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The Laptop as an Instrument?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the coming-soon-to-concert-halls dept.

Music 99

An anonymous reader wonders: "As music production tools, computers are everywhere from recording and mixing to publishing. What about computers as the sole musical instrument? DJing or just playing mp3s aside, we have improvisers and orchestras that treat a laptop as a full-flavored instrument. What's the most interesting laptop-only live act you have seen/heard?"

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There's only one answer. (3, Funny)

TodMinuit (1026042) | more than 7 years ago | (#18955981)

What's the most interesting laptop-only live act you have seen/heard?

A well-played Unreal Tournament match.

[Gun fire]
"5... 4... 3... 2... 1!"
[Gun fire; Explosions; Crazy]

And so on.

Re:There's only one answer. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18956295)

ooooooh, i forgot the rush of UT -
plotting ensues
1. reinstall
2. set flag capture to 10
3. set low grav & instagib
4. set bots to one below godlike
5. ???
6. ecstasy
It's gonna be a messy night ~shivers with delight

solos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18955999)

I'm always performing solos on my upright organ...

Re:solos (1)

dougsyo (84601) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957307)

I know of a fellow that regularly gigs with a laptop, MIDI keyboard, AAS' Lounge Lizard [] and Native Instruments B4 [] . Admittedly, since he first started doing that, standalone keyboards have gotten better and less expensive. I'm a regular hanger-outter on KVR Audio [] , as are some others (hi WR!) I don't want to think about what I've spent on VST hosts, instruments, sample libraries, and upgrades over the last four years...


Live session with Buzz (1)

afd8856 (700296) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956067)

Several years ago I read an article on about a guy producing music and playing it live, using Buzz among others as tracker.

Re:Live session with Buzz (1)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956977)


I was trying to imagine new media pundit Jeff Jarvis covering electronic music, and it gave me cognitive dissonance.

This (1)

Baron Eekman (713784) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956093)

Re:This (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18963755)

I was going to say the same thing. I think the Wii remote could be a great way to make laptop performances more visually interesting.

Labtop as an instrument? (1)

EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956107)

What's the most interesting laptop-only live act you have seen/heard?
None? There's probably great sound editing and mixing software available nowadays, but since when are we considering anything with an audio out plug an instrument? And why focus on laptops? I know that there are guys on the 'net who remix C64/Amiga machine beeps into songs - but we don't consider them instruments. Oh, and one of the links is from 2003.

Re:Labtop as an instrument? (1)

brunascle (994197) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956269)

i somewhat agree.

in the late nineties, my high school had a battle of the bands sorta thing. one guy hooked up his laptop to the speakers and just hit play on a techno song he wrote. that i had a problem with. it's not live, like all the bands where, it's just playing a recording.

but the more the person has to do in real-time that will affect the sound (changing notes, putting in beats, etc), the more it blurs the line between a recording and a live performance. at some point there's not going to be any logical distinction between someone playing a keyboard live and someone playing a laptop live.

Re:Labtop as an instrument? (1)

EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956303)

Well, in the same way that most people don't consider turntables/DJ equipment as musical instruments, I think the same could be said for laptops/PCs.

Re:Labtop as an instrument? (1)

brunascle (994197) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956391)

if they're only using the laptop for something similar to what you'd do with a turntable, then i'd agree. but it is possible to have a simulated instrument on the laptop. a MIDI keyboard for example. i'm pretty sure there's some software that emulates a keyboard on the laptop. that i would consider an instrument, because you're still playing a keyboard, just not using the standard interface.

Re:Labtop as an instrument? (1)

dintech (998802) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957429)

I did something very similar at my high school. I used something called fasttracker 2 which played the majority of the sound and I overlayed samples and beats by pressing stuff on a MIDI keyboard. There was also a drummer, MC and someone scratching to fill out the sound (and stage) a bit. It was good fun although completely unrehearsed and a bit of an abomination. The highlights being the MC slagging the teachers of the school. It exists on tape to this day somewhere... :P

Re:Labtop as an instrument? (1)

Optikschmoptik (971793) | more than 7 years ago | (#18959757)

I've performed on both laptop and turntables, and the visual effect is what makes all the difference.

I once did a DJ set on a laptop, and hardly anyone realized I was even even doing anything related to the music coming out of the speakers.

When people see someone on turntables, they automatically make the connection. They need the visual cue to go with the music. Even though I could DJ with just my laptop, and it would be a lot easier than lugging turntables and extra hardware, I stick with turntables for the control so no one gets confused.

I would think actual instruments make a similar difference for other kinds of music. No one knows what a guy on a laptop is doing, partially because there's a big screen panel blocking the audience's view of you. And if you're actually doing something instead of just playing back a track, you're looking at the screen instead of them.

Re:Labtop as an instrument? (1)

MrHanky (141717) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957195)

The Amiga music of old was scripted in trackers, which are nearly useless for improvising and making live music. The noise scene, however, is very much into improvisation, and also very much into laptops. Merzbow [] makes all his music on laptops these days. It's certainly not everyone's cup of tea, many people would even refuse calling it music, but there's no doubt that he uses his laptop as a sound instrument. Check out Ikue Mori for something slightly more pleasant. There are loads of proper laptop musicians out there, but they don't exactly hit the charts. The fact that you haven't heard of them isn't all that surprising.

Oh yeah, and the focus on laptops is there because they are portable, and can therefore be used more easily as live instruments.

