Live techno set in Shenzhen, China [Video] + how I improvise

Live patching, designs, and techniques that push the performance envelope.

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Live techno set in Shenzhen, China [Video] + how I improvise

Post by bonjourmyfriends » Sun Mar 04, 2018 2:35 pm


This is my live set recorded at Oil Club in Shenzhen, China, two weekends ago. It's techno, on the more melodic side, and I'm using Eurorack, a Beatstep Pro, a Drumbrute and an Eventide Timefactor. Everything is completely improvised. The only things I start with from a saved state are a 4x4 kick drum on each blank drum pattern on the Drumbrute, and a couple 16th-note clocks coming from the Beatstep Pro. To prepare for a live gig, I tend to patch my synth and leave it that way for a couple months, with only minor changes to improve the sound or to make modulation more interesting. That way I can get used to playing it live to the point that when I hear a sound that needs to be changed, my hand kind of goes there automatically and does it by itself. I hardly ever move patch cables when playing live, but instead use matrix selectors and switches to re-route CV, gates and triggers.

- A Doepfer A-110-2 Basic VCO into a River Nucleus Filter provides the bass.
- A Doepfer A-110-4 Thru Zero FM VCO provides some FM sounds
- An Erica Black Wavetable VCO is the only non-traditional VCO.
- The Doepfer FM and Erica Wavetable VCOs each go to their own of two Animodule SOBs
- Each Animodule SOB has an onboard 2-channel mixer, wavefolder, filter and LPG CV input. That's three voices.
- A Doepfer A-143-4 being used as four VCOs is mixed variously with each of those above three voices, and finally that Doepfer module gets a voice of its own, with some combination of all of its square and triangle waves going into a Doepfer Wasp filter.
- Basimilus Iteritas Alter, two Erica Pico Drums and Radio Music provide some different sounds and samples, mostly on the percussion side, and are all mixed into an RYO Aperture LPG filter as the fifth and final modular sound source.
- An Arturia Drumbrute does drums (I usually put it through a tube overdrive, but didn't bring thatt to this gig)
- A Beatstep Pro does some clocks and sequencing.
(I'll discuss all this in much more detail below.)

This set is pretty close to a sound I've been trying to arrive at for a couple years. At the moment it's very "electronic". I would really like to get some more samples and organic sounds in there. Admittedly I didn't make enough use of the custom samples in my two Pico Drums and didn't touch the Radio Music at all during this set. When I previous did a different live set based around the MPC 1000, I'd have lots of melodic instruments consisting of sampled metallic and wood sounds, and other sounds from nature. Lately I have been using a Korg MicroSampler for those kinds of sounds. With it I can do pads, sustained sounds and playback timestretched drum loops or make new ones out of samples - lots of things I can't do in my eurorack setup. If the current set was missing anything, it was that, but unfortunately I was in a rush to meet friends at the bus to Shenzhen and couldn't fit the keyboard in my bag at the last minute without re-arranging everything I'd just packed for this gig. Live and learn.

Looking for some advice about where to go next:

I spent a year and a half building this, and after I played a couple shows I felt OK with, I started feeling like the modular was mostly "finished" and I stopped spending all my spare cash on circuit boards and electronics parts every month. I started buying modules less frequently, but every few months I would buy regular, completed modules from brands instead of DIY projects. This has included some Erica Synths Black Wavetable VCO, some Pico stuff, Z8000, WMD SSM. Most of this stuff far outshines what I've built, and now that I'm less concerned with building something cheap as quickly as possible, I'm looking for more modules that can replace my relatively simple builds or inexpensive Doepfer modules, even if they cost more. So what do I want to change?

I'm pretty content with my setup now, but at the same time, I built it in a very simple "east coast" way, for example, a module for each analog VCO, VCF, VCA, envelope, etc. This means that I have tons of tiny modules, and tons of tiny patch cables, and tiny knobs that I have to reach into tiny spaces between tiny cables to make tiny changes. I am pretty comfortable playing like this because it's all I've ever done, but at the same time I really want to invest in some modules that save space and reduce the number of cables between modules.

I haven't really paid much attention to the commercial modules. Getting the Noise Engineering BIA made me see how convenient it is for a single module to have envelope and VCA along with its sound source. At the same time most of the VCOs I have are vanilla oscillators, and the sculpting and effects come mostly from wavefolding, filters, and other pretty vanilla stuff. I don't have much in the way of effects or stretching out sounds, so I worry that audiences could get tired of my current synth sounds after too long. I'm mainly looking to change some of my sound sources in a way that has equal or less HP, more versatile sound possibilities, and that reduces the number of cables going to envelopes, VCAs or the other usual separate modules in a synth voice. Keep in mind I'm usually using almost all of a VCOs outputs (i.e. triangle, square, saw) patched into mixers or crossing over to different voices, so keep in mind that "upgrading" to a new VCO might reduce me from three waveforms to one, and I'd like to avoid that unless that one waveform is really, really worth it.

