Have a pyramid driven 'live' set? How do you put it together/perform it? (dawless or not)

Just wondering who’s working on/doing set performances on a pyramid. By set I’m kinda coming from my experience as a raver where dj sets I feel start around 60 minutes (though i suppose if you’re a rocker, maybe your sets are more like 30 minutes). Your definition of set is fine - I just mean enough music for ‘a performance’ in a show - that is, if you’re putting together a performance, you totally have a set :slight_smile:

If this is you: What are your goals for your set? how long is your set? Is it continuous? What pyramid judo do you do to your music in order to be able to perform the music the way you want to perform it? (or perhaps, the way the music wants you to perform it )

I think there’s much to discuss :sweat_smile:

I have a set I’m working on and I’ll share my story in a subsequent response (i don’t really like to be first, it’s a thing).

I’ve actually not done a live set with the Pyramid in ages. I did this all with the Pyramid. Was an Elektron Analog Rytm for Drums, a Kawai K1m, Dave Smith/Pioneer AS-1 (with an external controller for more knobs) and a Roland TB-303 (plus digital delay) all controlled by the Pyramid.

Basically had loads of patterns programmed into the Tracks, but set out so that the top line was for the AS-1, and the bottom one for the K1m. Each pattern had the notes, and a Program Change message, so that I didn’t have to worry about touching each of those machines, which were generally buried on the table under other stuff.

Then I have this:

The big page on the left is the Acid lines on the 303, as I need to see those easily, and the little page on the right is a list of everything. The P column is the patterns on the Pyramid for each track (1-8 top row - AS-1, 9-16 bottom - K1m) the R column is the pattern on the Rytm (although this is kind of a ‘serving suggestion’ as I program drums to fit most tracks) and T is the TB-303.

Think from memory on the Rytm bank A was 808 samples, B was 707, C was 606 and D was a hybrid set of drum machine sounds that I liked some of them from) H is a specific track I’d done before which I recreated for this set. G was obviously something specifically for the ‘encore’ tune (which I’m not sure is in the recording actually)

And it looks like this when playing (a recording I made of one specific tune in my front room)

@vt100 now it’s your turn…

aw yay, I thought i was the only one. I’m writing this while listening to your mix I’m currently at 16:30 on the soundcloud link. So you’d have one file with like, the whole set on it, organized in the various banks by instrument. Is that right?

I love the notebook btw.

I’ve been iterating on a live set for a while and the first iteration used a notebook and ‘dawless’ notation I’d come up with - sadly I couldn’t find a photo of it, it was glorious lol.

Trying to sum up what I want to do with a live set:

  • One song per file
  • Sonic Continuity
  • dawless

The Sonic Continuity and One song per file ideas are a little bit at odds with each other on the pyramid: The pyramid can’t play and load at the same time; I’ll get to that but since it’s pre-thanksgiving and forums are way more fun than work, I figured I’d unpack a couple things first.

:: What makes a good techno set and/or what is the expectation of your techno ::

I want to make a set, ideally a good set - why? because I want to play it live and I’m hoping everyone will see the depths of my soul via the vehcile that is my music. Plus, I want things to be interesting for the listener so they don’t walk outside and smoke cigarettes the whole time.

Makes sense to most people making a set right? And what is a set? Well, it’s a bunch of music that you play. Usually more than a song, but I suppose a song counts as a set too in set theory.

Okay, so what makes a good set? Part of that has to do with expectation. If you go to a rock concert, sometimes songs are stuck together and sometimes there are breaks in a set where the rockband tells a joke about their hair or something. If you go to a classical concert, there might be like, three 23 minute pieces, so there’s silence between each piece where the violinist takes a bow, and then the orchestra plays the next song. And there’s techno where the dj has long established the sustained groove and none of that breaking and bowing/talking stuff.

Before you all bust my chops on house or techno or grime or krunk or whatever, let’s pretend we’re eninem right now and it’s all just fuckin techno. Cause, at least to everyone who’s not you, it’s just techno.

Okay so, you can approach your set any way you want, there’s really no right or wrong – it’s all kind of how you want to think about your act, I guess.

I however, I write techno - and for a good techno set, I think, for one, there’s continuity – that groove just keeps on grooving; the music does not stop. Everyone who hears me play expects that too; they keep calling me a dj, after all (all this gear, and i’m a dj? lol).

At least as far as ‘good techno sets’, the technical requirement is continuity - at least, I think so.