Re:Labtop as an instrument? (2, Interesting)

statusbar (314703) | more than 7 years ago | (#18959033)

Back in 1986 I wrote the Pro MIDI Player [] which was a live performance oriented MIDI sequencer. It allowed you to control the sequence in a live sort of way. I originally wrote it because my band was performing at Expo '86 in Vancouver and we needed some parts sequenced but wanted to be able to repeat parts at our whim during the song. It also controlled lights and flashpots via the parallel port via midi messages in the sequence!

It turned into a product for a while. The old atari-st 'typeset' manual is at: The_Pro_MIDI_Player/Documentation [] and the source code is now GPL'd and available at The_Pro_MIDI_Player/Source_Code/ []

I've always wanted to rewrite this for a newer platform but found the market and the music scenes lacking.


Re:Labtop as an instrument? (1)

torpor (458) | more than 7 years ago | (#18971301)


I feel inclined to port Pro MIDI Player to this platform I'm currently hacking around on .. [] in an effort to completely dissuade any of my normally-interesting-musically friends from ever getting up on stage with a laptop and faking a 'performance' ever again .. ;)

Re:Labtop as an instrument? (1)

statusbar (314703) | more than 7 years ago | (#18983905)


You may want to use my GPL'd MIDI Library in it: r/trunk/libjdkmidi []


Re:Labtop as an instrument? (1)

torpor (458) | more than 7 years ago | (#19009601)

I already ported MidiShare [] to the GP2X .. but your library looks good .. its an unfortunate fact that very few people know about MidiShare, but its one of the nicest MIDI API's out there ..

XP (2, Funny)

islanduniverse (925110) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956127)

Does the windows startup sound count?

Re:XP (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956721)

Yes. []

Re:XP (1)

leathered (780018) | more than 7 years ago | (#18964091)

I heard that a guy called Brian Eno did the Windows startup sounds, just look at the fame it brought him.

Interesting question but I have do increase... (1)

xtracto (837672) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956143)

What Open source programs are available to create music?, What open source software would you use to achieve what the original poster asked?

I am really interesting in this kind of stuff. I know there is a specific Linux distro for media but I do not know if the open source software available is mature enough for to perform live performances (i.e. not prone to crash in the middle of the show).

Re:Interesting question but I have do increase... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18956347)

You're looking for Pd: []

Have you heard of Max/MSP? It's a modular, graphical programming environment where you use basic unit generators to create the synthesis or processing that you want. Pd is the open source, free version written by Miller Puckette (who wrote the original Max). It is all the power you need to create your own music improvisation / processing / performance environment from scratch. All you need is some basic knowledge of how synthesis works.

Re:Interesting question but I have do increase... (1)

FiloEleven (602040) | more than 7 years ago | (#18960185)

...and lots, and lots, and lots of time.

Seriously. Pd is like audio assembly language. Well, I take that back - that would be CSound. But it's remarkably close.

I think that the stuff you can do with Pd, Max, Reaktor and their ilk is pretty fantastic. I also know that I will never, ever sit down and put in the time to learn it. I love experimenting with sounds, but at the end of the day I also want to be able to play something without first building a whole instrument.

To the GP: definitely take parent's advice and have a look at PureData. If you find that it's more low-level than you would like, I'm afraid there aren't a whole lot of OSS options. I've heard good things about Rosegarden for working with MIDI and Ardour for general recording / audio, but that's about it. Truth be told, after I bought Propellerhead Software's Reason, I have barely touched anything else.

Re:Interesting question but I have do increase... (1)

delire (809063) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957029)

I've performed with Pure Data [] on tour and it stood up well on my Debian laptop. At the time I was either using a gamepad or midi-slider interface to drive the instruments I made with this tool, some of which were multichannel. A friend and I have had several hundred people play with our audiovisual instrument Fijuu2 [] day in day out for a week. This setup runs on Ubuntu and uses PD as a sound server. Several other friends perform with Supercollider [] on their Linux laptops .

Where sequencing is concerned I've heard some enjoy Hydrogen [] . For a DAW on Linux it's hard to go past Ardour [] , though that's hardly an instrument.

Re:Interesting question but I have do increase... (1)

johansalk (818687) | more than 7 years ago | (#18965021)

Hey buddy, just in case you know. I really enjoyed Hydrogen last time I played with it, a few days ago, but once I'd made a beat, how do I get it into another application where I'd add bass notes and all those instrumental melodies to it? Do you know?

Re:Interesting question but I have do increase... (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957219)

Not sure about Linux/OSS for realtime performances but there's Rosegarden as an OSS band-in-a-box. The program I have personally seen used live is Propellerhead's Reason [] . Even with Reason you will generally want a MIDI controller keyboard as the PC keyboard makes a fairly poor input for music. I like to use my PC as a performance instrument, but of a different kind. I use Winamp with Milkdrop to do live VJ performances in accompaniment with live DJ's. I use my own mixer coming off the main mixer so I can adjust levels to achieve a better input to the plugin to get the most accurate sync between the motion and music. I have used a number of different conference room type projectors for raves of upwards of a couple hundred people.

Re:Interesting question but I have do increase... (1)

Eideewt (603267) | more than 7 years ago | (#18959403)

You also want to look into LADSPA effects. Ardour is the program for recording what you come up with (and thanks to jack, there's no reason you couldn't record your live sets without extra work) and playing back any background sound you might want. Hydrogen is a great drum machine. Thanks to jack, you can make several programs play along together (e.g. backing tracks) as well as doing whatever it is you do.

A percussion peice... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18956173)

the guy was so pissed at his laptop, he banged it repeatedly against the asphalt.

My laptop is a wind instument (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18956265)

Either that, or breakfast didn't agree with me.

