composition, learning, performance, product

The “Push” and pull of hardware / software

Here is an excerpt from a fun improv session I had with Paul Forbes Mitchell and Joe Musgrove today.  It’s a pretty dense collage that resembles ambient techno occasionally while refraining from providing a drop.

*UPDATE – I’ve added another excerpt from this session – see below

Joe was using his usual collection of tapes full of concréte, Korg Volca Sample + Monotrons, mixer feedback and Casio SK1.  He was also using a repurposed “Calm Machine” meditation device with a mind of its own.

Paul has been working on providing a solid frame and useful patchpoints for his DIY modular and it is aesthetically heading toward Ciat Lonbarde territory.

PFM Modular
Here is a close up – he’s using stackable cables like a Serge!

PFM Stackable

My setup was a digital modular of sorts.  Nord MicroModular, OSCillot (superb Max For Live pack) and Madrona Lab’s brilliant Aalto.  What is perhaps more interesting is how i’m controlling them.


Yes I has a Push now kthanks!  End of financial year is always an opportune moment to pickup a tax deductable item for my AudioVisual subcontractor business 🙂  I’ve constantly said that I don’t need a Push… now I have one I can understand the starry eyed zealotry.  I can’t imagine it would be for everyone but speaking as someone with around 8 years Ableton Live experience and at least half that using similar pad-like instruments I can say that the combination of Push and Live 9 is superb.

The LED display provides enough information for most things so that I only have to squint at the screen occasionally – usually when i’m setting up tracks / not when I’m playing.  For this improvisation I had 4 instruments, 2 loopers and 2 bus effects – and had no control issues.  The scale function is lots of nerdy fun – pictured is a Diminished scale – i’ve set it to Chromatic mode so that I can play out of scale if I want.

I hear the latest 9.2 version of Ableton Live adds some great Push features but it must be noted that my love would be somewhat more conditional without the PXT series.  They add a number of functions missing from Vanilla Push, like the ability to change I/Os, set and manipulate loop points and expanded step sequencing.  For those of you wondering how this will enable me to use Usine… the PXT series also includes an editor that allows me to assign MIDI values to the controls for non-Ableton DAWs while maintaining the lovely scale function.

Overall – the integration of all these features into a comfortable but hefty controller makes it a winner in my opinion.  But I wasn’t initially in the market for anything like this.  As I said… I didn’t need a Push.

Renoise Redux

What originally got my mind ticking over the possibility of a hybrid controller was the release of Renoise Redux.  This is essentially a plugin version of the Renoise tracker, with sequencing, multi-channel, multi-timbral sampler, FX busses galore.  It’s pretty darn wonderful but popping that inside a DAW I feel a kind of Matryoska doll vertigo. How many layers of this onion do I peel?  It did make me think about the usefulness of a sampler / sequencer as a beating heart within a more chaotic modular system… yet it lacks a natural way to gain direct control of the sequences from external hardware.

So I ended up looking into and obtaining a Maschine – which was to be the beating heart except for some… issues…

  • It doesn’t do live sampling + playback.  You have to record a sample, set it to a pad, trigger it.
  • Standalone software works really well but you can’t record performances, only loops, patterns, scenes 😦
  • Tried rendering a collection of scenes and the rendered performance sounded substantially different – like one or more plugins were being bypassed.  I tried using Audio Hijack and that sounded different as well.
  • As a plugin it doesn’t run very well – I suffered random CTDs, lockups and various software/hardware communication bugs.

So i’m finding it quite unreliable and I banished it to the cupboard for a few days until I could work out a place where it fits.


At this point i’m going to use it in the Synth Ghetto to sample and arrange sounds from gear I’d rather not travel with. Hopefully I can work around some of these glitches and maybe find a way to integrate it with the Push which is rightfully owning my time right now and rewarding me with semi-finished tracks (compared to a grand total of none on the Maschine.)

I’ll leave you with two examples.


Another excerpt from the session here:

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