Alex Plays explains a dynamic and intricate set up of many instruments he uses for his live performance with Ableton Live as his primary DAW.
I met Alex through a Grammy Music For Visual Media Day last year. As usual, the SF Chapter of The Recording Academy put together a great day of panels and informative presentations. My favorite part of these events is always the networking and getting to meet new and interesting people in the industry. I was hanging out in the green room getting ready to moderate a panel on video game music composing when I first met Alex. He was talking about the music he had written for Warner Chappell’s Non-Stop Music library and his involvement in the production of Cirque inspired World Music for Cirque EOS “Acrobats and Maniacs. We started talking and soon found we had many interests in common including Ableton Live, Singer/Song-Writing and Mountain Biking.
Over the series of numerous rides together through the trails on Mount Tam we decided to do some jamming and he played me some of the songs on his newest album, “Take It Slow”. I told him I was impressed by the live feel and production quality of the record and that’s when he told me he had performed all the parts himself. Knowing how important live performing is to today’s recording artists I asked him how he intended to pull off the record live. At the time he wasn’t certain but six months later he reached out to me to propose the idea of a “One man show” presentation at Pyramind. He had spent the past six months taking all the muli-tracks he had recorded for his record and warping them in Ableton so he could build out his one-man show. Knowing the depth of his talent I was eager to hear more.
He proceeded to tell me how he had laid out his tracks with loops, background vocals, live synthesis and drum triggers using Omnisphere and Stylus RMX, and that he had designed the set for him to play guitar, electric Cello, numerous midi controllers and sing over. Needless to say this all piqued my curiosity, so after going over the set with him in greater detail I agreed to have him present a mini version of his hour plus performance to my advanced Ableton Live class in the form of a live show and master class.
On the day of, Alex showed up with a handful of controllers including: an APC 40, FCB 1010 foot pedal, an Oxygen 61, MPD 30, and a Korg Nano Kontrol. He had designed the set-up to control numerous virtual instruments including: Arturia’s Moog & Jupiter 8 synths, Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere & Stylus RMX as well as other native Ableton instruments and he also brought with him his guitar, bass, electric cello & Santor (A really cool middle eastern multi stringed instrument played much like a Dulcimer). It was a daunting amount of stuff to coordinate and organize but Alex had it all set-up and running well within the allocated hour.
We ran his stereo stage feed coming out of his MOTU Traveller I/O as well as a separate feed for his head set vocal mic straight to the house system. Sound check was minimal, as we didn’t have a lot of time so he just jumped right in and started performing for the class. In these videos you’ll get to not only see his performance for yourself but he also breaks down his set up in Ableton and how he uses his multiple controllers as keyboards and drum pads but also the foot controller to record enable tracks for live looping and hands free control of his Ableton set.
Solo performance of this many instruments and controllers is clearly not for the less experienced nor is it for the faint of heart. Alex’s mastery at juggling the many pieces while performing is very impressive… so much so that I frequently found myself being distracted by the attention he was putting into the technical side of his performance. Over all the class was duly impressed but the general consensus was that he needed to streamline and simplify the tech so that he could concentrate more fully on his performing. I’m always of the opinion that tech should come second to the music, particularly in live performance. Being as talented a musician as Alex is, I’m certain that given some more time and performance experience, Alex will turn this into a very smooth and amazing set.