Not only an instrument (1)

BritneySP2 (870776) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956337)

My interest in using a computer as a musical instrument went away quickly after my first chance of getting my hands on a PC; it was not hard to realize that there is much more to a computer than a keyboard. This is similar to looking at a computer as something more than a typewriter.

There are two aspects of using computers as tools: one is about *people working* on a computer (we can call it "Windows-style use"), the other is about a *computer doing work* ("Unix").

I have been always fascinated by the possibility of using a computer to synthesize a sound of an entire symphonic orchestra, and, eventually, being able to *record* music played by that virtual orchestra - without spending countless hours, days and months training your own physical self in the art of interacting with a mechanical device in real time.

Re:Not only an instrument (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18957131)

I find this a rather naive notion. Even synthesizing the sound of a single instrument, like a violin, is a hard, if not impossible task. Now consider a violinist playing his instrument: the timbre, the intonation, the articulation all change continuously. Do you want to input all this data by hand? It would probably be quicker to just learn to play the violin. Of course, you could just teach your computer to play musically, but then you are in the realm of hard AI (and thus sci-fi).

Re:Not only an instrument (1)

BritneySP2 (870776) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958685)

> quicker to just learn to play the violin

Maybe, but you can't possible learn to play all the violins in the orchestra at the same time!

Two points: computer as a much more sophisticated "instrument" than any violin, so you potentially have a lot more freedom of expression; and, you do not have to interact with it in real time - which might be even impossible considering what you might want to achieve.

Finally, I suspect that watching AI do all the work may not be as exciting.

seen? huh! (1)

nighty5 (615965) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956415)

What's the most interesting laptop-only live act you have seen/heard?"

jerking off in bed with a laptop watching porno

"Laptop rock" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18956461)

There are literally thousands of laptop-only and laptop-driven acts in the electronica genres. I've actually worked as a live sound engineer for a lot of them, and it's my favorite genre to work in (because it's so easy). You can run an entire show just off of Reason and such, or you can use your laptop as a MIDI sequencer that triggers any number of electronic instruments. Some acts I can think of offhand that I really got in to are Terrorfakt and Cignal to Noise.

Mashups! (2, Interesting)

mathletics (1033070) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956509)

The best laptop performance I've ever seen is a guy called Girl Talk [] . He makes whole songs out of pieces of pop songs. A lot of work goes into editing the pieces to make them fit, but they are still comprised of almost no original content. If you can find the song "smash your head," it's an excellent introduction. The other killer act I've seen is Dev/Null [] . His music is completely original, but I wouldn't be surprised if I get a few "this is not music" replies. Check out "bolt thrower in a chinese restaurant" or "nitrous induced skull fracture".

Max/MSP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18956551)

Max/MSP is a pretty cool piece of software that basically gives you free reign over the music-making capabilities of a computer. You have objects that do various things and you hook them up to each other via inputs and outputs. It's kind of like object-oriented music-making. Anyway, you can basically build an instrument out of these objects, and the possibilities are mind-numbingly endless. The Max part does MIDI, and MSP is a set of objects that does things to actual audio data. It's not at all free (quite expensive, in fact,) but you can play with it for a month for free.

You And Your Laptop Are Not A Live Act! (1)

Endymion (12816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956563)

As much as I love electronic, industrial, experimental music...

"You and your laptop are not a live act!"

Sure, they are useful tools, but standing behind a laptop looks really stupid on stage. Dance. Sing. Play some other instrument as well. Anything. Just don't stand behind you laptop looking like an idiot. If that's all your music is, press it to CD and give it to a DJ to play. That can be good too... but Live Music requires doing something Live that is visible to the audience!

End Industrial Karaoke now!

Re:You And Your Laptop Are Not A Live Act! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18957751)

You can get away with it if you're Kraftwerk!

Re:You And Your Laptop Are Not A Live Act! (1)

iseth (258694) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958643)

I've seen BT [] do a "Laptop Symphony" (I think is what he called it), at Summerfest a couple years back, and it was quite the kickass show. That link has some photos of similar performances. He definitely gets into it. At the time, I think he was running off a Powerbook.

Re:You And Your Laptop Are Not A Live Act! (1)

Endymion (12816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958801)

I'm not sure about that concert, but from what I've seen of BT, he puts a bunch more into his concerts than just the laptop. He usually has other equipment (and does in those pics, from what I can tell), a light show, etc.

That makes it somewhat borderline... but I'm more talking about how you shouldn't be this idiocy [] (note the lack of a power cable on the keyboard ). That idiot couldn't even tap his foot in time with his own music, and just hit play on the laptop and faked it the whole time.

Re:You And Your Laptop Are Not A Live Act! (1)

Larry Lightbulb (781175) | more than 7 years ago | (#18963019)

"You and your piano are not a live act!" Sure, they are useful tools, but standing behind a piano looks really stupid on stage. Dance. Sing. Play some other instrument as well. Anything. Just don't stand behind you piano looking like an idiot. If that's all your music is, press it to CD and give it to a DJ to play. That can be good too... but Live Music requires doing something Live that is visible to the audience!

Re:You And Your Laptop Are Not A Live Act! (1)

Benwick (203287) | more than 7 years ago | (#18963843)

You And Your Laptop Are Not A Live Act!

And neither is a tuba player, who just sits there blowing out of his mouth and moving his fingers like all the other brass players in the orchestra. They barely even move their feet!!

Re:You And Your Laptop Are Not A Live Act! (1)

Endymion (12816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18967511)


and if that is all the "concert" is, the it's be... rather stupid.

Most of the time you have a tuba, though, it's with a much larger band. The ensemble makes it worthwhile.

