The video shows a light reworking of Caribou’s Sun using only static machines and four source tracks. Flex machines and slicing samples can take you a lot further, but it also takes a lot of time to get set up, so I wanted to show what is possible using some basic techniques. This way of working feels quite “freestyle” in that you can put something together quickly and easily try out different ideas. Since not so much is pre-programmed, it does require practice to develop some kind of a routine.
In the current version of the Octatrack OS (1.11), samples can be played using one of two “machines”: static or flex.
Static is for playing long samples (limited only by the capacity of your compact flash card), and flex is for short samples. Static machines can be used to construct DJ sets by juggling playback of complete tracks between two static machines.
Flex machines are loaded into the Octatrack’s memory and are thus are limited in length (eg, one-shots or a couple of phrases). On the up side, you have very deep, fine-grained control over triggering and the sound itself.
At present (again, v1.11), it is a little convoluted to do extensive sample chopping on the Octatrack itself. It is much easier to prepare and warp samples prior to loading them onto the OT. It can be done, but unfortunately it’s rather tedious. Many OT owners are hoping the situation improves. It really should be a straightforward exercise to load a static sample, find and loop a segment you like, and then grab the loop, saving it as a new sample and assigning to a flex machine slot. But it’s not.
The work flow was as follows:
- Distil track stems down into just bass, drums, vocals and instrumentation tracks (4 tracks)
- Ensure tracks are warped and locked to the beat
- Copy to the Octatrack as WAV files
- Load files into static machines spread across 7 available tracks (reserving the 8th as a master track)
- Some tracks are interspersed with a “neighbour” machine in order to increase modulation possibilities. Eg, OT track 1 has the bass file loaded in a static machine, and track 2 has a neighbour machine loaded. This way we have four effects slots available
- Starting at pattern 1, find sample start points for the different tracks that work well together. In most cases I only had a single trigger per track per pattern, and most patterns ran for 64 steps (@130BPM). You are restricted in doing this since you only have rough control over sample start for static machines (using a 1-127 value).
- Continue setting up patterns to build some kind of a progression
- Set up effects, LFOs and scenes. In the spirit of keeping it free-form, I don’t use any effects p-locking in this video. All of it is via knob twiddling, the fader or via LFOs.
My favourite music of 2011, wherein I list things I like and make pithy comments. See also, from 2010. A good year in music. A good year for sellers of reverb pedals.
If you have Spotify installed, you can listen to most of the music mentioned herein (or via a web link).
Top 10 Albums of 2011
10. Cults Cults
Could best be described as 2011’s Vampire Weekend. Catchy, sugary, summery and light; singing about not much in particular, take it or leave it. Like Vampire Weekend, one might wonder how long the shtick will hold for before smacking of triteness.
9. Eye Contact Gang Gang Dance
Drawing on electro stabs, the stand out tracks on Eye Contact are of a decent length: setting a scene, packing a picnic basket, and taking you somewhere. Experimentation is leavened with pop sensibilities and mid-tempo beats.
8. 93 Million Miles Africa Hitech
High-tempo dub/wonky/dubstep/dnb/whateverwecallitnow/. With restrained production and well-programmed beats, the album is chock-full of quality tracks.
7. Portamento The Drums
Basically, a good old-fashioned pop-rock affair. Lots of catchy, somewhat twangy guitar-driven tunes. Elements of the tracks fit well together and there is enough interest and depth to keep the ear interested.
6. Deerhoof vs. Evil Deerhoof
A wonderfully accessible and rollicking adventure in art-rock. Frenetic, jangling sounds which seem to metamorphose every 30 seconds, flipping from soft gentle singing and guitar strumming to righteous guitar licks and on to fuzzy noise.
5. We’re New Here Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx
Fusing the spoken word of Gil Scott-Heron with Jamie xx’s production talent results in a fresh sound that swims between hip-hop, dub, two-step, wonky and dancehall. The track “Ny Is Killing Me” is one of the most anthemic tracks of the year with a piercing synth line and bouncy, rubbery toms. The collaborative effort is made more poignant by the passing of Scott-Heron in 2011 after a rather colourful life.
4. Bad As Me Tom Waits
Perhaps a little overlooked because everyone expects genius from the living treasure that is Tom Waits. Raucous shanties and soft ballads highlight Waits’ versatility and distinctive character.
3. King of Limbs Radiohead
A rather sublime release with the overall album having a muted, shimmering feel. The biggest disappointment is its short run-length, which seems over before it starts, and leaves us hanging with some rather beautifully haunting closing tracks.
