“Blah, blah, I use Acme MusicStation Pro because it sounds completely dope – I love that compressor.”

Okay. Before we begin, you’re not alone. Yes, a lot of artist profile endorsements, even some well-meaning ones, can wind up being rather useless. But at the risk of being redundant – since many of you get their mailing list – what’s special about a new set of profiles and downloads from Ableton is, you have a rare chance to dig deeper into the world of some musicians, learning about their techniques and approach in a way you can apply to your work.

And that can be literally excavating layers of musical content from the actual sessions.

Machinedrum, aka Travis Stewart, is a producer’s producer, sought-after for his unique imagination and craft solo and as half of the duo Sepalcure (with Praveen Sharma). His music seems to tap into a particular zeitgeist, but regardless of your idiom of expression, there’s something to be learned from the way he wrangles his instruments and tracks. With a downloadable Ableton Live Set, you can dig into some of that material. (In fact, because of the way Ableton stores its audio files, you can do so even if you – cough – don’t use Live.) Here he is talking about some of those layers:

I tend to use field recordings as layers underneath my tunes. I feel it gives the songs an environment or space to exist in, and makes the listening experience a more visual one. I used a noise gate on the water sound that comes in with the drums. It gives the drums a new texture and keeps the song sounding a bit more organic.

All of this segues perfectly to talking about why Room(s) (Planet Mu) and this track “Sacred Frequency” matter, beyond the fact that Travis is an artist in the spotlight now.

Part of the appeal of Machinedrum is to me his ability to saturate the musical spectrum with layers, without losing definition. In his less-heard T. STEWART project, for instance, he’s still working with dreamy, introspective melodies like those drifting in and out of this number. I can talk about that, but it’s even better when you get a chance to hear not only the full result, but examine the brushwork, as it were, in the individual tracks.

Now, while it’s a blow to Creative Commons advocacy, the downloads are labeled “for educational purposes only.” But, perhaps that’s license to resist the temptation to remix and just go in and listen to the raw materials of the music – to look behind the curtain.

So much is made of the fact that now everyone has access to technology, that anyone can produce – with or without the studio and label as gatekeeper, that technology makes process transparent.

Here’s another way of thinking about it, though. Part of what breeds a connoisseur is familiarity. With more access to technology, more people can begin to appreciate what goes into production. Now, the flipside could be that technical tricks alone would take on value. But I think just understanding that there is a process behind music, becoming a more active listener, is always a good thing.

And that can be the way with theory: anything that makes you listen more closely can expand, not contract, your experience of music.

At Ableton:

Machinedrum: Sacred Frequencies

More Machinedrum Listening

I’m talking; better to listen to the music. Here are some good places to start (mixes and Machinedrum originals alike, for the whole landscape):

There’s lots more Machinedrum to hear:


  • http://www.facebook.com/chromatouch Leon Trimble

    it’s the tash/fringe combination i’m liking

  • renzu

    One of my favorite producers. Funny to look inside the project file for Sacred Frequency. There’s a lot of “oh, wow, he did it that way?”

    For some reason, he never seems to consolidate MIDI clips into loops, heh. It does look like a rough project, but I remember reading MD’s approach to the Room(s) album was to make everything as quickly as possible, throwing down and solidifying ideas before the moment was lost.

    Like the article says, there’s a module tracker-ish mindset present in the way clips are used & sequenced– see the “psych synth” track inside, where there’s a lot of specificity to how the sample is replayed. Meticulous sample playback is one of the few degrees of expression you have in an old DOS tracker, so you always had to maximize it.

    As far as his things on Soundcloud go, this one’s probably my fave… just a showcase of sketches. http://soundcloud.com/machinedrum/machinedrum-new-beats-teaser

  • nylarch

    Ableton sound quality…blah blah blah…not professional…blah blah….oh wait this sounds great. Nevermind.

  • nylar

    He’s a top notch producer, but I think that at his age though he should be making some new stuff, not just polishing previous ideas with a slightly different production slant. He’s abit like the skillex of everything other than dubstep….

  • http://Vjkidkadian.com Kid Kadian

    That name rings a bell…
    Just layers and layers of sound, one of the first person I met who really knew how to push a sampler to it limits live and be happy with the results. Figure he be up to something by now!