The problem here is laptops tend to bring out the "I'll just hit play in the sequencer" attitude in people. I've seen too many "shows" where they just stood there and pretended to poke at the laptop, and/or just messed with levels or something. This is a DJ act. Which is fine, but don't pretend it's a "Live Show" at the same level as having a real band up there.

People need to remember that the most important thing about being on stage is showmanship!

Re:You And Your Laptop Are Not A Live Act! (1)

i_ate_god (899684) | more than 7 years ago | (#18974949)

Sure, they are useful tools, but standing behind a laptop looks really stupid on stage. Dance. Sing. Play some other instrument as well. Anything. Just don't stand behind you laptop looking like an idiot. If that's all your music is, press it to CD and give it to a DJ to play. That can be good too... but Live Music requires doing something Live that is visible to the audience!

I agree whole heartedly. I am an electronic musician but I hate standing on stage bobbing my head infront of a laptop. I AT LEAST bring my Oxygen8 to shows so I can AT LEAST play lead melodies and tweak knobs live. I've played the piano for years and years so that helps as well.

I've seen a lot of electronic acts and the ones that impressed me the most were the least pre programmed sets. Infected Mushroom, a trance act, is a very live act. They jam hard on their nordleads and junos. Squarepusher has a laptop, messes up the knobs, and destroys cognitive responses with his bass. Juno Reactor, laptop, live guitars, drumming, vocals.

uZiq, Luke Vibert, Astral Projection, Talamasca, and various others were disapointing because there was nothing very "live" about it. Luke Vibert and uZiq didn't even have knob boxes.

I love electronic music, I love the freedom it affords me, but I can never stand for alienation of actual LIVE shows and while I may bring my laptop with me on stage, I utterly REFUSE to be that artist who stands behind his laptop with a glowing apple bobbing his or her head and thats it.

Simply put: Live shows are not just about the music, it's about the performance.

The laptop is a musician's greatest friend (2, Informative)

joaquin gray (596589) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956613)

Once upon a time, the pianoforte was the most useful tool any working musician must have. As a working musician, the laptop I have recently acquired (after decades of desktops) has rapidly shown me that things have changed. With me everywhere I go, this little blue-gray tool contains all of my full scores and I can work on my music with ease.. if I am at a gig and want to record, it is at hand to not only record but to burn copies for other people immediately. If I need to make a multi-track recording, I basically have a full music studio at hand. For those people who create electronic music using Reason or Live, the laptop is the perfect device, either sitting in a cafe and composing or high atop a mountain playing music for the nocturnal ravers (that's what they do in my town.) As far as being an instrument in itself, the laptop has every possibility of doing so, especially with a small midi input device which I have seen at school on numerous occasions. My laptop is now my best friend, and I'm sure that many other modern musicians will agree.

Laptop artists (2, Informative)

Sen No Ongaku (639239) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956817)

I've seen live sets from greg davis [] and Keith Fullerton Whitman [] (aka Hrvatski) that were pretty amazing. What made greg davis's performance more dynamic than one might expect out of a laptop musician is that he was also playing found natural instruments (rocks, sand, water, sticks, etc.) and feeding the sound into his Mac, which processed and amplified them back out. Definitely not for everyone, but I found it riveting.

Uh... ever heard of Ableton Live? (3, Interesting)

FZer0 (585622) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956911)

It's a sequencer meant to be played as an instrument. You can download a demo [] (OS X and Win). I use it to play my electronic sets [] and have also used it succesfully with bands and as a DJ-ing tool.

But Live, as popular as it is now (seriously, did you google thoroughly before posting to slashdot?) is far from being the only way to use a laptop as an instrument. People have been using MAX/MSP for years (Live itself was prototyped on it) and there are even some interesting free software ready for that - Pure Data [] and Freewheeling [] come to mind.

Re:Uh... ever heard of Ableton Live? (1)

AugstWest (79042) | more than 7 years ago | (#18966891)

This post should be up at the top.

Ableton has been allowing musicians to use their laptops as instruments for years now. If you google around, you'll find whole bands of 4 or 5 people on stage jamming with Live.

It's a great product, there's a free demo, so check it out.

Re:Uh... ever heard of Ableton Live? (1)

gusset (1096959) | more than 7 years ago | (#18976285)

Interestingly Ableton and Cycling '74 (who publish MAX/MSP) are now working together [] . "Ableton and Cycling '74 have entered into a strategic partnership, forging a "unique alliance between these dynamic and innovative audio/video software companies". The two will join forces to create new software products for the creative community, leveraging their skills, technologies and combined thirty years of experience."

Jack Schitt (1)

edawstwin (242027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956933)

I used to live near a cheap motel that had a bar. I started seeing a sign that said "This Friday: Jack Schitt". So I gathered some friends and we went. It was a total dive, but they actually had some decent beer. Jack was playing guitar but I noticed that all of his accompaniment was a Toshiba laptop. He had drums, bass, rhythm guitar and even backing vocals where necessary. The music wasn't my favorite (basically covers of southern rock and 70s stuff like Styx, ELO, etc...), but he was pretty good and you could tell everyone was having fun since no one (including Jack) could take this guy seriously. No idea what software he used, but the whole performance was pretty polished for what it was.