2. New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges Colin Stetson
This is saxophone played in an animalistic way, seeming to channel raw agony, pain and delight. Combined with sparse vocals, looped phrases and occasional percussion, Stetson paints a grand scene. Urgent, throbbing and incredibly emotive.
1. Let England Shake PJ Harvey
I’ve never really been much of a PJ Harvey fan. I know she is a respected artist and all, but I always found her a bit dull. Perhaps it is a sign of my maturing (or going over the hill) that I find Let England Shake so wonderful. It brings together excellent, meaningful lyrics, superb singing and great compositions. It is also the only full-length album from 2011 which I enjoy listening through in its entirety. Repeatedly. It’s not a gimmicky or cutting-edge sound. But it does sound instantly familiar and reminiscent, a sound that is well-lived in somehow, and will surely age well.
(p.s., thanks Ms. Pettersen!)
- House of Balloons The Weeknd
- FABRICLIVE 59 Four Tet
- ATP 2011 Nightmare Before Christmas Caribou
Also enjoyed were…
Didn’t quite make my top 10, but are worth a listen were:
- Dye It Blonde Smith Westerns: Smooth, soft rock
- Ego/Mirror Burial, Four Tet & Thom Yorke: A dream team get together for two tracks
- Fever 2562: Sort of dubstep-infused house music
- Glass Swords Rustie: House/dance sort of affair
- Helplessness Blues Fleet Foxes: Ho-hum
- Moment Bends Architecture in Helsinki: Shedding some of their indie tendencies, AiH goes electro. A bit too syrupy.
- We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves John Maus: Rather lush electro pop
- Gloss Drop Battles: Fun and inventive
- The Rip Tide Beirut: A little more restrained and down-beat than previous releases
- Biophilia Björk: Gorgeous with occasional breakbeat
- Black Up Shabazz Palaces: High-tech hip-hop?
- People Changes Nat Baldwin: Sweet-sounding pop
- Pinch & Shackleton Pinch & Shackleton: Putting the dub back into dubstep
- Virtue Emmy the Great: More of the same from Emmy the Great. Soft, singer-songwriter fare reinforced with better-than-average lyrics
- W H O K I L L tUnE-yArDs: Frenetic percussion and layering with Merrill Garbus’s strong and diverse vocal stylings
- Well Spent Youth Isolée: Good old fashioned house with minimal tendencies.
- Lupercalia Patrick Wolf: Somewhat glam piano-driven pop
- Sepalcure Sepalcure: Mount Kimbieesque
- Street Halo Burial: No-one does it better
Some favourite tracks from albums not mentioned above:
- A Lot Can Tell 31Knots
- Basterville Grinch Clark ≡
- Drama Cum Drama Autre Ne Veut ≡
- Flyin’ High Delicate Steve ≡
- He Knew Chalk and Numbers ≡
- Horse Shoes Wavves ≡
- Library Pictures Arctic Monkeys ≡
- Lion’s Share Wild Beasts ≡
- On Melancholy Hill (Acoustic version) Gorillaz ≡
- Seventh Heaven Pale Sketcher ≡
- Stars in Still Water Jónsi ≡
- The Wall Yuck ≡
- Think and Feel Dananananayckroyd ≡
- Time To Dance Tricky ≡
- Twist Thom Yorke ≡
- Under Cover of Darkness The Strokes ≡
- Up, Up, Up Givers ≡
- Vegemite (The Black Death) Amanda Palmer ≡
- We Will Spin Forever The Echelon Effect ≡
- Will Do TV On The Radio ≡
- Ye Ye Caribou ≡
Two videos showing some basic Elektron Octatrack MIDI functionality. The Octatrack is first and foremost a sampler, but it also happens to be a very powerful sequencer for controlling outboard gear.
This video shows setting up MIDI, setting trigs to send notes, using an external keyboard and using the arpeggiator:
And in this one I send CC messages to control a Moog Slim Phatty. LFOs are also used to control parameters:
I didn’t cover MIDI set up entirely. In the video, the Octatrack’s “auto” channel is set to 11, which the MIDI keyboard is also set to. By default each Octatrack track has its own MIDI channel, which you can use for triggering samples etc externally. On the MIDI track you want to work with, set its channel to the same as your synth (in my case, channel 1). So in other words, when I have that track selected, the OT will take in MIDI from channel 11 and send it out on channel 1, along with any thing sequenced on the OT itself. Thus you can play a MIDI sequence and play live on a external keyboard at the same time. Watch out for feedback between channels used by the Ocatrack’s tracks – it may be better to set it above 11. Strange things can also happen if the OT sends MIDI messages for OT button-pushes and fader moves, so you might like to set these to ‘INT’ instead of the default of ‘EXT+INT’ in the project MIDI setup menu.