Soundcloud: five favourite flavours for May

by chrisleeramsden

Every month, we pick out our five favourite flavours from the artists followed by rUbba nEck on Soundcloud; tunes we reckon will inspire, you to produce great music. Here are the favourite five flavours for May:

Del Valle: Mono-family

A few months ago, I wrote about the Korg Monotron competition: Monomania. Why? Back in the day I owned an MS20 – and I still have an MS2000. I’m a big fan of the Korg analogue sound. So it was great to see one of our favourites, Del Valle, uploading a tunes that feature Monotrons (which share the same filter circuits as their MS ancestors).

Del Valle dives straight in with 303-style acid bass and a beat cut on an 808. You could be back in 1990. Until the weirdness starts. Backward, stretched and tempo-shifted vocal samples… an eerie analogue pad (with a sawtooth pitch modulating on the quarter notes)… some subtle percussion panned right to the edges of the mix… and you’re back in 2012 – and back in Ableton. It’s elegant, simple and as minimal as the 303 bass will let it. Hombre. Nos gusta.

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Soundcloud: five favourite flavours for April

by chrisleeramsden

Every month, we pick out our five favourite flavours from the artists followed by rUbba nEck on Soundcloud; songs we think have something that makes them ear-bendingly brilliant. Here are the favourite five flavours for April:

Rise and Fail: Lowbob

This is a freebie from the guys from Hamburg. Opens with a double time bass drum and blippy percussion. There’s a really nice rush of pads that take us into more blips and something that sounds like someone playing their teeth.

Throughout, there’s a beautiful clarity of sound, even squashed by Soundcloud’s vicious compressors. And there’s never a dull moment. Enjoy the trip through short cut vocal samples and Commodore 64 game sounds. I was wondering about the name: could it be a play on ‘blow job’?

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Playing live with Ableton Live and Maschine Mikro without hitting ‘play’: possible?

by chrisleeramsden
The building blocks of a live set up in Ableton Live.

The building blocks of a live set up in Ableton Live, courtesy of Beem.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to play live in Ableton Live. And I mean really ‘live’. Inspired by Mr Invisible’s Justin Aswell, I want to use the sounds I’ve created in Ableton without resorting to hitting ‘play’. In fact, until I’d seen Justin’s video at Dubstop, I just assumed it was impossible.

But now I’m not so sure.

You see, recently, I’ve been working with a drummer on making some glitchy hip hop beats. He uses Maschine Mikro and I’m using Ableton (naturally). It’s all going very fast, and we’re already talking about taking some tunes out live. I thought I’d just use my Launchpad. But the drummer dude is new to electronic music and he’s cringing at the idea of hitting the ‘play’ button.

I’ve nothing against using Launchpad, triggering clips, and mixing and morphing the sounds live. It’s how rUbba nEck plays the game. But that’s minimal techno. For this project, we’re looking to explore the chemistry between performer and audience without the software dictating pace and structure.

But how do you do this in Ableton? In fact, can you do this in Ableton? Continue reading


Two takes on techno: the fabulous, the fossil, the fun

by chrisleeramsden
Aphex Twin at the Strom Festival, 2010

Strom Festival, Copenhagen

Mooching around in Google time, I found two articles on electronic music that turned out to be gems: real labours of love.

The first is Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music. Sponsored by internet radio broadcasters DI.FM, the author calls it, “a non-technical, irreverent critique of electronic dance music… I suppose it could be used as a credited source, but that’s not recommended since I made most of it up. Several biases are celebrated lavishly, because downcasting people for their taste in music is close-minded. Except if their taste in music sucks.”

You get the tone.

Ishkur has a caustic sense of humour and takes no prisoners as he drives us through a street map of electronic music, ranting like a taxi driver with a cab full of teenaged tourists. I’m serious, it really is a tour. Continue reading


db by Ryoji Ikeda: extreme minimalism at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, Berlin

by chrisleeramsden

Just outside Ryoji Ikeda’s ‘db’ in Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, my 10-year-old daughter pulled off the elasticated fabric galoshes we had to wear over our shoes to get into the exhibition and asked, “What was ‘art’ about that?”

Hmm. Good question.

To attempt the beginnings of an answer, I’m not going to describe the exhibition. Ikono’s majestic video does that. No, I’ll be talking about:

  • art v. craft
  • the beginner’s tendency to cram things into a canvas – or a tune
  • the courage it takes to take a minimal approach

… because I think all three are relevant to making minimal beats. And, I’ll keep it short. Or minimal.  Continue reading


Two reasons Zaphod would make a great music producer

by chrisleeramsden

The Beeblebrox Effect: phenomenal focus in the face of infinity

Zaphod Beeblebrox: two heads, one ego, infinite possibilities.

