Welcome to another edition of our exclusive feature Do It Live, where our favorite artists break down the setups they use to perform live on stages all around the world. With the world sheltering in place, artists have had to adjust their methods of performing. As such, our Do It Live series must also adapt. While normally he performs with a band, we invited Eskimo Recordings live act Transistorcake to walk us through his solo performance on his "Ribbles Jam" video, which can be seen below, for a fun and unique take on the feature.
Words and photos by Transistorcake
The Polysix is kind of like the centerpiece in this song and setup. I love this synth, in the 80’s it was Korg’s six-voice polyphonic synth answer to the Juno’s Roland was producing at the time. Being a very basic synth when it comes to features, it has a ton of character thanks to its oscillator and filter sound, together with the onboard effects. I love the ‘ensemble’ effect in particular, which is what I’m using on the part I’m playing at the very end of the video. The ensemble makes the instrument sound like an old videotape or something. Originally, the synth has no other way to be played other than the keyboard itself, but this one was modified with a MIDI input. That made it possible for me to have Ableton Live take over my playing of the “Ribbles riff” after the first rounds, by sending a pre-recorded midi file to after a trigger on the Akai APC mini. That way I could proceed to tweak the filter, pitch, and LFO modulation on the Polysix with both hands-free and play bass guitar on top of the riff. Later on, I stop the midi file again to play my synth solo.
Normally Wouter plays live drums in the band on stage, but in corona crisis times I went with my TR-8s alone. Roland did a great job with the TR-8s I think. It’s a drum machine that offers simulations of all the classic Roland drum machines, keeping the same hands-on control and programming style, but adds the possibility of using your own samples. I programmed the rhythm in it’s ‘fullest’ form earlier, I mean that every ingredient like hi-hats, snares, claps are playing already from the start of the track, but I use the volume sliders to add them to the arrangement and build everything up. Ableton Live is synced to the TR-8s’ clock allowing me to "stop the clock" in the middle of the track. Oh yes, and there’s a ‘fill in’ button I hit once in the end, that scrambles up the pattern for one measure, like a drum fill.
A very early Korg synth, I believe from 1976. This is a true character machine, both when it comes to looks and sound. I’ve been after one for a long long time because they are pretty rare. I’m using two of them in the video, that’s because they don’t have a memory that allows you to quickly recall stored settings. They don’t have midi or cv/gate systems either, leaving you with just the keyboard as the only way to play it. As a piano player, I don’t really mind, I even like it when a synth forces you to try and nail playing a certain part you would’ve otherwise just sequenced with a computer. The upper one I’m using for the wavy synth solo. It’s the ‘chorus’ waveform in combo with the quirky filters that make this massive sound. The other one I’m just using for noise effects because, believe it or not, they have the thickest noise I’ve ever heard from a synth. They’re not both my own synths, by the way, the black one belongs to Turnlab, a Belgian synthesizer store I’m working for as a repair tech, it’s up for sale! Grab your chance! Haha.
Ibanez Bass guitar
This is a vintage copy of a Fender Telecaster bass by Ibanez that belongs to my father, who played this instrument in punk bands when he was younger. I’ve been "borrowing" it for years now (shhh). It’s a bit crappy, hard to keep in tune and it’s pickup is so microphonic you can talk into it and almost understand what you’re saying. That makes it not an ideal bass to use on stage in terms of feedback etc. (unless you are playing in a punk band), but there’s something about it’s metallic and dusty sound that I like and I ended up using it in the studio a lot, especially on the new EP I’m working on right now. In the video, I’m playing the bassline only two times. I’m recording it in Ableton Live at that moment and after it’s recorded, I tell Ableton to loop it using the Akai APC Mini controller. As a synth guy, I’m not a bass guitar hero at all, usually, Xavier plays the bass parts live, a hundred times better then I can.
Last but not least: a vintage little brother of the famous Arp Odyssey. It has a beautiful tone. In this recording I just use it as a little effects machine I could hit whenever I felt like it. What you hear is the filter self-oscillating with the resonance fully up, modulated by the envelope and LFO. The sounds of R2D2 were made with an Arp filter, by the way, hence the sticker.
Check out Transistorcake's debut EP here.