OK I thought it might be a good idea to wrap up and regurgitate the last night where I had my very first live gig with my DIY synth in a tiny bar in Erlangen called FreeWilly which can host maybe 20-30 people at max so really nothing dramatic but for me it was a big deal for sure. I’d like to share my tiny little experience I gained and I would be really happy to have some feedback on how to improve in future. All-in-all, people were happy and the feedback was positive, so I might get a second chance sometime in future Apologies for the long text, but maybe someone finds it interesting in the end…
I have to say first that it was not my very first live musical performance. I played solo violin when I was young and apart from a few punk bands where I sang and played lead guitar I also performed as DJ (minimal tech and DnB) here and there. But (!!!) I have to say that all of those are nothing compared to bringing a DIY modular synth to an unfamiliar place and trying to entertain people for around 2 hours. When I played violin, I had my sheet music, in a punk band the only important thing is being drunk and screaming, for a DJ set I had like 20kg of vinyls, each sorted/marked with their main key for harmonic mixing and nothing could go wrong. If I messed up a transition, just whacked the fader to the side and had 2 minutes to recover
Alright, back to the gig. Three persons were needed to carry all my stuff – we decided to go by public transportation since everyone drank already and parking in the city centre is a nightmare.
- my DIY synth setup with 23 modules (some of them with multiple functionalities:
- noise, sample and hold, 2xVCO, 6xVCA, 4xBufferedMult, 4xADSR, Valve Distortion, 6-voice-Drone, 3xLFO, Clock Divider, 8xPassiveMult, 2399 delay, MS-20 VCF, Moog Ladder VCF, 2xBalter Gate Delay, HiHat, Snare, BD++ Base Drum, Twin-T Kick Drum, 12 active mixer with passive attenuators
- Quantizer (self-made Arduino WIP) as an external module (in a plastic box)
- minidexed DX7 (Raspberry Pi) synth also external
- Beatstep Pro
- Keystep 37
- Zoom LiveTrak L-12 (12 channel mixer) to mix and listen to different channels while playing
- BeyerDynamic Pro Headphones
- DSO 212 handheld oscilloscope
- Tons of cables
- Modified guitar tuner to tune the VCOs
Here is the full setup:
It was fairly minimalistic. The two (melodic) sequencers of the Beatstep Pro were connected to the two VCOs and the Keystep 37 was connected to one of those VCOs and to the DX7. I used the passive multiple for that, so that I could switch the CV generator for the VCO to operate it either via the KeyStep 37 or the Beatstep Pro (by switching the plug of the gate and pitch which were next to each other in the passive multiple).
The gates of the Keystep 37 and Beatstep Pro were connected to separate ADSR and those went into different VCAs. One of the VCO was connected to the MS-20 VCF and the other one to the Moog Ladder VCF. The main clock was driven by the Beatstep Pro (chained to the Keystep 37 and then to the clock divider).
I put the two VCOs on the first two channels of the Zoom LiveTrak, then the two kick drums to channel 3 and 4, white noise and hex-drone on 5 and 6 and 7 was hi-hat and snare, as far as I can remember. Then I quickly tuned the VCOs with the modified guitar tuner so that they are matching each other and the DX7.
This is basically what I did in the first 18 or so minutes after which the first sound finally reached the speakers but it felt like two years… I was able to listen to each channel individually through the headphones, so that was quite nice since it reduced the “out of tune surprise melody out of nowhere” signifficantly.
I basically had little to no preparation at all. I had a handful of patterns (mostly just 4 to 8 notes) stored in some banks of the Beatstep Pro but that was a complete mess. I didn’t even remember at all where things were stored (scattered over different projects and tracks etc.). So yes, I ended up hooking up the two kick drums and the snare and hi-hat and started to make ocean-wave-sounds with the noise module and the clock divider hocked up via an ADSR+VCA, everything with like 70 BPM or so.
One of the things which I definitely regret is: not having a cable management system. In the hurry, I ended up throwing all the patch cables on the ground and thought that it will work out during the live performance… For got sake, no! It was so annoying, everything got tangled and I spent way too much time on entangling cables while the beats and melodies were repeating in the background.
…and btw. I spent like two hours on painting the ends of the black cables in the same colour (but different for each) to be able to distinguish them more easily but it was quite dark during the performance and I could not recognise any of the colours. This picture was taken at the end of the gig with lights on, with 1/4 of the cables in my hand, the other quarter in the synth and the rest in a big piece of entangled spaghetti on the ground:
Next time I’ll take a light source and definitely some kind of a stand to put the cables on
I was also not happy about the Keystep 37 syncing. During the performance, I recorded some patterns with the sequencer or used the amazing arpeggiator feature, which is really cool, but when switching patterns, the Keystep 37 does not give a sh*t about the alignment on the first bar. Maybe I don’t understand some of the intrinsics of the implementation or I don’t know but especially the sequencer mode was often simply not aligned with the 1 of the beat. I even stopped the clock here and there with the STOP button of the Beatstep Pro but after hitting Play, the Keystep 37 was off again. No idea… I will try using the Keystep 37 as main clock.
The synth setup was of course totally underutilised. I have not even hooked up modules like the gate delay and at some desperate moment I simply grabbed the coarse tune knob of the the main VCO to make some manual note slides and change the key, just to keep the sound interesting. After that, the whole tuning was of course off and everything had to be matched live by my ears.
The whole gig was around two hours and I tried my best to keep everything moving. I really regret that I did not spend more time to at least assemble a few “tracks” with matching melodies, baselines and so on. That would have made things much easier but now I live with this decision. I definitely need to organise my melodies. I don’t know why I am so messy with tracks, I usually spend a lot of time organise all my hardware and software (electronic parts, code, analysis and data) accurately Making music with my synth was mostly for my own relaxation routine and not meant to entertain other people, maybe that’s the reason why I did not take care.
The other thing I was annoyed by is not taking a bit of extra time for decisions which affected the setup. I felt like I had to act very quickly since people were waiting and ended up putting things together in an “unfamiliar” way. Once things were connected, I did not not rewire them so I had to live with the decision and got confused over and over (which VCA and ADSR for which VCO, constantly following cables etc.).
I now really appreciate Sam’s setup with the MIDI->CV module so that the whole synth is wired up and he basically only needs to plug in a midi cable and wire it through. I will definitely look into that sooner or later.
What really pissed me off that the 600 EUR Zoom LiveTrak 12 channel mixer with SD card and recording capabilities for each of the 12 chanels separately did not work record a second. I don’t know why but hitting the record button had no effect. I tried it before at home and it lit up and recorded when I pressed it. I must have activated some mode which prevented recording so I don’t have any high quality recording whatsoever.
Here is a short summary of a few recordings I received. The quality is bad and all of them filmed vertically, but at least I can show a little bit how it felt like. As said before, it was a little gig, I think there were maybe 20 or so people at the beginning.