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Live improv vs pre-made ideas balance?
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Play Out! Performance Modulars Goto page 1, 2  Next [all]
Author Live improv vs pre-made ideas balance?
AW198
So I may be playing a live set at a show for the first time ever in a month or so, and naturally my mind has been racing about how it'll go, whether I need to bring things like lighting/audio interface or whatever...

The main question I have is about how much of it should be improvised. I tend to not perform much (only school concerts and the like in the past), and modular is definitely another kettle of fish to piano or guitar. Having read through a lot of posts here, I've come to the conclusion that improv is much more interesting than bringing a pre-patched setup and pressing 'go'.

HOWEVER, this is my setup: https://www.modulargrid.net/e/racks/view/561390
My music tends to be based on melodic sequences, and I like to have many, with slight variations in notes, and then switch between them. On Mother 32s, you can't create sequences while another sequence is playing, and the keyboard is not playable enough to use it live (imo).

So how much preparing do you guys think is ok to keep the set interesting enough while not too repetitive or broken up by me trying to quickly program another sequence?

I'm considering getting a mini keyboard for live playing so that I'm not just pressing 'go' on pre-made sequences and then wiggling the Cutoff knob now and then, but I'd rather not if possible as money is tight at the moment.
Steevio
So much depends on what kind of music you make, what kind of environment you are playing it in and how much and what equipment you have.

There's a big difference between playing an ambient / drone set to a bunch of people sitting on the floor in a chillout and 500 people dancing to techno in a club.
I do the latter mostly, and have two set-ups, one a hybrid /semi-improvised rig and another 100% totally improvised analogue with nothing saved, I dont even have any modules I can save anything in, so I have to make everything including sequences up on the spot.
I always prefer to use the full improvised rig whenever I can but I have to have a big set-up to be able to have enough possibilities to keep a dancefloor engaged for 60+ minutes.
For this to work I need lots of modules which make it easy to have as many routings as possible without major re-patching, in other words, matrix mixers, switched mulitples, precision adders, switch matrices, VC switches etc.. and I have to practice for months before a bunch of gigs, so that I'm totally at ease with my instrument and in full command of everything.

I would say that if you really want to improvise, and you're performing in a dance environment, work towards it gradually by building your rig as an improvisational instrument as you go along. There's nothing wrong with having preset sequences etc.. if you are limited to that by your kit... but total freedom is the long game and could take years to achieve.

if you're making ambient music, its going to be a lot easier to fully improvise and with much less gear.
lisa
As a spectator I wouldn’t care about any of that. I’d want the music to be interesting and/or good. I guess you’ll have to ask yourself if you can create something worthwhile on the fly. smile

Before I got my modular I had ready made patterns that I used as a starting point for my performances. If I’d do live gigs with the modular I’d probably go for something like what mylarmelodies showed off in several videos, a pre-patched improv setup.
digitalohm
AW198 wrote:

So how much preparing do you guys think is ok to keep the set interesting enough while not too repetitive or broken up by me trying to quickly program another sequence?


personally I enjoy live patching more than pre made patches, maybe something about how it all starts empty and transforms into something rhythmic or melodic and knowing that it was created on the spot.

For an upcoming noise show I'll have some scales set in rene, states/banks in tempi, preset voltages in pressure points, and some reels for the morphagene. all of my sequencer modules are in a 3U skiff so anything between then will be pre-patched, from there ill live patch to rest of the system. It's not as dynamic as creating the whole thing on the spot, I'll have a general idea of what parts are going to happen.

hopefully ill have stepped through the ideas a couple times so I know where I'm going, but depending on the mood the artist playing before me sets I'll adjust accordingly.

of course it is a noise show...so if all else fails ill just send noise through a filter and overdrive it....
Steevio
lisa wrote:
As a spectator I wouldn’t care about any of that. I’d want the music to be interesting and/or good.


Surely that goes without saying, thats the basic starting point. It has to be interesting and good.