Tim Exile (2, Informative)

kennylogins (1092227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956941)

As opposed to just playback from a laptop with little to no real-time modulation... ile_us&flash=0 [] "Tim has spent the last year creating and perfecting a radical tool for live performance. Based entirely around Reaktor 5 and a set of customised faders and controllers, it allows him to manipulate samples and his own voice in real time. The unique Exile setup has been showcased at raves and gigs all over the UK and Europe. Native Instruments talked to Tim about his musical past, present and future, and got some very interesting answers. The interview was held at Fail Headquarters in London. " Also, can't get to it right now, but search him on youtube and you can find videos of him performing live. Also see Scrambledhackz... [] Check the videos section... "Technically my mind music machine was realized in form of a software, which basically consists of three modules: a pre-analyzer, a database and a synthesizer. Using the pre-analyzer it is possible to automatically split up an arbitrary amount of audio material into small musically and rhytmically meaningful snippets. For each of those snippets its sonic properties (sound signatures) are extracted by means of psychoacoustic techniques and saved in a database so that a soundpool of samples referenced by their sound signatures is becoming available. The synthesizer analyzes an audio input stream and again splits it up into small snippets and calculates their sound signatures. For every input snippet (or actually its sound signature) the best match out of all the snippets in the database is found and each input snippet is continuously replaced by the best matching (most similar-sounding) snippet from the database. The audio input, which can be other music or as I use it, just human voice, is virtually describing music to be automatically constructed out of samples found in the database." Also see Merzbow...

Re:Tim Exile (2, Interesting)

soliptic (665417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957471)

Yeah, I was gonna mention Tim Exile too, although I would do, cos I know him :)

I've actually had a play on the system he built (well, I had a play about 3-4 years ago, I dare say he's changed it a lot since then. A constant work in progress as far as I could tell...). It's a lot of fun.

See [] for more info and (I expect) tunes / vids etc. Oh, there's also a mass technical interview / Q&A with him here [] .

Right, I'm getting back to work before I read the usual surprisingly stone-age slashdot schtick that comes up on music related stories. You know, if it involves any sort of technology it's cheating, it doesn't take any skill whatsoever, it shouldn't even be called music, I could make that crap in five minutes, you'd never get this back when men were men and Zep were Zep..

Re:Tim Exile (1)

kennylogins (1092227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958433)

Don't suppose you've got any errr... neato Reaktor 5 ensembles you're interested in sharing (yeah I've played with the one that's already out there). :)

Speaking of non-traditional music making, been appreciating some righteous work has been done years back in the BBC radiophonic workshop.

Re:Tim Exile (1)

soliptic (665417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18964257)

Hehe, nah, sorry. Actually, at the time I played with it, it was back on Reaktor 4 I think; well before he gave away that cut down version for NI anyway.

Anyway, the reason he deserves special mention in this article (I was too rushed to say this earlier), is because he is firmly improvisational. If you understand this -- and grasp/literally see how the movements and combinations of the sliders under his control correspond, real-time, to the changes in the resulting output -- I think you see he makes a much stronger case for "the laptop as instrument" than almost any of the Ableton jockeys can.

Animusic (1)

tomzyk (158497) | more than 7 years ago | (#18956971)

Animusic [] is the only one I've seen/heard that is 100% computer-generated audio and video. Saw it on PBS a couple months ago, told my brother about it and he went and bought the 2 DVDs; I've only borrowed the 2nd DVD from him so far. Pretty cool stuff in there actually. It'd be cool to see someone actually BUILD some of those setups too. (like Resonant Chamber from the 2nd disk)

Laptop only music act = boring (1)

Luyseyal (3154) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957013)

I've seen a number of laptop-only acts and let me tell you, they are BORING AS HELL. I'd rather be tied to a chair watching fifth grade Green Day cover bands than go to another boring laptop gig. At least the fifth graders jump around and try to rock out. Your typical laptop DJ stares at the screen, brow furrowed, attempting to divine the next loop to mix in. His idea of rocking out is leaning back in his chair and smiling. You know, that's great and all, but when you pay $10, $20, even $30 to go to the rock show, you want to be entertained by an artist thoroughly enjoying himself, not bored to tears. (BTW, I'm intentionally using "him" because I've never seen a woman equate moving a mouse with a live act.)

A real DJ, laptop or not, rocks out, dances, enjoys the beats, rocks the crowd. My advice to budding artists: keep the laptop, but if you're going to do a live show, be prepared to use your whole body to entertain. Otherwise, your show is no better than a Muzak CD rocking the elevator at work.


Re:Laptop only music act = boring (1)

GrievousMistake (880829) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957881)

While a laptop can make a decent synthetizer, sequencer, recorder, metronome, cue carder, etc., it should definitely be coupled with a more appropriate input device.
I've seen some cool virtual instruments that are played with a laptop touchpad, but I doubt I could woo an audience with my elite ~5 cm finger movements.
A midi keyboard would be the traditional choice, but using, say, a wiimote or a DDR pad could work out. And of course, all hail the mighty Power Glove. This thing [] should provide for some decent tone control and eyecandy.

Re:Laptop only music act = boring (1)

HeadlessNotAHorseman (823040) | more than 7 years ago | (#18966749)

The laptop can make an interesting percussion instrument, but unfortunately not for very long...

A few stories.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18957015)

Well, this past weekend my band played a private party, and post performance, a 'DJ' started playing music off his laptop with a 50in Plasma screen hooked up for CG effects. He was running XP, and using a few differenct audio/jukebox programs. Nothing really impressed me about that set up.....

On another note, back in the mid 90's(showing my age here), several DJ's at a 'Warehouse Party' i went to, had 2 PC's and a laptop set up, mixing the music and the lights LIVE. I thought that was pretty impressive at the time, considering what was pumping out of the speakers, and how many lasers and beam splitters they were controlling. There was also a rediculous amount of fullsize cardboard cutout STORM-TROOPERS everywhere, which was both amusing and surreal. It was one of those 'you had to be there' moments. I can thank the *chemicals* for that...

