Mike Propst User Experience

Synthesizin'

One of the more fun things about playing electronic music is figuring out how to perform live. To some people, Ableton Live and its external controllers made the question moot. And to a large number of others, Elektron’s highly playable devices have become the de facto way of low-impact performance design.

But when you’re not interested in bringing out a computer and you don’t have nice Elektron stuff, creating a way to connect and perform on your equipment is a fun and sometimes ridiculous challenge.

Various Reasons, for me, has always been about this. And usually it’s been a little too complicated and unreliable to make things easy to play. But discovering some of the features of my Alesis Micron has really opened up my options.

What it is

Today, my setup starts with the (non-pro) Arturia BeatStep, which mostly provides master clock but runs the sequence on a couple songs. It’s a fun way to run things because even though I can’t hard-wire a tempo to songs, the analog clock helps me go by “feel” a little bit.

From there, the MIDI chain goes to the Micron, which can run a multi-track sequencer. Unfortunately, having multiple sequences in songs means holding down keys and moving your finger around. That’s fine in some cases, and in others I’ve adapted tunes to use the same bassline moved around in key. There can even be rhythms.

In theory, a whole song can be built on the Micron, but I consider my modded Alesis HR-16 to be a signature part of my sound. So that is next in the chain. The snare runs to a cheap delay pedal to help alter sounds and add dubby effects to the beats. From there, I send MIDI clock to my Arturia Microbrute, which is almost always running an arpeggiator timed to that clock. It goes through a preamp for distortion and a Catalinbread spring reverb.

The last piece is a Korg Volca Keys. I use it for pads, leads, and with
the aid of a Hotone Wally looper, transitions between songs for less awkward silence while I change patches. The hardest part of this is hitting keys, but I don’t have a small enough MIDI controller to justify bringing out something else.

It’s not the simplest setup I have. There are quite a few connections, and a couple analog synths with no patch recall. It does make changing parts within songs much easier than my previous setup, which had me running around like a crazy person trying to change patterns on multiple sequencers — some of which require two fingers. It’s got a bit of a shambolic timing, which is not ideal in some cases, but a lot more interesting and unique than a perfect computer or Octatrack clock. An audience member described it as “raw,” but to excerpt some of the lyrics, it’s also a mess of tangled wires.