Loop 2016: Day 1

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The Loop 2016 series of blog posts chronicles Mmmmaven’s Ableton intern and former student, Katharine Fountain, on her journey to Berlin to attend Ableton’s Loop Summit. Loop is three days of discussions, performances, presentations, studios sessions and interactive workshops aimed at exchanging ideas at the cutting edge of music, creativity, and technology. Click here to learn more about Loop, or connect with Katharine via Instagram or on Soundcloud .


Breakbeat Deconstruction: From Hip Hop to Drum & Bass and Beyond

The first presentation that I attended explored the sonic impact of breakbeats and sampling in music production, and was delivered by Dr. Jason Hockman. In addition to being an electronic music producer and co-founder of Drum & Bass label Detuned Transmissions, Dr. Hockman also holds a PhD in Music Research from McGill University, and a Master’s in Music Technology from NYU. He is currently a lecturer in audio engineering and conducts research in music informatics at Birmingham City University.

It was interesting to see how both limitations and advancements in music technology contributed to the way in which breakbeats have been interpreted and sampled over the years.

He illustrated this by sharing numerous examples of how famous breaks such as the Amen were used across a variety of tracks and genres spanning decades. One of my favorite tracks used in his lecture was Tango’s 1996 release “understanding”, which features pitch shifted hi-hats over a heavy rolling bass line.


Synth Build with Bastl Instruments

Every participant at Loop was given the opportunity to sign up for one “Workshop”. There were so many cool things going on that it was almost impossible to choose; however, I was drawn to the modular synth building workshop hosted by Bastl Instruments. Based in Brno, Czech Republic, Bastl is a dynamic and community driven company focused on producing hand-made electronic musical instruments. Many of their instruments are available through their boutique the Noise Kitchen as DIY kits that you can build yourself (fully formed versions can be purchased too!). They also have a cassette label called Bukkotapes. With so many cool projects going on, I was really curious to learn more about this company.

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Full disclosure: I had no previous experience with soldering or even with modular synths, but I figured that if there ever was a time learn – this was it!

We were each given a bag containing the parts that would eventually become our mini modular synths. The model that we would be constructing during the workshop was called the Kastle.

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The board – a piece had to be soldered into each and every one of those holes! It took me a couple of tries to get the hang of it, but after a while it became easier.

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Huddled around a small table in the drafty but charming Kultursaal, 2 Canadians, an Italian, an American, and a Brit got to work soldering.

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Almost ready for the final touches!

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4 hours later…my very own DIY Kastle Mini Modular! It ended up taking most of us quite a bit longer than anticipated to finish our synths (so long, in fact, that we were kicked out of our room to make way for the next event!). Nonetheless, it was a really fun project, and I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie that I felt with my peers as we discussed music and helped one another to finish our synths.

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The crew from Bastl Instruments were really friendly and helpful, and overall it was a great experience! I spend so much time working with music technology every day, but seldom do I stop and think of how everything is working underneath the surface. It definitely added a fresh perspective to how I view electronic instruments, and I would definitely recommend trying something out like this if you ever get the chance!

Robert Henke Presents: Fragile Territories

Next up, I decided to check out Robert Henke‘s laser based audiovisual installation Fragile Territories. Located in the dark and somewhat creepy Sound Chamber. Henke aka Monolake used a series of complex algorithms to create this laser based audiovisual environment. Delicate lasers would draw images at random, while the crackle of electricity oscillated indefinitely.

Every so often, a dark shadow would appear and along with the deep rumble of sub frequency sounds, overwhelm the prior sonic and visual imagery.

Given the acoustics of the space, as well as the audiovisual environment created by Henke, I found these moments of the installation to be the most powerful. I revisited Fragile Territories several times throughout the weekend.


Morton Subotnick & Lillevän in Concert

Day 1 concluded with a collaborative performance between one of the pioneers of electronic music Morton Subotnick, and visual and animation artist Lillevän. Subotnick along with designer Don Buchla, is credited with inventing one of the first analogue synthesizers, The Buchla Series 100, in 1963. It was a nice way to end the day!

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Robert Henke: Failure = Success

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As we’ve been keeping track of newly-released videos from last year’s inaugural Ableton Loop conference, one was over-looked.

Back in April the music software released the keynote speech from one of Ableton’s creators, musician Robert Henke, aka Monolake.

Among many valuable insights, Robert Henke’s keynote presentation at Loop 2015 offers sage advice on dealing with the multitasking nature of modern music making, how to learn from machines, and the counter-intuitive yet undeniable value of failure as a driver of musical and technical innovation.

Watch the keynote, titled “Failure = Success” (!!) here:

Visit other discussions and speakers from last year’s innovative music summit here.

Want to go to Loop 2016? Find more info here.

If this advanced-level music software interests you, hit me up for an introductory lesson! Our laboratory might impress you.

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Meet the 1995 Sequencer That Inspired Ableton Live

1995 PX18 Step Sequencer

Over the last few years Ableton Live, the Digital Audio Workstation that we teach in our music production program, has grown into one of the most popular and innovative tools for making music. However many are unaware that a couple decades ago Ableton founders Gerhard Behles and Robert Henke developed another piece of software, a step sequencer called the PX18. The two would go on to use the PX18 extensively while performing as the duo Monolake, and drew plenty of inspiration from it when designing the first permutations of Live. It only takes a single glance at the GUI to see the obvious connection between Live and the PX18, and in many ways the PX18 can be looked at as a prototype of Live.

A commonly repeated misconception, in fact, is that Live was prototyped in Max. While that was later true of specific devices like Operator, Live was written in C. The prototype, then is really the PX18.

The PX18 is still a functional piece of software, available for download here, though it hasn’t been updated since around 2001, so it is far from the most advanced option available. Despite being outdated as a step sequencer, the PX18 is also incredibly valuable as a window into the imagination of two extraordinary artists. Henke and Behles used the PX18 to sequence nearly all of their Monolake tracks between 1996 and 2002, and its use and development helped them to hammer out the ideas that would become the basis of Ableton Live.

More or less all rhythmical Monolake tracks from 1996 – 2002 have been sequenced with the PX-18 and a lot of inspiration for the way how Ableton Live deals with ‘Clips’ and ‘Scenes’ came from our experience with the PX-18. This version here offers the functionality of a single track of the original PX18.


The creativity and drive to produce their own tools is something that sets Monolake apart from other artists, and is at the core of their philosophy as artists. While Gerhard is now kept busy full-time as CEO of Ableton, Henke still performs as Monolake, and takes pride in programming his own laser shows, such as Lumière II shown above, which he performs using his own self-designed tools and self-written software. This passion for programming and technology started early on in their lives and continues to define their work, and for Henke, it seems nostalgia presents simply too much temptation sometimes…

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For more on Robert Henke, Gerhard Behles, and the PX18, head over to Create Digital Music.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ableton Live, make sure to look into our music production program, which will take you from programming your first drum loops and basslines all the way to producing your very own finished track! Contact us for more information!