: )

The laptop as an instrument... (2, Funny)

Half a dent (952274) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957023)

...of torture.

Supporting certain sales laptops seems like that anyway!

Meat Beat Manifesto (1)

Floritard (1058660) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957051)

I've not gone to a lot of concerts in my life, but one of my favorite bands, Meat Beat Manifesto, came to a local venue last year so I went to see this band I've been listening to for years. If you're not familiar with it, it's triphop/jungle/drum 'n' bass/whatever genre cliche you want to call it, electronica basically, but a very underrated band I've always thought. Jack Dangers, the frontman, is apparently a hoarder of old/obscure media and samples a lot of bizarre stuff like old television and movies and old live performances from all kinds of random places. Anyway in his show he had a guy playing electric drums and he and 2 other guys with like 4+ Apple laptops performing the music but the cool thing was the video accompaniment. Basically every strange little noise in these songs I had been listening to for years had come from some video recording and when they came up in the song the clip of video, sometimes only a fraction of a second, would play on the screen. It could have all be pre-sequenced, but I'm pretty sure they were actually playing these video clips like instruments. I remember thinking they had to have some decent specs on those laptops to be shifting around all that high quality video like that. One song has a high-pitched squeak that I figured was some kind of synthesizer but it turned out it was like a 1/4 second clip of Mariah Carey doing her outrageous soprano thing. I would have never guessed it was a human voice in the song. It was a pretty great show, even my friends who never heard the band enjoyed themselves. This could be pretty tame fair, but like I said I don't go to many shows.

Re:Meat Beat Manifesto (1)

cosinezero (833532) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957483)

Actually, the mariah carey video sample was EBN (emergency broadcast network)'s original idea, in the mid 90's. Meat Beat Manifesto is quite amazing. I saw them in 1992 with 808 State and have been a huge fan ever since. Their recent tour (the one you're referring to) was also excellent; though I wouldn't by any stretch call that a laptop show - they had piles of gear; video samplers, laptops, keyboards, triggers...

Re:Meat Beat Manifesto (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18964201)

I've always thought Telecommunication Breakdown was ghostwritten by Jack Dangers. It doesn't sound anything like Commercial Entertainment Product did, and exactly like a MBM album.

Re:Meat Beat Manifesto (1)

br0d (765028) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957653)

I've seen meat beat about 4 times since the mid 90s, Jack has a sense for not only innovation but entertainment, even when the tools may be potentially uninteresting. He did a show on the Actual Sounds tour with the band playing behind a screen, and the live performance was interspersed with all sorts of video footage which was obviously from the video vault he'd compiled over the years (since many of the songs samples came from these clips.) I found the performance interesting in a creative way but somewhat disconnected in the "rock" sense. Meat beat usually has at least drumming going on, and their best performances are when Bansky joins them to dance. As for the OP, I have been recording/mixing/producing all ITB (in the box) with Cubase and VSTi alone for about the last 4 years. I don't use laptops, but I would if I played live more often. A few years back the PCMCIA offerings for audio soundcards were terrible but since companies like RME and MAudio and even MOTU have come out with some really good laptop sound cards. A lot of artists these days are using laptops only for performance, many are just for show and are just playback of previous recordings, but apps like Ableton and Traktor DJ allow for a good bit of on the fly mixing and matching. Ultimately though a laptop performance has to at least have some DVD video or it's boring to me. I actively avoid laptop performances, although several friends have stated that Autechre was their favorite performance of that sort. I don't need a band to have rock guitars being flayed about like penises or rock drummers twirling drumsticks and bashing snares covered in confetti or anything, but there has to be an element of theatre, be it dancers, videos, or whatever for me to want to attend a show.

Re:Meat Beat Manifesto (1)

gusset (1096959) | more than 7 years ago | (#18985711)

I've seen MBM a couple of times. Always with a lot of kit. The London show in 2005 [] looked like it was mostly just laptop controlled. Jack Dangers and Ben Stokes with five laptops, a couple of controller keyboards, a drum pad, mic, video camera etc. A great show but not strictly a laptop only performance.

Laptop for live instrument (3, Interesting)

IV-Swamp (744272) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957291)

I have been composing and performing with midi for about 15 years and using computers live for about 10 years. I usually use a rack mounted standard PC for all of my VST instruments via V-Stack. I may start using Kore but I just started messing with it.

The main problem with laptops is most come with less than stellar sound devices. Some come with 24-bit spdif outs but still suffer from noticeable latency which makes live performance difficult at best. There are a good number of external sound devices available for laptops out now but I have yet to see one that has made me confident enough to move away from my road case rack. Plus it looks cool to show up at a gig with a road case full of esoteric lights and whistles.

Now if someone would just write a VST interpreter that will run in Gentoo I will be pooping with joy.

My keyboard rig:
Old ass Kawai K-4 as controller (Per note aftertouch)
P4 3GHz with Delta 1010 for sound device
Tascam TMD-1000 mixer for external effects

Re:Laptop for live instrument (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18957973)

I think you're supposed to use a real time operating system for things like this, like RTLinux? But you might as well set up a small desktop computer, to get the better hardware support.

Re:Laptop for live instrument (1)

IV-Swamp (744272) | more than 7 years ago | (#18960545)

Interesting. Thanks for the information. RTLinux will be my next experiment. Although our music can be a bit abstract and a few clock errors may make it more interesting :)

Princeton Sound Lab (1)

Falladir (1026636) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957383)

The Princeton Sound Lab [] has created a bunch of tools for just this. You can "bow" the touchpad, for instance. There's a Mac-laptop exclusive utility that generates sounds based on the motion of the laptop (using the internal gyros or accelerometers or whatever).

oh come on tons of bands do this - KRAFTWERK?! (2, Informative)

lilgorgor (7238) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957423)

and practically every other ebm/synth/industrial band. i just saw vnv nation and they had ibooks onstage.