:: One song per file ::
Okay continuity is really important to me - if it’s so important, why not just put multiple songs on a single file and make your set that way? Partly because I am just me, and partly because I like options:

  • My songs are kind of complicated and I use a lot of gear. This makes it hard to shove lots of songs onto a single file and keep things organized and not overwhelming.
  • I regularly start new songs and just junk them. If I did this on a file I had organized for a set, I’d have to do more cleanup.
  • I want flexibility to change my sets around
    – When I stack multiple songs on a single file, I tend to always play those songs together. In reality, what I want is flexibility to go to any song I want.
    – Moving songs to from one pyramid file to another is kind of a pain in the ass and I don’t like doing it

Anyways, so yea - single song per file on the card for me.

:: :: Okay, let’s get into the weeds :: ::

I think about my sets in these layers on my dawless rig-

  • songs
  • the mix
  • continuity (how the songs connect to each other)

– songs –
As far as songs go, I mostly don’t want to be confused or have a hard time remembering things. For this reason I have a template that all my songs use and there’s a way I play all my songs. This is probably a better topic for another thread, but this is important in a set as, if my songs are all wildly different I’ll confuse myself and train wreck.

I guess the next part is, I like to build things in a way where I can make mistakes. I don’t really like rehearsing something over and over and over to get it right. Instead, I like to treat everything like it’s just another improvisation, though after a while I start to remember things. If something goes different one day, that’s okay - the loops I make support me doing that without it being too awful.

– the mix –
This is techno and the name of the game is a flowful groove. Surprises should be titillating if present, and most of the time, things should flow, laminar style. Really I think you should think about your mix in two contexts - the context of your song and then the context of the set (or the local mix vs the mix in continuity). I’m just going to talk about the context of the set/continuity.

Okay, so while it is possible for us to write a 3 hour set using the same presets on 4 synths and one drum kit, it’s more than likely that during the course of your set, you’re going to change your sound up. Now, if you’re a purist, 100% of your sound changes could be the actual dialing of a knob - this is pretty much what all modular people do in my eyes, nothing wrong with that but that’s not me. For the rest of us, we’re probably going to do something akin to:

  • send a program change message to a synth to change it sound
  • send a midi cc value to some sync to set a value (as opposed to a continuous change)
  • load a new sample

This list isn’t exhaustive - but the more significant the settings change, the more careful you have to be about your mix in advance of your performance. What you don’t want, is to forget to turn something down on your mixer, press a track button on the pyramid, and have some blaring loud overwhelming section dominate your song. Nor do you want to change drum kits, and suddenly find that you can’t hear your bass or your leads (and perhaps, didn’t notice until the song was almost over).

You probably see where I’m going with this - but you have to normalize all your sounds. This means normalizing drum kits, normalizing synth patches.

The goal should be to touch your mixer as little as possible when queuing up the next track - mix on your devices where you can get away with it. Personally I find it impossible to manage maybe more than 4 faders before I start forgetting things (I also have a 32 channel mixer, so this is a problem I’ve thought a a lot about).

I’ll flip between my songs and adjust patches etc until I have as few level jumps as I can get away with. Some things still require a fader adjustment when I’m starting the song, again - it’s about making it more of an artistic need than chaos management.

– continuity & one song per file –
Continuity - remember, I’m a techno musician with complicated needs; I want my songs to connect except where I place artistic silence. The pyramid has to stop making sounds when it loads a song too. How do we achieve continuity?

We take advantage of continuous elements in our dig. A continuous element is any element that can make sound when the pyramid is loading a song.

For me I have these continuous elements available in my dawless rig:

  • 2 Delays (and I suppose delays on some synths)
  • Any device with it’s own sequencer

– continuity techniques –
There are a few ways I go about bridging songs.

__ Delays __
Delays are interesting case because you can use them even if you totally stop the pyramid. For delays if you want them to keep making sound while you’re loading, you have to do a feedback juggle. Personally I call this the NIN technique because it kind of reminds me of how Trent would change songs on stage sometimes - just hella noise and shit for a while and get everything ready and boom new song. Because the delays usually just keep on delaying when a clock disappears it’s safe to stop the pyramid - one gotcha here though is if you load a song in a new tempo while the feedback is still playing you’ll likely create a jump (remember to press 2nd when you load your new tracks and then up your tempo slowly!). When I use these, load shit, fade to silence, then start the next track.

__ Other sequencers __
Other sequencers can solve this problem. There are a few ways to approach alternative sequencers and I approach them in two different ways (due to the gear in my rig and play style). One constraint is that for me, I suck at starting and stopping sequencers in time, like suck (or at least I sure did a few years ago last time I tried) so, I always clock sync and trigger sync my sequencers to the pyramid. Some day I might like to start a sequencer that’s off time and sorta figure out how to tweak it into the mix but I’m just not there yet - so yea, sequencers on a global clock.