Some people obviously dont really care about what you're doing, but others do care and are really interested. If you're going to bother taking live equipment to a gig then I think its important that you're doing something with it that is visually interesting, or you may as well play your music off a USB stick.
If you go to see a live band, you want to see them play their instruments, its why you went to see them play live.
Live improvised performance is a dying artform, its too easy just to play it safe with the technology we have now.
mzero
Very interesting question.... I am new to Eurorack, but I'm a performing/improvising musician (guitar) and my main interest in eurorack is for live playing and improvising... Started out as an idea for creating textures and rhythms so I could play melodies (especially Ornette Coleman melodies) and improvise over top... BUT I have really fallen in love with Eurorack and am slowly building my own vocabulary, learning to understand where my imagination wants to take the music with the modular...

So I have been thinking about this question... While I am musically more akin to Robert AA Lowe, I LOVE Steevio, and it was fascinating to watch his demo video for his piece Primes... I have learned a great deal from watching his music on youtube (not to mention I've been moved and thoroughly enjoy his music)... I really am drawn to the cross-polination of rhythms and the composite polyrhythms that emerge, and Steevio is a master improviser....

It seems like you really have to know your rig, so if you back yourself into a corner that is not working, you can evolve the music in a different direction... We are after that transcendent moment--flow--but great improvisers don't always get there (not least because great improvisors are pushing the envelope and not playing it safe)... So many musicians keep within their comfort zone, and in my experience its difficult to connect to that flow state if you are not on the edge of your comfort level, pushing that edge, and at times beyond...

In my life as a guitarist and percussionist, a huge part of improv in the Jazz context and in the free context is trusting yourself... You will fall, but if you trust, then you can pick yourself back up... My experience is that what audiences want is passion, commitment and authenticity... If you bring passion and authenticity to a show, and commit totally to your audience, I think you can't go wrong...

There is a great quote in the new Wire magazine... Its by the UK saxophonist Lou Gare: [...] improvising was not a matter of playing what you want. Rather, it was what the music wants that counts, but if you play what the music wants, you discover this is what you want afterall."

In that sense its likely we each have to decide what is important in order to bring that authenticity to a show... But I do think that if you want to improvise, the extent to which you build a net for yourself changes where you can take the music...

I'm not ready to perform with modular yet because I don't know my system well enough, and keep moving things around as I learn how I work.... But I can't wait to play for an audience, really... When I started this journey I thought I would have the option of sequences I could load if things weren't working, sort of a log of saved things I like to draw on (I can save 10 presets with my sequencers)... But I am finding more and more that the most beautiful moments are the unexpected ones, and that's what I want to share with others... Coltrane toward the end of his life was doing epic improvisations that could last an hour or more, searching for the hidden moments that only emerge with chance and commitment... That's my model, Steevio is my model...

***** Holy Moly, I just wrote all this, and then looked up at the cat in the last post for a second and realized the post was by Steevio!!!!! I'm very humbled, and thought to delete my post... But after some brooding decided to Submit! I'm just improvising here anyway....
lisa
Steevio wrote:
Surely that goes without saying, thats the basic starting point. It has to be interesting and good.

Well, no. To many modular performers it seems to be more about what is interesting to them than to the spectators. Also, many seem to think that improvisation makes a performance interesting full stop, I totally disagree with that.

As a spectator I don’t go to gigs to actually see the bands play their instruments. I want to hear great music, however it comes about. And sure, if you have a gig at a modular meetup or something like that, people will be more interested in your gear and your methods than your music. But that’s mainly a bit sad imo.
AW198
Thanks for the detailed responses guys!
So far from what I've read I think I'll be starting with premade sequences, and some prepatching of modules to outputs so that I have the voices ready to improvise with, and then go from there however I feel the music and energy in the room pulls me.

Steevio wrote:
So much depends on what kind of music you make, what kind of environment you are playing it in and how much and what equipment you have.

It'll be an ambient set, but not the '60-minutes-of-clouds-and-808s' type. More like a melodic set, but very moody and atmospheric. I use an Eventide Space and Timefactor to help my modest setup achieve this.

I honestly know nothing at the moment about what the environment will be. I will ask when the show organisers have more answers, but for the moment I'm thinking I'll bring some LED strips with me, since a dark room with multicoloured LEDs is a quick way to get atmospheric!

