Less is Less. But Also More…
A while back I started using a Launchpad Mini to accompany my live performances. It works as a hardware interface that controls my music software (Ableton Live) and the whole experience is just delicious – flashing lights and all!
Sadly, the Launchpad isn’t a standalone solution. For smaller performances I wanted a controller that doesn’t need a laptop to play, since it seems silly to spend 15 minutes setting up on stage for a 10-minute performance! I settled on the Akai MPX8 sample player. It is, in a word, limited. And it’s these limitations that have transformed the way I think about equipment.
Here’s how the sample player works: you load a sound (drum kick, audio loop, air horn!) to each of the 8 pads, maybe apply some of the basic onboard effects, and then you’re able to play the sounds back by tapping the pads with your fingers. That’s it. No step sequencing. No live sampling. You’re limited to a few seconds’ worth of audio. It’s all so restrictive, but I’ve found working with this unit to be a freeing experience!
Because I only have 8 pads (as opposed to 64 on my Launchpad), I have to be creative about how I prepare a set. Maybe I don’t need 16 to 20 different samples to play. Maybe I have to combine 2 or more different samples into 1 audio file (a kick and snare sound, for example) so I can play them back by hitting a single pad. I can’t load a full 3-minute backtrack, because the audio file would be too big, so I have to work around this by chopping my instrumentals up into loops.
The reason this was such a revelation is that I’ve realised that the equipment doesn’t make the performer. Manufacturers bombard us with news about their latest products, touting the new features as if they’ll transform our workflow and take our live shows ‘to the next level’. In reality, no new piece of gear can suddenly make me more dynamic on stage. As always it comes down to the effort and dedication each of us is willing to pour into our craft to improve as artists.
Often, taking the time to wring every bit of performance out of an existing instrument and being creative about working around its limitations are the skills that really make us grow as performers and, dare I say it, human beings.
So this is why I smaak my Akai sample player. It can do so little, but I’m only just scratching the surface of some commitment can get out of it.