The two sequencers mechanisms I use break down into:

  • sequencers that start/stop when the pyramid starts/stops – ‘always running’
  • sequencers that I start/stop when I want them to start/stop – ‘not always running’

It’s worth noting that sequencers usually require two things to run: a clock, and a start message. Sequencers can provide their own clocks, but as I said in my rig I sync everything to the pyramid’s clock to the pyramid providing clock is essential (syncload!).

__ always running sequencers __

Some sequencers in my rig are always just running, like my analog Rytm. Whenever I press play on my pyramid, my analog rytm and my digitone sequencers also start their sequencers. As long as I don’t send a stop signal to them and they keep receiving a clock signal, they will keep on trucking. I use the sequencer on my analog rytm because it’s quite a bit better for sequencing drums imho so, I actually didn’t set this up for continuity but I take advantage of it none the less.

Since my Rytm is playing my drums, if I can ensure it gets a clock and does not receive a stop message, it will play sounds for me while the pyramid is loading. This is just Pyramid’s SyncLoad feature

In the case of the pyramid, if I wanted to transition to a new song without drums I have 4 bars of silence on the rytm I can use to have silence, but still resume the drums in perfect time.

The digitone I have is always running as well. It works a little differently than the Pyramid. It has 4 internal tracks you can sequence and 4 external tracks you can sequence; I only use the internal tracks. What I like about digitone is, you can mute the sequenced pattern without muting the sound itself. I’ll have the pyramid play channels on my digitone with sequenced patterns muted, and then when I want to use the digiton’s sequencer I’ll unmute it on the digitone (and maybe unmute on the pyramid). With the digitone I can get up to 4 layers of sounds to use to mix to the next song, if I want.

__ not always running sequencers __
Some sequencers are in your rig but aren’t clever enough to mute while allowing you let the pyramid make sounds. If these sequencers run, they play the locally sequenced sounds, simple as that. For a long time these sequencers were simply unavailable to me - I didn’t use them at all really. These would be like the seqeuncer on my System 8 - just this thing that was kind of there.

When I first got System 8, I set it up to ignore PLAY messages altogether. if I really wanted this sequencer I would just try to start it manually - turns out I really suck at this, so I just ended up saying “another unused sequencer on a synth”.

Okay, but what if I could make sequences on this synth and what if I wanted to use those sequences to provide continuity between my songs?

This is where shit gets a little weird because I really went out of my way to make this work: I intercept PLAY/STOP messages send to this device specifically. Then, I capture certain midi CC values in real time, map them to PLAY/STOP messages, and use those CC’s to effective start/stop the sequencer on the system 8. I use a BomeBox for this.

:: Mixing between songs with other sequencers ::
For the set, the idea to go between songs is this: Toward end of your song, bring in your continuous elements (I like to use the continuous elements in the song, so that they dont sound super foreign). Fade out your pyramid elements. Load on the pyramid (2nd+Load to keep the tempo). Pray a little. The Pyramid will sync to one bar, so keep in mind where your other sequencers are, then press play - voila you made it. Fade out your continuous elements, change your tempo, bring in your new pyramid elements.

On the Pyramid, each song file has a page of ‘landings’. A landing is basically the start of a transition to another song (you ‘land’ on the other song, so to speak). The landing sequences will start sequencers and setup synths for the transition sounds while I’m loading the pyramid. This goes on my page C. Every time i change the set around, I author a new landing, and then I now have a new pathway in my set.

Since I can use my delay trick or sometimes silence is desirable, I’m not against stopping the sequencer altogether but these days I sorta don’t have to. I will say this though, sequencers are very sensitive little creatures and it’s pretty easy to have a crash landing due to little things like blips in midi clock timing.

From any landing, or silence, I can do quite a bit of layering without even restarting the pyramid. I see it as kind of a limbo, where the main controller is out to lunch - but you can make limbo pretty interesting if you really want to. Plenty of the time though, I just like to get my butt over to the next song.

:: Anyways ::
This is how I put my sets together and my most recent continuity techniques. I still use a little bit of notes when I play, but pretty minimal compared to the iteration 1 notebook days.

Here’s the mixing technique from a few months ago, some of the really fancy bomebox stuff is pretty new and I haven’t done it in-person-live yet: Trifecta 5555 - dawless++ _bitwave_ - YouTube

That was a good mix, I enjoyed it.

Your thought processes are a lot similar to mine. In answer to your opening question, yes, one Pyramid ‘save’ file, each section has its own track, some with patterns within those tracks, but mostly just those tracks. I tend to move things along quickly in live sets, so avoid things getting too repetitious by just changing everything every 2-4 minutes.