Re:oh come on tons of bands do this - KRAFTWERK?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18970369)

I've been to see at least one band that had an ipod onstage! um06.php []

Usually I find the laptop only bands much less exciting than other electronica bands that have some more interesting instruments on the stage as well. Laptops usually end up with some guy behind them, don't nothing that you can notice.

Autoclav1.1 [] are another band that have ibooks onstage: 202006/Sunday/Auoclav/index.html []

Re:oh come on tons of bands do this - KRAFTWERK?! (1)

rantingkitten (938138) | more than 7 years ago | (#18980397)

That's not the same at all. Having a computer to do some sample work or whatever has been standard practice for years. VNV Nation just played here in Atlanta, and you'll note that while they had their iBooks, they also had a drummer, a keyboardist, and Ronan himself didn't just sit there staring into a laptop -- he was bouncing around and singing and so on.

We're talking here about live shows that are exclusively done with laptops and nothing else.

Hooverphonic's laptop guitar (1)

vrt3 (62368) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957457)

Alex Callier of the Belgian band Hooverphonic uses a guitar with built-in laptop. It's a Fender Telecaster with a laptop built in, and allows for more flexibility in sound effects and between concerts he can use it to surf the web.

There are many results on Google, but almost all of them in Dutch apparently. Here's the only English result I found: [] (see section 'Hooverphonic on tour with one of a kind Intel Guitar'). Ah, Intel has a page about it too, but without reference to Hooverphonic: ng/248418.htm []

Some vids of laptop 'battles' (1)

Spud_u_lika (1096453) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957571) 6/nov/30/gallery-174998/home/photok-5006698 [] That was a pretty cool night - some of the acts really got into the feel of it.

Re:Some vids of laptop 'battles' (1)

gusset (1096959) | more than 7 years ago | (#18985679)

My normal live setup includes a bit more extra kit but I did strip it down to a laptop and a MIDI controller only to compete in Laptop Battle III at the same venue. However, I was rubbish and went out in the first round so I'm not the best example there.

MIDI controllers! (1)

revlayle (964221) | more than 7 years ago | (#18957775)

Using a laptop as a source of one or more virtual synths = OK

Using the laptop itself to play the music live? Well, if I want to actually *play*, I would at least get an external MIDI controller (knobs and keyboards) as it is much easier to handle than a qwerty keyboard - most decent music apps can accept midi inputs and playing notes via a device made for performing is a bit more intuitive than trying to set your keyboard up to do it (IMNSHO, that is, i imagine *some* people are perhaps completely comfortable with using a computer keyboard to play music live). Mixing live is a whole other paradigm, just need good setup on the keyboard and mouse (but I don't necessarily consider that playing).

Morton Subotnick (1)

Saxophonist (937341) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958007)

Morton Subotnick [] played on an electronic music concert at the university I attend. They literally wheeled out a laptop (some variety of Mac) on a cart, and he sat down at the laptop as though he was sitting at a piano. I don't recall what he played, but he is considered a pioneer in electronic music.

Sonic Boom's "Speak & Spell" Tour (1)

ajayrockrock (110281) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958055)

I saw Sonic Boom (aka Pete Kember) open up for the Flaming Lips years ago where he had 6-8 hacked Speak & Spell toys on stage. He would trigger sounds through each one for his full concert.

From an article [] about it:

Of the recent explorations of circuit-bending, Sonic Boom's Data Rape, recorded under the "Experimental Audio Research" ("EAR") banner and available through Space Age Recordings, stands out as the most distinctive. The entire LP was recorded using modified Texas Instruments Speak & Spell devices, together with some audio processing using a Morley phaser and an EMS VCS3. Speak & Spell was the first in a series of educational toys that was to establish electronic speech synthesis in the mass market. Subsequent products included the less successful, and therefore rarer, Speak & Math, and the downright obscure Speak & Read.

The concert was pretty much all ambient sounds from what I remember and not very impressive (sounding), but it was pretty neat seeing him up there with no instruments besides these "toys". :)


C.O.M.A. (1)

ggalien (1096437) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958175)

Those of you around Quebec should check out C.O.M.A. [] , Montreal's yearly electro-noise festival. Last month was 4th edition. 35 live acts spread over 3 days. All music done live with laptops, midi controllers (kaospads, trigger fingers) and a few electronic drums and vintage analog equipment. Big names of the genre are currently Mlada Fronta, Scrap:edx, Liar's Rosebush, Memmaker, Iszoloscope, Ah Cama-Sotz, Vromb, Enduser, Hocico and many others. Relatively small scene but quite alive and well.

Autechre (1)

Brother Dysk (939885) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958241)

Autechre do occasional sets with nothing but a pair of laptops. And are very good.

Re:Autechre (1)

RexRhino (769423) | more than 7 years ago | (#18959297)

Blah... I am a big fan of Autechre, but I have seen their laptop performances twice, and they are BORING... They didn't have any sort of midi controllers or anything, they were just standing there fiddling with the mouse.

Definitly not worth the price of admission (ok, one of the concerts was free... that was worth the price of addmission).

I have seen some live footage of them in the early 90s with hardware, and it is way more exciting and perfomance oriented.