The gates/logic and sequencing sections of my setup seems all good, but feel free to make suggestions there too.
For Modulation I can't really beat the Octocontroller and Batumi Combo. I would replace or just ditch the Befaco Rampage as it's HP-to-usefulness ratio is just about the lowest of anything in this rack.
I would like to turn the TM's Voltages Expander into a pair of Volts expanders to save HP. Or maybe there's a better semi-random looped sequencer out there?


Some detail about how it all works

At the start of 2016, I had already spent two years trying to get a live set together. At first I played electric guitar and acoustic instruments into loop pedals along with my old Korg ESX1 sampler, then I got an MPC1000 and some synthesizers. Each time I played a live show with these instruments it felt too pre-planned and too much like repeating things I'd written at home. Even if I left lots of sequences blank for me to improvise on, the basis was always pre-made loops in a roughly pre-determined order. I couldn't adapt and play to the crowd's varying responses and energy levels like I could when DJing.

The goal became to make a synthesizer that I could improvise on for as long as I could stay standing. It had to be made as cheaply as possible, which meant getting out my soldering iron, ordering lots of different blank circuit boards, parts sourced from Mouser, learning PCB design software to have boards and front panels made even cheaper in China, converting my shower and dining table into a workbench, and a lot of hours spent seeking help from the MuffWiggler DIY forum.

(A couple months into starting)

The first module I built was the Music Thing Modular Turing Machine. It's still the basis of all the melodic sequencing in the rack. Along with the Voltages Expander, it provides three random sequences that can be looped, and its Pulses Expander is used to trigger forward more sequences from a Tip Top Audio Z8000 sequencer. Some combination of these sequencers is patched into a 4x4 matrix selector, the WMD Sequential Switch Matrix, through an ADDAC 207 four-part quantizer, then finally out to one of four voices, consisting mostly of Doepfer VCOs. With this setup I can quickly lock into new melodic sequences I like, use the WMD SSM module to instantly route them to different voices and sounds, as well as adding the CVs together by selecting multiple inputs to a single output, and finally saving those different sets of matrices/routing/summing and sequentially sequencing through them on the WMD SSM. After getting the initial loop from the Turing Machine, I'll use other sequencers or external instruments to build a track around that first loop. After building it up and stretching the sounds out for a few minutes, I'll then turn down the sounds, turn the Turing Machine knob a couple times, change the notes on the Quantizer and get a new sequence going.

For creating rhythms, I use Euclidean Circles in Gate Mode going into different logic modules, which are each patched into another 4x4 matrix selector, which again lets me quickly re-route the gates to the envelopes of the four synth voices, without moving patch cables around. A fifth voice is mostly percussion sounds going into a 2hp mixer and RYO Aperture LPG. For those several percussion modules to be triggered, it takes the four rhythms coming out of that 4x4 Barton Matrix through a Plog logic module, then through a sequential switch, which goes one-by-one out to a Basimilus Iteritas Alter, two Erica Pico Drums (one for drum samples and one for cymbals), a Radio Music, and a RYO Aperture LPG. Another Turing Machine I adapted into a 4hp panel controls the sequential switch via CV, letting you sequence the order that each percussion module gets triggered, or letting them be triggered in a random order.

Everything is clocked to a Beatstep Pro. The Beatstep Pro is not at all being used as it's advertised. I'm using drum triggers 1-8 as sources for various clocks, gates for the quantizer (to tell it when to change notes), and one drum trigger is multed out to every module that has a "Reset sequence" input, which lets me "play" every sequencer in the system with resets alone.

The Beatstep Pro's MIDI clock goes out to an Arturia Drumbrute, and I use drum triggers 9-16 to trigger drums on the Drumbrute. This lets me program two sequences of different lengths for eight of the Drumbrute's drums, and I can use BSP's touchstrip as a roller effect while the Drumbrute's is set as a looper.

On the CV side of the Beatstep Pro, I use both sequencing channels as two different types of a transpose effect, or in other words, a "sequence sequencer." CV Channel 1 of the BSP goes into the 4th input of the WMD Sequential Switch Matrix, before the ADDAC 207 Quantizer. I can select the 4th row on the SSM and play sequences into my VCOs from the BSP's pads, all corrected into the scale chosen on the ADDAC Quantizer. To take it a step further, I can also select the 4th row and the 1st row on the SSM, which means both the BSP and Turing Machine CVs are now being summed in the SSM before the ADDAC Quantizer. That means I can use the BSP's pads to transpose the Turing Machines sequences.