The idea of being able to make mistakes is highly important. Even better is being able to make mistakes which actually then results in something unexpected or dare I say it… better to come out instead of what was planned. Like accidentally selecting a breakbeat when you meant to bring in a 4/4 kick pattern, then realising and switching it in at the right moment and you get a big cheer from the audience. Or accidentally playing the wrong combination of synth parts and then realising that works really really well.

Inprovisation is also an important part. Otherwise you’d just put a mix CD on, right? I did spend some years doing entirely unplanned and improvised sets, which was great, but then eventually felt that I reached the limits of what I could do and how much fun I could have, so have gone back to writing things beforehand.

I also make sure that each ‘part’ of the set is similar, at least in functionality, you’ll see from the notebook that everything is linear, and everything is in the order needed to be played (with only the 303 having non-consecutive numbers, and the Rytm, which is almost entirely unplanned in what I’ll be playing to what). This is for my own benefit, as I am going to be drunk, and I do not want to get confused on stage.

And level everything before you go out. You just want to do a soundcheck, and then ideally never touch the mixer again until you’re packing up. You won’t hear it properly once you’re on stage anyway.

I am listening to your set now, it’s really nice. I am down with the electro.

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I have a friend who put it one way which is: part of what makes a performance interesting is the risk the performer is taking. Risk I think is the nugget that defeats the CD.

Improvisation (imho) is ‘accepting spontaneous creativity’ and has a lot to do with risk and I think it is extra interesting and make performances extra special.

I think about improvisation a lot - in my mind it’s all rooted in the same thing (saying yes, right now), though it manifests in different ways and so as an improvisational artist you can develop different approaches to ‘managed spontaneity’. Like you mentioned, there’s the performance aspect of it - you’re on stage and anything could happen if you just say yes. This can be your whole performance of your tracks if you want it to or just a couple of quick decisions here and there.

After a while I tend to start to play things the same way despite ‘making it up every time’ as I work toward making a recording, though I can rarely really remember a song top down (like if I had to sit down and explain where the changes were, I’m not entirely sure I could - this level of memorization is painful which is why i don’t do it). I build songs up using the same template and I like to built my sequences from left to right (i also have a couple standard patterns for variations), so it’s usually not too hard for me to kinda look at how a song is setup and ‘know how to play it’. Plus i’ll automate anything I need and struggle to remember.

I’m reluctant to say i’m really improvising at that point tho it’s not exactly memorized and its not sheet music - guess i just know what I like. Lol, more like, once i’m good at a song when I ‘mess up’ which happens every single time, then I start improvising to get my ass out of it or sometimes i get a really fun idea and just go for it. I’m always in the middle of some kinda journey when i’m playing so when I say stuff like “get my ass out of it”, it might mean i’ve somehow ended up in a sonic environment I wasn’t really prepared for and I’ll want to get myself to the a different sonic environment without being egregious about it.

Annnnyways, I think this “rescue-improvisation” is related but different than say, setting out to improvise your whole set. Like, you kinda set yourself up with some level of ‘safety’ and you’ll negotiate your improv within some level of safety - if I know all my loops, then that’s the domain where I am ‘safe’ to improv, I still know them and i know the rules of that context. Or like, if i’m writing a song on the spot in front of people, I have musical knowledge and I have some tricks for managing risks when I know things might have a greater chance of going south, I’ll probably stick to favorite sounds or make sounds up on the spot but not use sounds i don’t recognize. There are different contexts and I think they impact the improv approach because despite looking similar they change the improvisational domain (p.s. I’m kinda making this up as a I go, but it seems interesting).

Heh, some day I think it’d be cool to be able to do that, like, “hey man, someone call out a genre and how high you are” – and after someone shouts dmt really loud you bust out some dub step you wrote on the spot or whatever. I used to go to improv comedy shows and I always liked how you could connect the audience to the performance. I think it’d be really interesting if folks were like improvising entire techno sets on a pyramid from scratch and could do it well.

So yea, I think risk defeats the cd - and I think improv is like, a special kind of creativity that plays on risk. I think this is what made every special show i’ve ever seen special, and every other show kinda just a show. Someone rehearsing the shit out of a guitar solo, not improvising, still impresses me - it just isn’t the same, for me anyways.

oh oh - and i love happy accidents. it’s a good thing what we do is hard or I wouldn’t have them constantly haha :sweat_smile: Maybe we should make a thread where people share techniques they discovered by accident, could be fun.

I did a few years of complete improvisation, but I couldn’t really get the Pyramid to work as an improvisation tool. My improvisations were always a bit chaotic, and the Pyramid’s sequencer never tidied up the chaos enough to make it in any way listenable…

This was 100% improvised (and very chaotic) on the three original volcas and a monotron delay.

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