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The Joys of Hardware Sequencers (Story/Rant/Endorsement)

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 6:35 am
by portland
I just got a Kawai Q-80 for $20.50, and really, I wonder why I tried to go software for so long. Starting up Logic was just such a creativity-killer. It took not too much time, but just enough for me to lose my inspiration. And then it would have some software glitch, or, more often, I couldn't fathom how to use it. Now I could always have RTFM, but I never do that unless I'm looking for one specific piece of information. Also, the manual for Logic was not very good because the search function didn't work (though that's probably what I get for being a pirate).

$20.50 later.
Kawai Q-80.
You flick a switch and it's ON. Ready to go! I like to make music using looped sequences, and this unit is perfect for that due to the MOTIF mode (no relation to the Yamaha workstation of the same name). In this mode you select how big you want your loop to be (in bars), and then you begin recording either live or in step mode. Or both, one after the other. The loop keeps going as you record, allowing overdubs. Once you have this loop ready you can either paste it into your song multiple times (which does not decrease memory, since all you are doing is pasting a lookup for that motif) or you can copy it and make another motif of overdubs and save that again. Motifs can also be mixed, quantized, and edited in all sorts of ways. This is excellent for traditional techno! Once you have all your motifs ready, you can start pasting them into a track in the order you desire. Or perhaps you don't know how you want them organized? This is not a problem, because you can put them individually into all the Q-80's 32 tracks. The tracks can be all set to loop, and then you can start muting them live, perhaps like an MMT-8. But this exceeds the MMT-8 in that it has 32 tracks. Now, there are only buttons for 8 of these at a time, but they are set up like a matrix, so you have access to 4 banks of 8 with each press of the "select" button.

Now you want to save your track. But unlike some sequencers, you don't have to save to disk. You can let it sit in the memory, so even if your unit gets unplugged, the data is still there!

How's that grab you? Has anyone else made a downgrade in technology, only to find an upgrade in creativity?

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 6:42 am
by wiss
I hear yeah,

the only thing I like using my computer for, seeing the waveforms..

and dumping all my ideas to it for mass storage.

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 9:47 am
by crystalmsc
toying around with the RS7000 alone is almost like playing a pinball machine within musical context :) the workflow is way more enjoyable than working with a formal DAW. But I hardly wish that it would read bigger SM size and have at least another 4-6 automatable fx.

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 10:47 am
by radam
One of the best things I've ever done for myself = switching from software to hardware

i'm using mpc4000 and machinedrum (MD more often than mpc) as my main sequencers

The machinedrum as a sequencer (using midi-machines) is so much fun...and encourages experimentation with a ferocity I simply cannot explain. I constantly find myself composing melodies and harmonies that I would have never discovered on a keyboard.

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 3:31 pm
by portland
wiss wrote: the only thing I like using my computer for, seeing the waveforms..

and dumping all my ideas to it for mass storage.
I agree to those points, being able to see a recorded waveform while editing is useful.

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 6:46 pm
by madtheory
Hey portland, that's a very good description of how it works! You got a great deal there. I had some for a while for live work, but my problem was that it was very awkward to transfer over existing compositions, because I prefer to compose on a computer based sequencer.

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 7:27 pm
by Yoozer
I started sequencing with a workstation (JW-50, W5) This sucked - anything you wanted to do you had to plan in advance, and you'd need an entire map of the entire track in your head so you knew you'd be quantizing the right part of the right track at the right pitch, even.

I then got into Cubasis. Still tedious, still lots of work to do, assign x to y, and messing in the editors to get rid of excess sysex data.

I then got into Cubase 5 VST, using only the MIDI side. Later, I graduated to a legal version of SX1, upgraded to SX3, and found that it was a creativity killer. The number of steps you have to take to make a new track was just absolutely stupid, getting any semblance of control for softsynths or binding knobs to those on the screen was retarded, and it regularly chewed up all my notes and threw them in the bottom of the MIDI block. So much for buying 2 Midex 8's.

I've had an MPC for a brief while and it was a lot of fun, but transferring samples was still tedious (regardless of CF card reader and built-in harddisk) and editing them was -really- tedious. However, if you're well-prepared (e.g. all your samples have been cut or are trivial to cut), it's great.