My setup most certainly is not built for performance - it was originally to be used just as a monosynth in my studio, but I quickly found it fun to create self-generating ambient patches and the like. Personally, I quite like the idea of having a small setup (not just saying that because I can't afford more, honest hihi ) because it pushes me to be more creative, and my ego likes people saying 'wow, you did all that with only that much?'! The modules always end up linked with each other in a lovely way that I know wouldn't happen if I had a wall at my disposal, or even a 12U travelling case. Having said all that, there's a line at which you can't do much improv performing with your setup and I think I'm nearer that line than I'd like to admit.

Steevio wrote:
For this to work I need lots of modules which make it easy to have as many routings as possible without major re-patching, in other words, matrix mixers, switched mulitples, precision adders, switch matrices, VC switches etc.. and I have to practice for months before a bunch of gigs, so that I'm totally at ease with my instrument and in full command of everything.

However my set goes, I'm going to take this advice to heart and perhaps build another small case of performance modules like you've listed. Repatching scares me due to how many times I've got crackles and glitches as I patch a cable in - I don't want that live.

lisa wrote:
And sure, if you have a gig at a modular meetup or something like that, people will be more interested in your gear and your methods than your music.


I feel like this may be the crowd, but that just makes it more of a challenge to make them appreciate the music, because it's certainly the music that I think is more important!

lisa wrote:
Also, many seem to think that improvisation makes a performance interesting full stop, I totally disagree with that.


I've not seen anyone else actually say this, despite it being on my mind. Do you mean entirely improv, with no idea where you're going, or does this also include having a rough plan of mood/genre/patterns/voices and then improvising around that, in your opinion?

mzero wrote:
I LOVE Steevio

mzero wrote:
I just wrote all this, and then looked up at the cat in the last post for a second and realized the post was by Steevio!!!!!


Steevio, get this man an autograph! Mr. Green
Steevio
lisa wrote:

Well, no. To many modular performers it seems to be more about what is interesting to them than to the spectators. Also, many seem to think that improvisation makes a performance interesting full stop, I totally disagree with that.


This is just a sweeping generalisation based on your own experiences, not taking into account that we all come from different countries and scenes etc.. and assuming everyone in the modular scene is like the people you know personally.

I dont think that improvisation makes a performance interesting full stop, no way, but there are alot of people interested in improvisation in electronic music, and want to promote it, infact I run an electronic music festival that has at the heart of its booking policy 'as much live improvised music as possible'.

I also get booked for gigs and make a living on the strength of my improvisational performances, thats why promoters book me, and these are techno clubs, we arent talking modular meets.
Its a popular misconception that only a handful of nerds are into this stuff, and nobody cares what you do on stage.... in my experience.
Steevio
mzero wrote:

In my life as a guitarist and percussionist, a huge part of improv in the Jazz context and in the free context is trusting yourself... You will fall, but if you trust, then you can pick yourself back up... My experience is that what audiences want is passion, commitment and authenticity... If you bring passion and authenticity to a show, and commit totally to your audience, I think you can't go wrong...


Very astute words. I couldnt have summed it up better.. I was also originally a drummer, and guitarist (rock not jazz) and the one thing I missed when I switched to electronic music was the adrenalin and energy on stage from knowing that you had to perform, there was nothing to fall back on, its was all down to your musicanship. So as soon as I could introduce the ability to improvise I did, and have been building my system with that in mind for many years.

(thanks for the kind words bro by the way smile
Steevio
AW198 wrote:
Repatching scares me due to how many times I've got crackles and glitches as I patch a cable in - I don't want that live.


yeah thats going to ruin an ambient set. The only problem with the switch / matices idea is that it can take up a lot of room in your case, (and money)

Ive just built a 6U Modulation matrix case. It has everything in it to do modulation duties, LFOs, clock dividers, trigger delays, Quad ADSRs, offset generators and an 8 x 8 switch matrix. So I can send any modulation or combination of modulations to anywhere in my rig. Its actually revolutionised my ability to keep things happening through my sets, its become like my main control panel. I can even control the direction and step length of my sequencers using ADSRs from there.
AW198
Steevio wrote:
Ive just built a 6U Modulation matrix case. It has everything in it to do modulation duties, LFOs, clock dividers, trigger delays, Quad ADSRs, offset generators and an 8 x 8 switch matrix. So I can send any modulation or combination of modulations to anywhere in my rig. Its actually revolutionised my ability to keep things happening through my sets, its become like my main control panel. I can even control the direction and step length of my sequencers using ADSRs from there.


