More production notes
These days I tend to have three different methods for composing and producing music, which I think of as workflows:
- Workflow One involves using Ableton Suite in a somewhat traditional way—probably the way most people use their preferred DAW. I sketch out beats, synth patterns and basslines with clips in the session view to record an arrangement before editing, mixing, mastering and rendering to produce a finished track. This may be done all-at-once or over multiple sittings. More recently with Max for Live I’ve been able to add step sequencers, generative devices and random/ probabilistic elements for added variety, but it’s still a pretty straightforward approach. Many of the pieces in my Sequenced set on Soundcloud are the result of this workflow.
- Workflow Two also involves working in Ableton Suite but geared towards live performance and improvisation. This method centers around various monome-enabled instruments for writing and mixing on-the-fly: obo, polygome64 and press cafe from Stretta‘s monome suite as well as raptor, bound, Flinn, and mm4lr factor heavily in this method for my live performances. Since M4L devices don’t always generate and/or save automation data, I tend to record an audio mix of these live sessions. My Unwind and live sessions from last year are the result of this workflow. UPDATE: I thought to add that while I do use numerous clips of beats and synth patterns, mostly from work I’ve already composed (aka stems), they’re more for backup, and the focus of this mode is on creating new material on-the-fly. By design, every live session is different.
- Workflow Three departs from the above and centers around using the Density granular synthesizer and Pulsaret instruments to explore sound particles and drones, non-sequenced rhythms and the diversity of organic and synthetic timbres. With this approach, I appropriate tone colors from anywhere—strings; flute; toy piano, bells and cymbals; vinyl records— as well as basic sound waveforms to build up microsound-scapes, which I then take into Ableton to edit, arrange and build compositions. I usually add processing effects such as resonant filters, grain delay, reverb and EQ to help the mix gel. My recent microsound releases and side-project, The Silent Stars, are the result of this workflow.
Each workflow has its strengths, and they all depend on what the situation calls for. Of all the DAWs I’ve tried, Ableton has the best mental model for how I like to work. I feel I could make some improvements to Workflow Two, but it is still very rewarding and leads to some fun live sessions.