Looking for input on setup

Hi all,

I need some advice from people who know more than I :slight_smile:

I have sporadically making electronic music for a number of years, up until relatively recently just by using a tracker of some sort (first FastTracker 2, then Madtracker 2 and later on Renoise). Everything was more or less sample based, I think most instruments came from an old Casio keyboard I had years ago.

A while ago I felt the tracker format kept me uncreative, especially when it came to fluidity in my arrangements; it was just too easy to copy my current pattern to a new one, add another track with, say, hi-hats, et cetera Ad nauseam. My songs became very static. So then I started making music in Ableton Live, using a few VST plugin synths, and this actually made my melodies and arrangements somewhat more varying and interesting. The problem was that my drum programming techniques, I guess, were very formed by my years using a tracker; I was using simple wav-files played at different notes and octaves, with a lot of retriggering craziness going on, and I couldn’t seem to get into that sort of programming with any DAW.

Parallel to this, I started discovering hardware synths, and I am now in possession of a Shruthi-1, Minibrute and PreenFM 2. I love what I get out of it, instant tweaking, that tactile feeling, and the lack of distraction from Internet in general. This is what I want to use to make music! However - how? How to sequence the stuff? Are there any hardware sequencers around which you can use to build complete songs with (i.e. not simple Monotronish sequencers). Any good samplers to use for drum programming? I have a Volca Beats, but have - thanks to that - realized that I (with a few exceptions) hate analogue drums :slight_smile: Basically, what I am looking for is a setup which is as simple as possible (so I can make music more or less instantly), with as much hardware as possible in order to keep me away from computers. That last thing may not be possible, actually the thought just struck me that perhaps I should just use Renoise to sequence all my synths. Oh, and I almost forgot - recording stuff! For the purpose of simplicity I feel tempted to just use my old tape recorder :slight_smile:

I have been searching the Internet for info on what might fulfill my needs (Octratrack, Cirklon, old Akai stuff, etc…) but I think I need some input from people who have more experience than me, and who have read the long, babbling text above, where I try to explain my needs :slight_smile:

If you want to sequence without a computer, you should consider a second-hand MPC (say MPC1000 with JJOS).

This will solve two of your problems:

  • Sample-based drums with lots of micro-editing options.
  • Sequencing external MIDI synths to build complete songs - with good MIDI features.

The Octatrack could be a solution too, but it’s much more expensive.

For recording, you can do it on tape for fun, or use a classic DAW like Logic or Reaper. DAWs are much less of an issue when you use them as dumb multitrack tape recorders (running in the background while you jam, and with superb edit capabilities when it’s time to build a song). Just resist the temptation to sequence/sync with hardware from them.

If you want to go full hardware, something like a zoom R16 (how can they make these things so cheap?) will allow you to capture away from the computer, and edit later. Not sure about the audio quality, though…

I’d also recommend a second-hand MPC1000 with JJ OS2XL. You’ll not only be able to use this for drums and loop, but also for chromatic (multi)sampled instruments. This means you can sample a nice string sound from your Shruthi and then use it to add a polyphonic part.

The Octatrack is cool, but might quickly take you back to what you didn’t like about the tracker format because it’s much more of a strictly pattern-based step-sequencing oriented machine. I also found it less approachable and intuitive than the other Elektron boxes (MD, A4, AR). In my opinion it’s a very nice box for (live) sampling and loop mangling, but it’s less ideal in the role of MIDI sequencing “heart” of your setup.

A downside of the MPC is that it might take you a bit of time to figure it out; you’ll first have to read the regular manual and then read the JJ OS2XL docs (which aren’t exactly very well-written). It can also be a bit hard to find tutorials and/or videos since a lot of material has a strong focus on “New York style” loop chopping.

However, with a bit of effort you’ll end up with a sequencer that you can use for “traditional” real-time recording, as well as pretty damn impressive step-seqencing variants, both for drums and chromatic parts. See for example:

http://youtu.be/qe74_bezrgc

Lets presume you have enough things that make noise and want something to record, arrange and sequence all your stuff. Be warned I’m the one who tends to have serious Gearocalypse™ and is probably a bit overequipped.

I recently had very pleasant experiences using a Behringer X32 Series together with the DAW of your like (Logic in my Case…. everything will do probably with the exception of LIVE) as total dumb Multitracker, syncslaved to the Hardware Sequencer or the other way round.

This way you can record to your DAW whatever you like in total sync to your Sequencer and double (triple, quadruple…… octamize) the Fun of having a Shruthi playing a Base Line without having the hassle to actually build 8 of them. Works like charm like in the Old days using a Reel to Reel but without the hassle of crosstalk, badly recorded sync tracks, auto locators gone wild and so on…. I really enjoyed the classic workflow i was missing badly.