Could you post a modgrid link? That sounds exactly like the type of thing I'll be hoping to build over the years
Steevio
AW198 wrote:


Could you post a modgrid link? That sounds exactly like the type of thing I'll be hoping to build over the years


This would be way too elaborate for a small rig, its effectively an extension of my 36U live rig. Its connected by RJ45 multicores from the A180-9s. Its also a big investment money wise.. It wouldnt be difficult to build a trimmed down simpler version of this, the most expensive part is the Hinton Switchmix.

AW198
Thanks for sharing, I always enjoy seeing other wigglers' cases when I know what their function is, it's an interesting insight.
mzero
As an improvisor, or any artist, I think your job is to get out of the way.... The GREAT improvisor Fred Frith said it starts and ends with listening...

That's what I try to do when I perform... I try to pay attention as deeply as I can to what the music is saying, even playing solo, and allow it to sort of become what it wants to become to the best of my ability....

But man is Steevio right, there are so many different kinds of music, and venues, and audiences... What works in one realm may not work at all in another... My musical life started with pretty traditional Jazz, then I spent a decade in NYC doing free music.... But even with totally free music I tried to think compositionally, with a theme... I am interested in more abstract, ambient, music with the modular, but rooted very much in polyrhythms... Will be interesting to see where it goes….

This thread is very interesting for me too because I have been doing a lot of re-patching as I explore my modular instrument, often starting from scratch, but I've been thinking about performing due to this thread, and I realized today that I am quite attracted to having some basic functionality patched in when I go to play live... I also like to work with intervals, especially 3rds, 6ths, 7ths and 9ths, so it would make a lot of sense to have some of those intervallic sequences in the memory of my sequencers so I don't have to fiddle with setting them up while people are waiting/watching!! I was working on something the other day, a version of Monk's Misterioso, which is a series of 6th intervals, and it would be pretty terrible for an audience to wait while I got that happening…

I DO feel a tremendous responsibility to my audience... For me the reason to do music at all is to play for people, and in fact part of the reason I got into modular is for the visual element while playing solo... I completely agree with Steevio that a performance should be visually interesting…

Have enjoyed reading the posts herein because its really opening me to new possibilities, new ways of thinking….
lisa
Steevio wrote:
This is just a sweeping generalisation based on your own experiences

Surely that goes without saying? I guess that what you're stating is based on peer reviewed quantitative research published in The Modular Review. wink

Well, I know about you Steevio and I know that you have a lot of experience in this field. I have quite some experience myself and not only from "people [I] know personally" but surely nowhere near yours. I'm also sure that many of your points are valid, even if I disagree with some of them. I'll leave you to dishing out your excellent technical advises in this thread, without further interruption.
AW198
lisa wrote:
I'm also sure that many of your points are valid, even if I disagree with some of them. I'll leave you to dishing out your excellent technical advises in this thread, without further interruption.


People like you give me the confidence to post on threads!
Steevio
lisa wrote:
I'm also sure that many of your points are valid, even if I disagree with some of them.


Of course it's normal to disagree, life would be boring if we all agreed all the time.
I'm only really pointing out that there are clubs, festivals, parties where people do care about artists playing live, and really appreciate it, even if they arent the places you go to personally so maybe you havent experienced them. I played at Bloc festival in the UK and the Weather Festival in Paris on stages that were 100% modular, and live, and at Bloc found it difficult to leave at the end of the night due to the number of people who were asking questions about the live set-ups there. In the UK at least there is great interest in live electronic performance, I just think its worth pointing this out.
Steevio
mzero wrote:
I also like to work with intervals, especially 3rds, 6ths, 7ths and 9ths, so it would make a lot of sense to have some of those intervallic sequences in the memory of my sequencers so I don't have to fiddle with setting them up while people are waiting/watching!! I was working on something the other day, a version of Monk's Misterioso, which is a series of 6th intervals, and it would be pretty terrible for an audience to wait while I got that happening…



maybe you need one of these. I just got one recently and its fantastic, you can make up any scales you want including microtonally. Its also really nice working with just intonation, and harmonic scales instead of 12Tet, and you can do it on screen which is really clear and detailed.