Still however not as great as Ableton. The ridiculous number of steps to get a softsynth going there is reduced from 20 to 2 - drag VST in there and hit Record (or for hardware, choose MIDI channel and hit Record) The entire idea of software is that you no longer have to follow hardware conventions and constraints - why can't I just drag effects around? (Cubase had to wait until version 4 for this). Why should there be a limit to the number of effects? (a computer knows what's in the chain, why stop at 6?). So, hardware sequencers - charming, lots of fun if they're pattern-based, but killing creativity does not equal using any software sequencer.

If anything, creativity killers are those things that take your focus and drive away by firing at you with a million little darts of bullshit instead of just assuming the sane defaults. Hardware is sort of forced to do this because it's limited, but it makes up for it by having not enough controls (diving into menus, pushing buttons). Software does this if the developers aren't stuck in the "it must resemble real life" school of thought.

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 9:24 pm
by gs
The sequencer in my M1 lets me do that "live looping while you add more notes" thingy, like your Kawai. But the M1 is on loan to a friend, and none of my other synths have built-in sequencers. So I found an old Yamaha QX21 for $6.00 on eBay and am having loads of fun with it. I love hardware sequencers for their ease of use and immediacy. It's only a 2-track sequencer but you create more tracks by bouncing 1-to-2 and 2-to-1 etc. No audio loss there because it's only MIDI data! :) It also has a jack for a footswitch to let you start/stop the sequencer- very handy when you got both hands busy on the keys.

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 11:47 pm
by discointellect
Well everyone has their preferred way of working but I love hardware sequencers. The Akai MPCs are great (I've owned a 2000, 1000 and now have a 2000xl) for just getting things down quickly - turn it on, press record and away you go. It's quick and you don't have all faffing around you get on a PC. For more inspirational/creative stuff I use a Doepfer Regelwerk and the ridiculously cool Sequentix P3, because why use one hardware sequencer when you can use three instead :)

Posted: Tue Jul 08, 2008 11:57 pm
by Phollop Willing PA
I've always been a firm believer in hardware over software.

I use a Roland MC 50 and a Yamaha QX 7 sequencers.

It's amazing what you can do with stand alone sequencers sometimes.

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 2:48 am
by Soundwave
My Elektrons have ensured I'll never want to sequence with a mouse ever again unless I really have too! 8) 8)

My mates P3 is cool too with ton's of depth but it's still not as immediate as my two Swedish beauty's.

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 3:56 am
by Alex E
I used an Alesis MMT-8 for a while, and recently sold it, and while it was actually more reliable than my imac g5 (which shuts itself off :lol: :? :evil:) I was not able to be real meticulous about stuff like individual notes and complex looping sequences. 16th note sequences never worked right since the velocity always was different for each note and it proved to be too difficult to edit that out. I mostly do trance, and imho software sequencers are best suited for that anyways, especially when I need a software instrument.

Hardware sequencers definitely offer more instant fun though. But for me, I still prefer software sequencers.

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 4:51 am
by tunedLow
I don't see it as having to use one or the other. I have a future retro revo and a frostwave fat. What I'll often do is write a sequence from the revo to a midi track in Ableton, then tweak the pattern it until I'm happy with it, and make copies for variations on the pattern. Once I have that I'll fire a synth with those sequences and use the frostwave to tweak a parameter on the synth.

So this way I use the functionality of each component that works best for me. I love using midi tracks - I can hit record and start playing keys, just jamming for a while. When I'm done I'll go back and copy/paste/merge parts to get something I like that's cohesive. Then I get the fun of using the hardware sequencers for real time tweaking. Writing out the notes directly to a midi track is absurd, and I agree it's way to tedious to draw out stuff you want to do with cv. But at the same time it's just so handy to be able to instantly record and handle midi. So I say use it all.

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 7:18 am
by wvcttr
Hardware sequencers are great for fiddling with a few patterns, but I don't find them easy to create entire songs. You gotta plan it all out. And I don't like planning... also consider that some of my hardware sequencers are better suited for live manipulation (notron, maq 16/3) and others are a joy to program simple patterns but, a pain to do more complex stuff (202, 303, 606, 888). No MPCs or Yamaha all-in-one boxes for me... too much menu diving.

So why hardware?

For me, it's more fun than starring at a computer screen. Sounds and manipulations come from knobs and switches rather than mouse clicks. More physical... more immediate...

Not that I'm against computers. You need to record all this somewhere then edit out the nice bits, loop things, arrange things, and mess things up using crazy software effects. It's fun too... but a different kind of fun.

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2008 11:01 am
by hageir
I have to get into the Song Mode on my MD..
I think I'll use the MD+MnM to sequence other gear, they're great! :)