently. Unfortunately, though, this is just too much to have…particularly for someone who’s mainly using software in his workflow these days.   All that and I just don’t have the desk space…so something has to go.

Its a messy work space.

In no particular order, let’s look at each device and what it has to offer.    I’ll break this up over a few posts over the next few days, so if you’re interested in my take on any of the pictured gear, check back in a few days.

Farewell old friend?

I’ve had the Octatrack a LONG time…almost since it was first released.  With the release of the MKII, I’ve not even thought of upgrading.  Why?  Because they didn’t really upgrade it.   It’s got a new coat of paint and a little bit better button layout…but I’m happy with the current unit.

Old, but reliable.

The Octatrack has hung around specifically because it does a lot of things very well.  It does require a certain level of thinking, though, and planning.    In my use, it’s been much better an FX processor / sound looper than it would ever be a drum machine (though, admittedly, I’ve not used it for that much).   Its MIDI sequencing is pretty powerful, though, and I did try once to have it control a bunch of external MIDI synths.   That was…..OK.  I didn’t honestly like the experience much.   Maybe if it had a keyboard connected…

I don’t think I’d get rid of the Octatrack unless I replaced it with a MKII.   It’s made a great simple mixer for live sets and provides FX processing for other gear (which is, actually, my main use for it).   It’s about as close to a DJ Mixer as I think I’d ever get.    Also, familiarity makes it hard to part with.  I *know* what it does and how it works and how I use it.   That counts for something.




Elektron Analog Keys

I got Analog Keys in trade for my V-Synth GT plus some cash. Kind of did it knowing I could always flip the AKeys for a good value.  But, now that I’ve played with it a bit, I think I’ll keep it for a bit.

Having the keyboard attached makes all the difference. And the layout of the controls makes a lot of sense. My only wish, really, were that the display would be larger and that there were a more sophisticated synthesizer engine (if only it had the LFO designer from the Octatrack…). My other grip is the Elektron 4-bar pattern limitation. Conditional triggers help with this a little…but sometimes I like to develop things over an 8 or 16 bar pattern. There are ways to get that, since for my style of music 8th notes is usually sufficient resolution, but still…I’d rather not have the hacks.
All in all, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not integrated with the rig, but I already have a piece that I started writing on it. I haven’t decided which to move next it first: MPC, DIgitact, Octatrack or the Deluge. All of them would have an interesting place next to it. l’ll detail that decision in a post later today.
I really can’t emphasize enough how much I love the control and button layout.   Having the track selection and mutes on the left with the editing controls on the right is *perfect* for playing (unless you’re left handed…then you may hate it).  The modulation stick is nice, though I wish it wasn’t spring loaded in all directions, though I guess for that kind of modulation there is the performance macros.
Basically, everything about this instrument just makes more sense in this format than the desktop brick format I had before.  She may be a keeper (well, at least until the MKII gets released…if that ever does happen).

Because I’m stupid…

I was at best buy and they had an open box Mac ‘Magic’ keyboard for $89…so I bought it.  Because, yeah…I’m stupid.   Also because I’d spilled soda on the old one and a few of the keys were sticky (also displaying my ‘stupid’).

Truth be told, the keyboard was one of the things I *despised* about my mac computers.   Both the laptop and the desktop felt very…squeezed.  This is much, much better.   And having number keys?  Wow…so fancy…

This blog post is the first (of hopefully many) to be written on this keyboard.

And, truly is ‘magical’.


Logic and Other thoughts

I am sick of blog posts starting with “It’s been a while and I’m sorry”. There are like, 4 of you that read this. I’m not fucking sorry at all.

Anyway, it’s been busy around camp NoiseTheorem. A lot of mundane house activities with a little studio time. Trying to get back into it, but my muse has been eluding me lately.

Speaking of my muse, it’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. Seen her in my dreams. There are many ways to interpret this, but I see it as her taunting me. She’s so close, I can almost smell her, but really…your muse doesn’t give a fuck about you and your productivity. It will come when it pleases and you just have to live with it.

Well, that got dark and angry really fast. Typical me, typical me…

I’ve started evaluating my studio again for some reorganizing. I’ve meant to write up the DeepMind12 for so long now that I think everyone’s forgotten about it and moved on. I’ll short that conversation by saying that I love it, but it’s literally nothing I can’t do with my Virus…or my Kronos…or my V-Synth. Yeah, it’s true analog, and I love that you can absolutely *nail* a Roland Juno 106 impression out of it, but that’s also a synth that I played out in 1994. That said, I do love recreating my old 106 patches and then taking them further by adding dynamic expression and FX. Kinda reminds me a little bit of the Alesis Andromeda, actually. Now if they could just go back and put a second filter and a few more LFO’s on there, I’d be happy as a pig in shit. As it is, this one’s probably going on the stack of ‘occasional use’ instruments, and not going to be my synthesis workhorse.

I got a modded minibrute in a trade. Anyone want to buy/trade for my minibrute? I don’t know why..I love the sound, but I can’t see myself really using it that much. I’d like it modded into a full eurorack module or parted out into a series of them. That would be cool if someone wants to try..

The new novation stuff looks really awesome. I want the Peak, but it would probably just end up being like the DM12. I don’t really need it, so why go through the hassle of having it?

I also got back on the Logic Audio bandwagon. That one deserves a full post, and I’ll write that later. In 7 or 8 months. when no one cares.

Studio Diary – 2016-11-27

Not much to report from this weekend. I had very little time in the studio. Friday was Pigface 25th anniversary, and I got home…the next day. Spent that day largely recovering.

Sunday, a friend bought a Yamaha REFACE CS…whatever…over. I don’t know the model number. It’s a fun little synth. I hate, hate, hate minikeys and nothing will ever change that. For what it is, it was pretty cool. If it were $100, I’d consider one.

I wish Yamaha would bundle all their REFACE boxes into a single, awesome synthesis workstation with a great interface and digital connectivity beyond USB. I think that’s about as likely to happen as an asteroid landing on Donald Trump. Oh well.

Tonight, I’ve got some dedicated studio time. I’ve got a nice drone patch on the Virus TI that I’d like to record some source material with. I’ll post it up if I think it stands on it’s own.