you can find out about it in the Tubbutec subforum on here.
mzero
Here is my instrument... really 100% designed to be a playable live instrument... with the ability to have up to 16 or 20 (can't remember at the moment) saved sequences on the Seeks, and the Seeks also have random modes, and the ability to change things on the fly... but you can also reload a sequence that is in memory, so you can return to a set point....

Everything was designed to have a number of flexible voices (2 Mangroves, Noise Engineering LI, Rings, Chimera, Noise Engineering BIA, and Morphagene)... Three sequencers (two Seeks and a Brains with PP) and a Zularic repeater so I can separate CV and gates if I want to... A way to constrain melody and harmony (Arpitecht and Triad)... The means for random (Wogglebug) and various ways of acting on the signals (routing and modulations utilities)

The PP seem an essential part of the live instrument.... When improvising they give you the ability to really do some cool things on the fly, and if they don't work out, you can just try something else...

Its definitely not perfect, and there are some things I REALLY wanted that don't fit.... Seems almost like a game of tetris, though everything is square/rectangle... A lot fun to build over the last six months or so, but even more fun to use... Can't wait to play live with it!!

We'll see where all this goes! This started as something that I wanted to do live WITH my guitar playing, but I have not been playing much guitar lately... Really must return to that... As Steevio mentioned, there is something about having a guitar in your hands, the way your hands and mind are responsible for the audience's experience... Will be interesting to see how it feels different to play the eurorack gear live....

BananaPlug
Interesting topic. Premeditated/improvised but also the range of preferences and the varied solutions. For a year or so I've been paring things down to make a nimble setup designed for improvising. Massive generative patches can be replaced by people!

edit: it’s been more than a year and the rig has changed but the rest is more or less right
The rig I'm using (about a 30" x 18" footprint) is a short row of euro, 16fu of compact frac modules, two pedals, a ribbon controller and a small piezo percussion gadget. The patches are revised sparingly and currently provide five sound sources:
1 A source of drones, bug noises, outer space, more.
2 Ribbon patch for soloing (slowly building skill). This can double as a drone.
3 Fairly basic "beat" patch (synth building blocks pretending to be drums).
4 Piezo amplified metallic stuff (boink, tink, scratch).
5 Simple filtered noise with an LFO.

No presets, very analog sounds, mono, more effects than you might expect. Some sources must be played by hand, in the moment. Some can run continuously but to stave off boredom you must introduce changes. There are a number of clock and LFO signals kind of miraculously (Modbox) coordinated from one master clock.

Fairly regularly I get together with a horn player, violinist and sometimes a percussionist and we make things up. On one level I'm listening and responding to the musical elements and on another level I think in terms of sound design.

Later in the year I may develop a separate "automated" system, with small sequencers, logic, random/chaotic, stuff, etc. Ideally it would be something a Subotnick fan would enjoy and the two systems would complement each other.
3hands
Great thread idea. The music I do is rather complex, and honestly, being able to pull it all off using simply a modular is never going to happen. So I run a hybrid system. I run an Akai DR4 HD recorder utilizing 3 tracks (left, centre, and right channels), that runs all my drums, basslines and samples. I then stripe the 4th channel with Timecode and lock an Arturia BSP to it which it turn runs my 9 unit modular. The modular is doing things like melody lines, arose, pads, and weird noises. It’s a system I feel works for me and is able to capture the vibe on my released work, into a live context, while actually being able to give the audience a show, as opposed to sitting back and pressing play. The nice thing about the DR4 is that I can edit on the fly, and change set lists around depending on the vibe of the crowd, can extend parts etc and the Akai is solid.
Dennis
i think balance is key and - very important if live performing - space!