The Beeblebrox Effect: phenomenal focus in the face of infinity

In The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ex-galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox is locked into a small room where he’s shown the entire universe. Faced with the infinite expanse, the endless nothingness, the sheer mind-blowing massiveness, most egos implode under the sheer gravity of their own insignificance. But not Zaphod’s.

The computer shows him the same rush of images as everyone who has gone before him, except for one small difference: it puts him at the centre of the universe. Not only is he the first ever person to walk out of the room with his ego intact, he does so wearing a shit-eating grin.

Zaphod could be a techno producer. Show him the entire universe, and he won’t go down with ADD. And his ego will stand up to anything.

With the original rUbba nEck manifesto, I tried to find that kind of focus: that Beeblebrox effect. So I split music production into two basic phases:

  • Make the beats
  • Arrange the tune

The manifesto gave you just one hour for each phase. But keeping each stage down to an hour proved tricky on the iPad. I needed something else. Something more focused. Something that put the producer at the centre of life, the universe and everything. Continue reading


Turning a tense horror movie into an uplifting techno tune

by chrisleeramsden
Alien in a good mood

Not all aliens want to eat you. Thanks Robyn.

“In space, no one can hear you scream”. Alien. 1979.

Space. Infinite nothingness in every direction. But for interstellar travellers, this vastness is threatening. Hostile. Home.

In Alien, Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece, the crew of the Nostromo live under cramped conditions. There’s nothing but a thin shell of steel between them and the deadly vacuum of space. And if this is not enough to show us how fragile we are, a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature gets on board… and you know the rest.

With set design by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger and production design concept by Ron Cobb, Alien looks and feels great, even today. The film’s gritty sci-fi universe and horror-genre narrative tricks make for a tense, explosive cinematic experience. And this is what I want to capture with my second track using Ableton Live. Continue reading


Soundcloud: five favourite flavours for March

by chrisleeramsden

Every month, we pick out our five favourite flavours from the artists followed by rUbba nEck on Soundcloud – songs we think have something that makes them ear-bendingly brilliant. Here are the five favourite flavours for March:

Hoax Maker: Minimal Heaven
When you die you can hope to go to Hoax Maker’s Minimal Heaven, because then you’re in for one hell of a party. For eternity. This track has a killer drop down section. Maybe because it has such intricate and beautifully crafted percussion. In the drop down, the beats fall out and the percussion takes over, transitioning with elegance into new elements. Then, just when you’re expecting the bass to crash in, it drops down all over again.

And, you know what? It works. When the beats kick back in, the ceiling comes down! And you go to minimal heaven.

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One-hour production in Ableton Live: the chops and the attitude

by chrisleeramsden
The chops and the attitude

The chops and the attitude (but this is not Tom).

Before I switched to Live, I watched a few producers using it on YouTube. For sheer speed of production, two of them stood out: EarTrash and Tom Cosm. EarTrash has a video showing him writing a track from scratch in under an hour. Tom Cosm has the chops to work incredibly fast, and proves again and again that producing a track in an hour – or less – is possible.

When I started rUbba nEck, it was all about getting creative by getting productive in short bursts, so you could slot music production into a busy life. In that respect, nothing has changed. But now the means to the end is different: iPad apps are out; Ableton Live is in.

Tom Cosm is largely responsible for the switch. His journey has been long – there are six-year-old videos on his YouTube channel. I guess the kind of musical gymnastics he’s capable of take years of dedication and practice. But, because he’s shared this journey with us, perhaps we can get to swing on the wall bars in Ableton without going through years of blood, sweat and tears. This is what Wired editor, Chris Anderson, calls ‘crowd accelerated innovation.’

I think you’ll see what I’m getting at when you watch the video at the end of this post. But first, let’s talk workflow.  Continue reading


Cool Ableton workflow tip: set up a template and start producing out of the blocks

by chrisleeramsden
Workflow for minimalist productions

Workflow in Ableton for minimalism against the clock

In my last post I talked about the difference between a professional and a dilettante producer: they might have the same gear, but while the dilettante skirts around the tricky bits, the professional digs into everything – and I mean everything – and learns it inside-out. So, not only do professionals get to access all the great features that those clever product designers build into their babies, but they also get to establish a really fast workflow.

Cry me a river

If work is blood, sweat and tears, workflow is the river you weep that sweeps you over the edge of the waterfall into the promised land where everyone can sing and every day is Sunday. Except that, work isn’t really all blood, sweat and tears. And workflow is simply the order in which you go about creating your tunes. Continue reading