Casual, minimal live jam tactics

Since getting home from my sabbatical, I’ve been working on my live set a lot. I feel like I have all the technical pieces I need – to play the live set I’ve always dreamed of.

At Catalyst, I was travelling, and was “improvising” with a couple of small portable controllers that I brought on the trip.

  • A Traktor Kontrol F1 – 4x channels, each with a fader and a knob (and a few buttons).
  • A Korg nanoKontrol (the original version!) – 9x channels, each with a fader, a knob, and 2 buttons.

Since getting home, I switched over to a Novation combo: a LaunchPad Mk2 and a LaunchControl XL. These are actually very portable too. But much more powerful!

I use the LaunchPad as a clip launcher, as Lord Ableton intended, with the hugely complex and powerful DrivenByMoss Bitwig extension.

My secret sauce

The LaunchControl is more custom, and is my secret live-set sauce.

The classic use case for this kind of controller is to emulate the many low-value controls on a classic, uninspired, hardware mixing desk:

  • Fader
  • Pan
  • Aux send A level
  • Aux send B level
  • Record enable
  • Mute or solo

This setup is easy for pro musicians to understand, but supremely dull from a live performance point of view.

To perform live I want to tweak filters, synth params, envelope params. So what I’ve always wanted is a controller with lots of knobs, and the ability to map those knobs to fun synth params, or macro controls that affect multiple sonic parameters.

Bitwig 5.0 is designed with exactly this in mind! Each channel has a dedicated performance parameters section, and these can be shown on the mixer panel. Exactly the kind of knobs you want to fiddle live – and I’m happy to swap out things like pan for these macro controls!

So I built a very basic custom extension to auto-map each channel’s first three macro params to the LaunchControl knobs.

What does it do?

This is really flexible. I can map those macro controls to anything I want, using Bitwig’s ridiculously expansive and flexible modulation system.

So instead of pans and sends, I have filter cutoff, envelope decay, etc – whatever’s best for that instrument on that channel. (I could of course map it to pan if I want.)

I still like sends, so I’ve used the channel buttons as a momentary send “stab” – when held, the channel is routed 100% to that send.

Let’s hear it then!

Since getting home, I’ve also been sketching out a lot more minimal beats – trying to reduce to the minimum, but layering up enough elements to get some funk and bounce.

Here’s a jam I recorded with four recent unreleased tunes, blending elements into a minimal twenty-minute techno groove.

I’m trying strike a balance between sonic interest and keeping a consistent, minimal groove. I’ve struggled with this in the past. It’s hard to focus on space and simplicity, and focus on what would work in a huge warehouse with a massive system … when you are in a little room, by yourself. I’m always tempted to add more, and move faster.

If you like the sound of that, keep an eye on my YouTube for more live jams.