im trying to stay in 6U for my live techno case but if its a bigger show im using another 6U on top of that, that means more modules. more possible functions and events to control.
having a little bit of help from a few logic and utility modules is very relieving
right now im deciding between a switched multiple or a sequential switch to make things happen... one is ''automatic'' the other is controlled by hand.... big hands.... tiny switches.... in a live show setting? confused

i think i will leave the ''not so important'' events to be triggered via logic and use my main 6U live and fluid without having to worry about forgetting something else

my main case houses 2 complex voices, Drums and the rest is dedicated on rhythm, timing, functions, sequencing and melody so i got
a whole 3U row for controlling and letting stuff happen.
ersatzplanet
I have always played in improvisational bands. We had rough sketches of "places" we would sometimes go to that felt a certain way, but were not note written or such. We had "scores" like - "start in industrial, then move to the forest. Sequences/loops in Cmaj, then into big city and end on the beach". These pieces would last a half our or 45 minutes or so. That was back when you couldn't afford enough equipment to do it all yourself, and we used lots of tape loops because samplers were way too expensive.

I started on my modular rig as a standard setup with lots of VCOs and sequencers and MIDI>CV converters to do more complicated things but my rig has now evolved to a much more stress-free setup for live. I have replace all but two VCOs with different wave players. I create a set of very complex evolving textures on the computer to on the modular, that work with each other, and then burn them to cards and play them on the modular. The modular now has over twice as many modifiers than it did before. These looping textures are never played unmodified. I can also have complex sets of different sequence lines to mix/fade/filter against each other in different ways. No worries about tuning problems too. I have a Tesseract Nutella module that is basically Ableton in a module and I could play a whole sone on it alone if I wanted to (or it can be a "safe" place to go to if there are problems). I now play effects and mixing and filters with live controller for a live show, and play lead or melody lines live on a Nord G2 (I sometime modify through it also). Wave players and granular modules have changed the way I play and use my rig. I have two Nebulae v2, a 4ms STS, ad the Nutella and dozen different filters, Efx and VCAs to mess with them. I also have a pair of Nebulae v1 and a pair of ADDAC101s I haven't sold yet that can be used if needed till I sell them (I know, a bit obsessive).
The Grump
Interesting points all around, and it's good to see diverse approaches, but there are also some other factors to be taken into account. Space was mentioned, but kind of glossed over. Steevio mentioned some things of import, especially if you've got some f***ing massive rig like he does, as well as a reputation and following who are into him just creating what he does live. But most of us are not like that. We don't have the travel budgets, the weight allowances, or the following that's going to be as forgiving. And yes, some folks can say "Well that's just a sweeping generalization.", but the fact is that some of the generalizations asserted here, are that: A GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE MAJORITY OF APPLICABLE SITUATIONS TO THE TOPIC. Other points raised are exceptions, and curiosities, but they don't mean that the views for the majority of those encountered can suddenly be simply discounted.

And really, yes it IS TRUE that the majority of audiences DO NOT GIVE A SINGLE F*** ABOUT HOW YOU MAKE YOUR MUSIC. They just want to hear something that isn't distracting while they take selfies with their friends, and someone can reassure them that the music they are listening to is cool.

Most of them don't understand what a modular is or why it's cool, but their friend told them it's amazing, so they're all about it.

Personally, in the past I've done both completely improvised, and almost completely pre-recorded parts that I mixed live, and now I'm going back to more improv and hardware in my live setup. I'm just bringing out a little skiff, and some boxes that I will not repatch live, I'll just use them as effectively as I can where they fit, and then make sure that I'm not spending an inordinate amount of time wanking on them, because that can happen REALLY QUICKLY on modular gear. You think you're doing something cool, you look up and the floor is totally dead except for a couple of craft-brew sipping neckbeards who are thoroughly impressed with your self-indulgent silliness.

If it's ambient, sure do whatever, but if you want to keep a dancefloor moving, there is no time for wankery. Mostly pre-done parts, some recombination, a little mangling, and a couple of synth tones getting tweaked a bit live is usually plenty for a dance set, especially if you have programmed solid drums with really good sound quality and some interesting percussion. Good basslines are a must, too.

"If the drums and bass dance together, the ladies come to the dancefloor, the fellas buy them drinks, and daddy brings home the bacon." -Mike Banks
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