Yeah that is a really good point, I don’t know why it bothers me-I KNOW there are blank banks there, but I end up messing around with the thing I was doing the day before and I end up wasting time and not feeling satisfied creatively.
It’s a very good point though looking at it the way you outline here.
The AR is pretty great for improvising. I usually start with a blank kit and create my sounds as I go, or duplicate a kit I’ve already made and tweak from there. The pads are really useful for whipping up a sequence (I know they’re stiff and not as good as other pads, but for me they do the job just fine).
As an instrument, the AR is generally a little simpler and more limited than other Elektrons, which some people see as a negative — but if you like working quickly/spontaneously I think it’s a major advantage.
Don’t forget, with Elektron instruments there are easy key-combos to reload from a blank slate. So you can set up blank kits/parts, and patterns, save them, and reload them any time, even in the middle of playing.
I improvise with the Octatrack by setting up the framework of a composition, then playing samples chromatically using the trig keys, and changing scenes. This is mostly high-level improvisation where I’m improvising the structure of the composition, using pre-prepared material.
I also moved away from Elektrons (as much as I love my MnM+MD combo) for full improvisation.
My journey took me to a point where I realize
I need as few machines as possible
they need to be knob-per-function
At the moment I just use a Norand Mono as a sound source. Its wealth of randomized features can get you pretty far very quickly. One of its big advantages for impro is also its undo function (can’t remember how many levels exactly, but more than 1000).
However, since it’s a mono synth, and it’s hard to do anything with just one sound at a time, I paired it with a BlackBox that I just use as a handy looper - which it does wonderfully.
This setup works well and I have a lot of fun. However, although I’m practicing a lot, I’m realizing it’s still quite hard to create anything fun to hear for someone else but me with just the Mono for beats, pads, leads, etc.
I like the breakdown of the type of tools you use cause I think that’s a practical approach to electronic improvisation. For me the mindset is loosely based on dub reggae and radiophonic era studios…just with newer gear. Also, it’s worthing giving a shoutout to two artists who have specifically impacted my attitude toward experimental improvising: karl fousek & nicola ratti
Much could be learned from their evolving setups and live concerts (if that’s something you’re into)
When improvising I’m most focused on timbral changes, re-pitching, controlling pace/tension in many ways, and the ability to erase all audio or to replace bits easily in a rhythmic way
My main setup has recently been pairing ableton push with a variety of plugins. Away from the computer i tend to patch small clusters of instruments to record. OPZ, OP1 and norns are almost always involved because i’m familiar with how to quickly loop recordings, adjust pitch, modulate/set tempo, and erase/undo/replace parts of the sound on the fly. Each of them contain useful fx and digital mixing tools but i often include an analog mixer in the patch to have access to gain, basic eq and feedback amount without searching through menus during a session.
My improv practice is not strictly electronic and i regularly fold in bursts of acoustic percussion and hand drumming w/ these samplers. I’ve also recently been using a Nord 3p and SP 555 in tandem to create sound-on-sound loops while adding fx…i then record the parts on Op1 or norns tape to edit later in my daw
By the way I have to agree with all the posts hailing OT as great means to improvise. It has all the tools I look for to serve well in an improvising context…I just haven’t yet overcome the learning curve enough to explain to someone else but, trust me, it can definitely be used for the kind of blank-slate improv you seem focused on
I kind of get what you’re trying to say, but you can just clear the pattern on Elektron gear to get back to a blank slate with the sounds intact, and you can clear the sounds easily too.
A longer answer to your question would be get some knob per function synths with no memories and some analog sequencers.
Edit: Also Korg Electribes, very direct and no fuss, limiting in some ways liberating in others, they don’t save the pattern unless you press write. The newer ones have some nice sequencing things like each track can have its own page/step length.
Some great answers here-really interesting and helping me look differently at my gear… I am starting to think it’s more some OCD weird thing around filing systems/storage and space which means I didn’t think I liked the Elektron way-clearly that’s ridiculous so thanks for helping me see past that!!