CV Channel 2 does much the same thing, but instead of going before the ADDAC 207 Quantizer, it goes directly into the Quantizer's Transpose input jack. This lets me shift the selection of notes around, and can lead to something resembling chord changes. For example, if I have the C-minor chord notes selected on the Quantizer, and I press a G on BSP CV Channel 2, the Quantizer's active notes will move to a G-minor chord. Combining the Beatstep Pro's CV Channel 1, CV Channel 2 and the eurorack CV sequencers into the

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Post by set » Fri Aug 24, 2018 2:14 pm

It seems not one thanked you for this post - which I find surprising. Let me be the first one - I truly enjoyed reading about logic behind your setup and your approach how to play it. It was very insightful for me.

Thanks a lot!

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Post by Ypsi Kid » Fri Aug 24, 2018 3:23 pm

Indeed, great in-depth post man. Thanks for the insight into what you are doing, always interesting to hear how others are doing it as well. I'm about 4 months into my live set journey and trying to do something similar to you in that I want to be able to improvise sets, with some saved sequences that I can pull on if needed. So thanks for the insight, sounds like you have a very fun setup and like how you are using the Turing machine in conjunction with your BSP. I take it your BSP is the master clock? Did you say you had the clock CV out and MIDI clock out from your BSP working at the same time? I didn't know it could do that and this may help with some of my clock issues as I'm trying to get some swing introduced to make things a bit 'funkier'!

I'll check out your set over the weekend, just at work right now.


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Post by Circus of Mind » Mon Aug 27, 2018 11:31 am

This was helpful to read, thank you. I am also working the kinks out of smaller system for pre-patched improv. The switch matrices are now on my list for something to try. Cheers!

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Post by Ypsi Kid » Thu Aug 30, 2018 11:37 am

DAMN man, that is one ridiculous set man - exactly what I'm trying to do! How are sequencing your pitch CV's? Sounds freak'n awesome man, great work. Would love to pick your brain a bit as well if you don't mind on the how you manage each 'channel' or voice in your setup. Like you, I can route triggers/gates to different or same voices/channels and am using 2 ladik 8 step sequencers to derive my pitch info (going into a precision adder and quantizer), also use 2 other pitch sources that I can use to add or subtract into the pitch sequences for variety. Trying to figure out how to use FM more as well. Would love to know how you have this setup. Above is really basic overview of what I'm doing, I can explain a bit more of it, but this piece I'm really interested in.

Thanks man and great work.

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Post by waves_of_awesome » Mon Feb 11, 2019 11:16 am

This is a great post! Thanks for sharing.

Great set too, I dig it!

Questions for OP:

I tried something similar using Turing Machine to pitch sequence an improv set. I found the turing to be a little too Dice-roll-y, even when running it through a quantizer. Do you just keep turning it until it lands on a sequence you like? Do you que/monitor it's output in headphones before bringing in a voice sequenced by it to the main mix? Additionally, do you do any headphone queing at all?

Also, could you detail how you use the matrix modules a little bit? I'm curious how/what you route through them.

Have you considered a mutable marbles to replace the Turing Machine?

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Post by lisa » Mon Feb 11, 2019 11:25 am

Yeah, thanks for the post. Cool set too. :party:
An exclusive, all Alesis Ion track! The best synth ever made. :guinness:

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Post by Ypsi Kid » Tue Feb 12, 2019 12:32 pm

Come back, I have more questions - LOL! Great setup man, every time I come back and read how you have everything setup, I get more little tidbits. Would love to pick your brain more around how your use the 4x4 matrices in your patch, I think that opens up a whole other layer if stuff you can do.

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Post by jmax313 » Thu Feb 14, 2019 1:02 pm

Good read on your set-up, thanks for sharing.

Also am currently enjoying your set you performed.

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Re: Live techno set in Shenzhen, China [Video] + how I improvise

Post by knobworld » Sun Aug 23, 2020 3:58 pm

Hey, thanks. A real feast. It looks like most peeps (me included) are snacking on your excellent notes on your patching and process and not giving you a lot of suggestions on how to move towards your goals of slimming down the module and cable count. Hope you'll post an update at some point- it would be super interesting to hear where you are now.

And enjoyed your set btw. Esp like the results of your use of matrixing and that reset mult is a great tip!


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Re: Live techno set in Shenzhen, China [Video] + how I improvise

Post by chrischn2000 » Sat Sep 05, 2020 1:41 am

Hey, I also wanted to say 'thank you' for the effort in the post here that seems more like a blog post... Love how you wrote it! ❤️

So for the suggestions, I dare to have a tip for you to look at:
Mutable Instruments Plaits (or remake like beehive or antumbra knit): for me this was kind of the first step away from east coast - loads of algorithms and unusual sounds in there. Plus you have the aux out to have at least two outputs. I have the micro version with only 4HP. Great! I use the exciter on the aux into the resonestor mode on clouds and this goes quickly away from your usual east coast sound spectrum...

Hope to see more from you in the future. Listened to a lot of your sets on SoundCloud... Lovely!

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