Elektron’s Octatrack sampler is shipping to producer’s hands, bringing this multitrack, time-stretching, step-sequenced, modulation-packing digital sampling hardware to real-world music-making. The results make comparisons like “Ableton in a box” seem pretty fair – and give you more an idea of what the thing does than Elektron’s bizarre (and wonderful) short science fiction film, which seemed to suggest the box would incite revolutions and make you grow tentacles and change into a tortured alien. (See below)
Two of the people I’d most want to see work the device are featured in the videos above – at top, Richard Devine, and at bottom, Matthew Dear. Devine, for his part, makes use of re-triggering features:
Just triggering single shot samples of nord percussion and analogue drum sounds. Using the three stages of LFO’s for each track to control effects animation and various other parameters. Making some use of the re-trigger sample functions spanned across 4 patterns.
Matthew Dear plays live on a New York public radio station program, Beats In Space on WNYU 89.1FM. (Listen to the whole show.)
It’s a story focused on the drum sample library, not the Octatrack, but there’s also a good example of how far you can stretch a single samples in Surachai’s recent hands-on for TRASH_AUDIO.
Elektron have also in the last couple of months shared sound samples via their very, very active SoundCloud account; examples below.
So, what’s really going on inside the Octatrack? That to me is the interesting element of the design. As Roger Linn and Dave Smith focus on analog synthesis and no digital sampling (at least in Dave’s machine) on the Tempest, the Octatrack takes digital features previous seen in software workflows and builds an integrated hardware design around them.
The heart and soul is an 8-track sequencer, with multiple patterns, arrangements, parts, and scenes for putting together a full performance (or performance set), which connects to “machines” for sample playback or external input machines. The combination of those basic modules is where things get a little crazy, with re-triggering, chaining of tracks, and the like, and Elektron promises to add more in future OS updates.
The other side of the machine is a whole heck of a lot of effects: multi-mode filter, parametric and DJ-style EQs, phaser, flanger, chorus, delay with repeat, plate reverb, compressor, and lo-fi distortion.
The most ingenious addition is a single optical crossfader, which allows DJ-style moves amidst all these digital layers, ideal for making sense of live performance.
Live sampling is a big draw; one of the better walkthroughs of how that works is in this video by darenager (who stresses this is not a musical performance, but a demo – I can appreciate that):
Elektron isn’t assuming you’re going to toss your computer in a bin; there’s a USB2 port for connecting to a computer workflow. But it occurs to me that the likely retort of dedicated computer users – that they can do all this and more – is likely the reason others will choose to use this device. It does less, but focuses entirely on what you might want to do most.
I could go further with that, but I suspect we’ll carry on with this balancing act between digital hardware and software until the last human consumes the last flicker of electricity on earth, so, uh, fill in a zillion already-hashed-out debates here. In fact, let’s imagine them all at once, as a mysterious buzzing sound.
But yes, at the same time as someone who’s reconfiguring my own live software rig, you have to admit that which features they chose – and how you see them mapped to hardware above – is interesting even if you
can’t afford a new don’t want to buy a new Octatrack.
Mostly what makes me happy is knowing that this machine is making other people happy, and then in turn will make some of them make very good music and performances that I get to enjoy.
And yes, I really do love the bizarre short movie Elektron created to promote their device. It’s nothing if not creative.
What do you make of this new design?
In particular, I’d love to hear from those of you who just got new machines. How are you using it musically so far?
Also, if you’re in Sweden, can you tell me what’s in your water that makes you engineer all this insane stuff? Should I wish I had the benefit of your education system? Should I just eat more herring? Both? Or will the herring, at least, make me regret less that I’m not a product of your education system?