Performance-oriented music software/controllers - still quite limited?!

I’ve been reading a lot of threads (here and elsewhere) about performance setups, or at least setups that are fun/easty for jamming. I’ve bought and sold a lot of software and MIDI controllers over the years and it seem to me that, even after al lthese years of “session view” and other supposedly performance-oriented software features, we’re still in a fairly poor state I think.

What I mean by that is that even the software that is supposedly about live performance is quite lacking. Take Ableton Live for example - you still need to do an awful lot of pre-preparing of your material and sets to really get anything going and starting from a blank slate and trying to do some jamming is still surprisingly difficult as far as I can tell. These devices seem to be geared towards producing music without touching the computer, and that’s great, but they aren’t really jam-friendly. Frankly, it doesn’t seem very “live” at all despite the name.

I’ve read quite a few complaints online (over several years) that people still can’t get away from the computer when using a Push. I also use Bitwig and as much as I like it, it still feels like you need to do a lot of pre-preparation to do any kind of jamming or performance with it. The controller scripts are largely provided by the community (open source) and although people put a lot of effort in they are hit and miss. There is still, in my mind, a considerable level of unwanted abstraction between software and hardware. It never feels seamless or like you aren’t “working around” using a piece of software on a computer.

I had Maschine MK3 and it had great integration with the software - I could pretty much turn off the monitor and still use 90% of the functions. It felt heavily geared towards playing with the pads and the classic MPC hip-hop workflow, and that’s fine, but the step sequencing was pretty poor and it still had some major shortcomings which is why I got rid of it. It has something vaguely similar to a session view but the clips could only be launched legato - you couldn’t launch clips in a synced way like Abelton or Bitwig, only scenes. I have also used Traktor DJing hardware from NI and I feel like they have been so close to a great performance system in many ways. The hardware/software integration is great, it’s very easy to browse loops and samples, the performance FX are great and the ability to suddenly loop, jump around and do other stuff in sync is loads of fun and makes perfect sense for many electronic music genres. It feels like the gap between DJing and producing electronic music is a fine line (and maybe even getting smaller over time) but the hardware being made can’t quite bridge that gap for some reason.

This discussion (among many others) - The improvised techno thread - seems to suggest that a lot of people who want to jam/perform live electronic music actually have quite modest needs. You want a relatively small number of tracks/voices and some fairly minimal FX with the ability to make small variations over time. The NI DJ software seems to be very good at this but they never seem to quite make their mind up who they want to appeal to. They released the S5 and S8 controllers a few years back which didn’t have jog wheels but did have more faders, more loop-oriented features and performance FX for people who want to do multi-track mixing of techno and other electronic “dance” genres. They have been and gone, so perhaps they didn’t do so well. EDIT - S8 looks like it’s still available actually, so that’s my mistake. Don’t read or hear much about it though and it’s only in stock in very few places.

They’ve recently released the Maschine+ standalone for about the £1000 mark. I’ve read a bunch of reviews and aside from software workflow complaints and the usual feature requests that you would expect, it seems that there is plenty enough CPU horsepower in there to use it for producing complete tracks.

So I guess this leads me to my point (finally, thanks for waiting) which is - where is the £1000 techno-oriented standalone box?! I can’t be the only one who wants something halfway between NI Traktor and Maschine. There’s a gap in the market - why isn’t anybody filling it?! I’d even take a dedicated controller and a piece of software if they worked well, but they don’t!

It feels like we had a big leap with “session view” some years ago and then the progress has slowed to a crawl. Is it just me?

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I think that if you want to create/perform with ready made solution then NI are the closest of all with their MK3 (or +) and Jam combo. There is not much interaction needed with computer when using their solution.

I’m using combination of Maschine loaded into DAW together with additional MIDI controller. This way I can have two instances of Maschine SW loaded and switch between them, load new projects into each and mix between them without even touching computer. It is quite fun setup.

Another approach is to set good template in the software/DAW of your choice + create hardwired MIDI mapping. This should behave similar to an analog synth studio setup - no presets, no loading of sounds, knobs represent the exact parameter state and so on.
I sometimes use Reason for this purpose. I have a template with all devices loaded, I can control my step sequencer (ReDrum) directly from my MIDI controller, I can select drum sounds, I can program bass line step sequencer and so on. The trick here is to have as many controls mapped as possible. I just fire up Reason, plug-in my MIDI controller and I can jam away.

Those two methods work the best for me so far.

If you want a one box to rule them all, the deluge might be a good option ? I never owned one myself so just speculating here but it seems to be suited for the task…

The most easy, fast and fun way to start from scratch to me, has been the blackbox and I found that everything “looper related” is always of good value if you like improvising from thin air and at least seek a form of structure/musical content. ( I exclude patching a random lfo in an oscillator pitch while tweaking the filter on purpose…)

Thanks for your thoughts @lowtom and @KaOsphere. It’s not so much that I actually dislike the products that you mention, it just seems that there is a gap for something in the market that isn’t being filled. I would love to be able to work with “loop” material and one-shot samples in a standalone box (or a hybrid soft/hardware combo) but I can’t seem to find that device. The Traktor hardware seems to come close, but no cigar. I’m not buying abandoned hardware like Pioneer SP16 either - plenty of people here complaining about that machine being left to die.

I’m just daydreaming about my “ideal” device I guess, like I suspect we’re all doing! One day…

Would an Elektron device or two be the answer?

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I’ve tried most of the recent generation machines (except OT) and they’re not really what I’m after although I think they’re all great in their own ways. I think I just have the same issue as a lot of people here - I’m aware that software has the flexibility and power but I sit in front of a screen all day already. MIDI controllers work great but often require a lot of setup and it’s not a 1-2-1 connect with the software unless it’s a dedicated device. Using MIDI controllers with software never really gelled with me.

The more I think about it, what I want is to “play around” with music a bit and going the DJ route might actually scratch that itch. I tried in the past but no harm in trying again. Even the high-end NI DJ controllers still only cost about the same as a Digitakt, it’s certainly not the terrifying financial black hole of Euroack which has tempted me for years but never actually got it’s hands on my wallet.

I’ll continue to be indecisive no doubt!

The OT can be used quite like a set of DJ controller, the crossfader is very nice. But you naturally need the tracks to play, which isn’t as easy as with a dedicated DJ controller.

…if u want an unique real live jam in a whatsoever electronic music enviroment…
well…it’s all about PROPER PREPARATION…

no way around it, i’m afraid…we got no realtime brain to midi yet…

so, if u don’t wan’t to be the puppet for prefab preset instant wonderland…
but some kind of individual artist who wants to express any sort of fresh thing…
u’ll need to MAKE UR MIND UP, PRACTICE, REHEARSE and PREPARE…

no matter what ur using to do so…
end of the day…it’s all quite like the skillset for playing an instrument…

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That’s what makes a true musician … it’s not only talent, it’s particularly this :wink:

I’ve bought a couple of sequencers during the last years, searching for the one performance sequencer I would love to use. I didn’t find it yet, including a SEQ12, Pyramid, MPC X, or a René, but taking time to learn about strengths, combining them, and practice, got me somewhere … :wink:

You might be able to get something good going with Drambo. I’d probably try using the euclidean sequencer modules and some pre-loaded instruments. Will be even better once there is better control surface support.