Live electronic music performance is no longer a case of just hitting ‘play’ – here are some great tools to help…
Once upon a time, performing electronic music live was something of a task. Actually keeping a ‘live’ element was the main task, as was ensuring it wasn’t much more than Karaoke. The other problem was that performing with a computer often looked a lot like someone checking e-mails…
Thankfully, things changed dramatically, and now there are all manner of tools available that are perfect for live electronic music performance. Here are some of them…
This selection of products could only begin with one thing. Ableton Live has done more for live electronic music than anything else produced in the last twenty years. Its combination of incredible power, amazing flexibility and rock solid stability immediately made it a front-runner.
Ultimately, however, it was designed for live performance. Its unique session window allowed the user to fire audio clips from assigned cells with MIDI key-presses or even via a computer keyboard, enabling the performer to deconstruct tracks live, and remix them live. The current version allows MIDI data to be manipulated in the same way, provides vast effects and instrument libraries along with powerful audio to MIDI features. It still retains the flexibility and powerful control options, however…
Novation Launchpad Pro
The Launchpad Pro has become such a key part of live electronic music performance, it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t a key part of an Ableton rig. Essentially, this controller mirrors Ableton’s session window, with each button corresponding to a cell. LEDs indicated the cell status – whether anything is loaded, playing or stopped.
By arranging buttons in this way, and arranging clips into scenes, very complex performances can be put together and performed.
Ableton Push Instrument
It was, perhaps, only a matter of time before Ableton developed its own hardware device. Last year, it released the Push, and though it might bear a visual resemblance to other grid based devices, it has some very important differences (as the ‘Instrument’ name suggests…).
It still has a grid of 64 buttons, which mirrors the session window. However, these are velocity and pressure sensitive, and can be switched into a pitched MIDI entry mode. At its most simple, this can be employed to enter drum parts with remarkable expression and control. When using this with a pitched virtual instrument, the grid allows incredible melodic performance. Chords can simply be moved around the grid to change pitch, without changing their relative shape. Plus, parameters can be automated via aftertouch.
With parameter displays, rotary controls and more, this is truly was the king of Ableton controllers when it first came out, surpassed only by the Ableton Push 2, which includes a whole range of new and extremely useful features such as Live Intro perfect for new users who want to create beats, basslines, chords and synth-lines without even looking at their laptop.
Alesis V25 USB Controller Keyboard
Wherever there is electronic music, chances are there’s going to be some sort of Alesis product floating around or modestly holding the performance together completely. When it comes to home recording, DJ equipment and creating portable midi controllers, Alesis have consistently got it right.
The Alesis V25 USB controller keyboard features 25 velocity sensitive keys perfect for live performances, as well as an octave shift button. Never underestimate the importance of velocity keys when it comes to live performances – hit a drum harder and people will feel it, hit a note on a keyboard harder and the crowd feels that note too.
Alongside the usual pitch bend and modulation wheels Alesis have installed eight assignable trigger pads which also respond to pressure. Best of all, they’re all back-lit so onstage performance won’t be a problem.
This modestly sized controller offers good value for money, allowing producers and musicians alike to be able to create music easily and without too much fuss. A perfect addition to your live set up.
There are many more MIDI controllers, synths and more than can be listed here, that are great for adding control and performance to electronic music shows. As a starting point, the above are perfect however, and provide a very powerful base for all manner of live manipulation…
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.