Bands that use laptops. (1)

Proteus Child (535173) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958283)

The Cruxshadows [] use a pair of Mac laptops for sequencing and sampling (I think) on stage. Operation: Reinformation [] use computers extensively in their act (the last time I saw them, they used a Commodore-64 as their MIDI sequencer, and a second C-64 with a joystick as one of their synthesizers instead of a keyboard). There is also a horror-pop act out of Pittsburgh called Nyarlathotep who jam in realtime on laptops during their shows.

Todd Rundgren (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958441)

Todd Rundgren did a tour back in 1990ish in which he used a Mac (li'l desktop, not a laptop of course) as a musical instrument. I distinctly remember him grooving on-stage playing the, um, keyboard.

I'd rather watch paint dry. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18958743)

I have yet to see a good live act of someone just using a laptop.

Sorry, but watching someone read their email is not a performance.

Commodore SX-64! (1)

tachyonflow (539926) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958957)

What's the most interesting laptop-only live act you have seen/heard?"

It's not laptop-only, but a local Denver band, Mr. Pacman [] , uses a Commodore SX-64 on stage. It's a portable version of the Commodore 64 (a "laptop", for sufficiently large values of "lap", I suppose.) Talk about old-school! :)

ZX Spectrum Orchestra (1)

koogydelbbog (451219) | more than 7 years ago | (#18958965)

laptops? too easy! []

"ZX Spectrum Orchestra have been locked away in the lab writing code. They use no midi, no samplers, in fact, no instruments other than Sinclair hardware and peripheral devices. For instance, vocals on tracks are supplied by the Currah Speech. An early speech synthesizer built for the ZX Spectrum, it explores the found poetry of basic keyboard commands."

Laptop Music (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18959105)

Some people you should really check out if you're at all interested in live electronica:

Jamie Lidell... []
One half of Super_Collider (with Christian Vogel), does loads of cool stuff with Max/MSP.

Tim Exile... [] exile_us&ftu=a753afc697500c1&flash=9 []
Does live improvised D&B using his own Reaktor patch. Check out the video in the second link.

Monolake... []
One of the key drivers of Ableton Live.

Cursor Miner... []
One of the best live shows I've ever seen. Pure energy and more creativity in his little finger than most people can muster at all.

This is a really exciting time for live electronic music. The creative tools are finally getting to a standard where you don't have to be a programmer to do interesting stuff.

Now we just need the open source stuff to catch up with commercial software.

you not come across much? theres loads of it! (1)

tristy (741845) | more than 7 years ago | (#18959223)

Chevron, Milanese, Shitmat, I could have sworn i saw Plaid do a laptop set, Kid606, and loads of other people go to any evening of 'underground' electronica and you'll see tonnes of it. Tim Exile is the god of performing live with a laptop though, he's not quite a laptop only chap mind, the last time I saw him he had a luminous green/yellow leotard on and a joystick that he wiggled to control all his noises attached where his todger should have been.

Kid Beyond (1)

Alzheimers (467217) | more than 7 years ago | (#18960115)

Back when AOTS [] was still watchable, they had on a beatboxer/live mixer called Kid Beyond. [] I was quite impressed, but I've never seen him live or really do much else outside that quick set. There's some videos of him over at Youtube [] if you're WMV-Impared and cant's check out his website.

On a related subject... (1)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 7 years ago | (#18960435)

Does anyone have good recs for free (or low cost) sheet music editors?

Captured By Robots! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18960881) []

Oh my.

Coldcut (1)

toounknown (634544) | more than 7 years ago | (#18961123)

The best band I have seen doing this. They actually have written their own custom software and mashup samples of audio and video creating their music and performing. Just two guys, two laptops and a ton of projectors! []

Well said (1)

FoamingToad (904595) | more than 7 years ago | (#18969507)

Caught them almost a year ago in Gateshead, UK. Wasn't certain what to expect but it turned out to be a cracking night. VJamming wins HARD.

There's plenty of clips out there on YouTube of their performances


Aphex Twin (1)

Elwood P Dowd (16933) | more than 7 years ago | (#18961549)

Richard D James famously had a concert where he pressed play on a DAT tape and then proceeded to play Sonic the Hedgehog for the remainder of the show.

Does that count?

Luke Vibert, kid606, jeremy ellis, i could go on.. (1)

phonics (312657) | more than 7 years ago | (#18964811)

Luke Vibert - holy shit. Saw him at RX in SF, at first I didn't realize he wasn't using any controllers.

If you know the original tracks that he's dropping, you will be flabbergasted. He fucks up, too :)

the videos kinda suck, but that's the difference between live and youtube :) [] [] []

kid606 uses controllers, but it's closer to the "instrument" that you're talking about, but not using normal midi keyboards []

the kid606 vids on youtube really tend to not show off the laptoppery :\

and there are a ton of traditional musicians using the computer as the synth for the keyboard

jeremy ellis demoing how he does it (you need to see this) []

That's just off the top of my head. There are a LOT of acts doing this, almost all electronic acts at this point. Nobody wants to lug around irreplaceable hardware anymore unless they're REALLY into it.

Nickel Creek covering Britney Spears (1)

DeafByBeheading (881815) | more than 7 years ago | (#18968555)

I saw Nickel Creek in Santa Rosa last spring. They usually throw a few songs from the greater pop/rock genre into their sets to mix things up a little (I've seen them do Dylan, Radiohead, Beck, and Randy Newman), and on that tour they were covering Britney Spears' "Toxic". They were playing the cover using their regular (acoustic) instruments and hamming it up, and in the middle of the song, someone from their crew ran onto the stage, flipped open a laptop that was sitting there, played a three second break, closed the laptop, and ran right off stage again. Best. Use of a laptop for music. Ever.
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