The real fun starts when you playback 25 DAW tracks to the X32, have another 12 Live Channels and Mix them with all those handy Dynamics, EQ, FX and more than sophisticated Routing possibilities incorporating your fancy outboard gear, it even worked with a TubeScreamer Pedal in the AUX Out/Ins…. I guess I need one. Badly. Anyone in need of a good old MX-8000??

Please be warned that following @fcd72’s advice tends to mean you’ll end up spending a Huge Amount Of Money Indeed.

However, his story reminds me that JJ OS2XL actually adds support for “audio tracks” that allow you to do exactly this kind of multitracking inside the box. You can even bounce them to free up tracks and effects. See http://www7a.biglobe.ne.jp/~mpc1000/os2xl/audiotrack.htm

I want a Cirklon, but the fact you might need to wait 5 or so months for one and spend ÂŁ1200 is not an ideal solution for the short term.

I’m also in the same boat, an Octamed user and Bars & Pipes user who finds modern software way too complex. If you want to quickly edit some text then you probably wouldn’t use Microsoft Word. Finding that optimal workflow is difficult.

But a good tracker will export to MIDI (SMF) which you can then load into a bigger sequencer for additional tweaking.

The MIDIbox SEQ v4 is an incredible sequencer, and can be built pretty cheaply. Incredibly feature-rich and really enjoyable to use once you figure it out. No drums, but it sequences drums beautifully. Can’t recommend it enough.

http://www.ucapps.de/midibox_seq_manual.html

If only the midibox was more n00b-friendly…forums and info are not exactly welcoming…

A point could be made for the iPad as hardware-away-from a laptop? Lots of stuff you can do with it and it is quite literally hands-on.

As a recorder I use a Zoom H4n I had laying around.

^ MCP is definitely what you should try…
Maybe of you are more adventurous and dare to go back to trackers this could be something…
http://littlegptracker.com/
My best sequencing experience is with the LSDJ. But i normally work with Cubase since 4 tracks in 4 bit is a bit limiting sometimes.

You should also think of how what you would like as an input… Midikeys? Drumpad? Just numbers and a cursor? A mouse?

So many great answers, thank you everyone!

I think I’ll most likely will get an MPC and either buy a good audio interface (my beloved girlfriend had a MOTU Ultralite mk2 which she sold because she hated it) or a portastudio like the Zoom stuff. Or, perhaps, hmm, I remember now that we have a Zoom H2 lying around somewhere… :slight_smile: Really interesting video clip you posted, @t2k !

However, I must say I am tempted to check out the LGPT which @shiftr mentioned, since I actually have a PSP somewhere… Since I can’t play any instrument at all and have no sense of rythm whatsoever, I tend to use the mouse as my instrument, slowly and shaky inserting notes and beats. So, sequencers for live use and stuff like that - not that interested.

The setup @fcd72 mentions seem interesting, but I can’t afford it right now (if ever…).

Just a short comment to @6581punk mentioning modern software being too complex - I feel absolutely the same. There are different ways things can be complex; I have nothing against reading a thick manual for some advanced machine (in fact, I rather enjoy it, sometimes more than actually using the machine), but when something is complex just because it is messy, that is another story. Modern DAWs seem to want to be good at everything at the same time, adding more and more features and at the same time forgetting the original, more pure, theme that made the software interesting in the first place.

But, well, who am I to complain, a mere hobby musician, and not even that…

@t2k
Multitracking inside a MPC1000? Can you show me this??? You are on the same Continent as me, are you?

@thhmas
I can’t afford it either as long as my wife looks my way…. I’m badly missing a X32 :wink:
If you consider buying an Audio Interface please think about that the X32 series is also a 32 I/O Audio Interface. Compare the price of a X32 Producer to your favorite 22 In / 14 Out Interface…… man this thing is killing me :wink:

@6581punk
I had to wait 7 Months and every day was worthwhile. Ill sell it to you in a second as soon as Olivier decides to do a Sequencer :wink:

i see, the quest for a good hw-sequencer that is nowhere to be found (except THE sequencer, but it is far too expensive, and usually not available either).

+1 on the MPC1000. Probably the most serious sequencer available, and the JJ OS makes it a lot more useable. For me, it lacks a bit the fun factor, but it can certainly be the heart of a minimal setup. And, as said above, also covers drums and (albeit a bit more limited) recording.

Then there are some iPad sequencers to consider. There are a lot, also some good ones, and you can also record the midi output on an mpc (so using the iPad to generate/program sequences and the mpc to arrange them into songs). They are cheap (that is: if you have an iPad).

i also like the electribe series from korg, the emx-1 is a quite capable step sequencer, i find it more accessible to program than an mpc (also more limited, of course, but that is part of the design). Also the old m (the black one) can be fun, if you can get one for cheap. Might already be sufficient for a (very) minimal setup.

And i will look with some interest at the new electribes. The specs suggest they might be quite useful as sequencers (individual tracklength, skipping steps), in particular if this chaos pad stuff also acts on midi data. The sampler, again, takes care of drumsounds. We’ll see …

Then there are some more exotic solutions, the yamaha qy70 is sometimes available for cheap, but very fiddly to program, also old sequencer like the rm1x are sometimes available for cheap, but are fairly large and have some quirks.

> “I have a Volca Beats, but have – thanks to that – realized that I (…) hate analogue drums” --> you should not dismiss them too early. It’s like saying, you don’t like cars because you once had that Lada from 1982 and it was no good.

A few final comments:

Myself, I’ve stopped worrying about multitracking. I’ve found that trying to make things sound good using just a small mixer and recording directly to “two-track” helps me focus and keeps the process simple and direct. Right now I use an iPhone connected to a cheap Behringer USB interface for recording. A huge benefit of that setup for me is that I can quickly record ideas and work in progress and then listen to it with a fresh set of ears throughout the workday, making notes on things to change or improve in the evening. Your zoom H2 should be great for this as well.

Don’t give up on playing; you’ll improve with practice. If you get an MPC1000 (you really want either a 1000 or a 2500; JJOS adds some much improvements over the stock Akai firmware, it’s almost not funny), then you should definitely practice building beats using real-time recording. Just be sure to turn quantizing on and you’ll quickly find that you can create those micro-edited beats in real-time by changing the quantization and swing settings while recording.

“Multitracking inside a MPC1000?” --> http://www7a.biglobe.ne.jp/~mpc1000/os2xl/audiotrack.htm I think the larger versions (>mpc1000) even had it as default.

@fcd72 Take a look at the appropriate manual page of JJ OS2XL. You can only use mono samples and the total recording time is limited by ram, but otherwise it works perfectly fine.

"as soon as Olivier decides to do a Sequencer ;)" –> YES, the day that (unfortunately) never comes.

and I must disagree with a previous comment of Olivier that there is nothing new possible with sequencers and they are mostly bureaucratic programming, all that copy & paste, save, load stuff. The latter may be true (i don’t know), but i am not sure about the first: there are so many ways to go beyond the linear x0x type stuff. Sequencers like Rene and Metropolis made a big impact, and they were rather minor deviation from classic concepts (well, the one was mostly a classic concept, anyway …).
I don’t see why something like this wouldn’t also work in a midi multitrack environment. A (hardware) sequencer that one can actually play (unlike the MPC, even with JJ OS). A sequencer, or pattern generator, that sequences CV and notes, drums and synths, and is not stuck to repeating linear patterns over and over again.

“A (hardware) sequencer that one can actually play (unlike the MPC, even with JJ OS). A sequencer, or pattern generator, that sequences CV and notes, drums and synths, and is not stuck to repeating linear patterns over and over again.”

That, I would do :slight_smile:

But I don’t call that a sequencer.

“That, I would do :)” --> so there is hope! :smiley:

“But I don’t call that a sequencer” --> well, i would still consider it a sequencer in the sense that ultimately the user has control over what is played, it’s not generative music.

What you’re describing is not a sequencer, what you’re describing is an instrument. :slight_smile:

“what you’re describing is an instrument” - yes, maybe. :wink: But haven’t sequencers always also been instruments? They always influenced how and what you play (unless used as pure tape recorders). This holds for the early analogue step sequencers, all this tangerine dream early electronic, unthinkable without the sequencers (these specific sequencers). Then 303 lines, it wasn’t really this outstanding little synth that got the attention, was it? It was how it was programmed, the slides and accent.
Of course, with hindsight, you can create (almost) any sequence on (almost) any sequencer, but this is usually not how things get started. You can look at trackers, at the impact Ableton Live made when it first appeared (also a sequencer instrument, sort of).

So why shouldn’t something beyond midi tape recorders not also work as hardware. I know, probably difficult to beat software on price and features. But in modular many people seem to appreciate also new sequencer concepts, more hands-on, so why shouldn’t it also work for midi synths. And as the original poster said: instant tweaking, that tactile feeling, and the lack of distraction from software/internet in general.