Novation Launchpad 2/3: an artist’s perspective

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Our previous article focused on the hacking side of the Launchpad. This time we’d like to offer a different point of view, the performer’s one.
Madedeleine Bloom is a new singer/songwriter/computer geek from Berlin, Germany. She’s a Live user, and a happy owner of a Launchpad since a few weeks.
Her debut album, Minutia, is “an eclectic blend of impassioned songs made of piano, mbira, upright bass, cello, strings, harps, ticking clocks, S-Bahn sounds, water, paper, coffee brewing, stones, glass, ice, music boxes, steps and lots and lots of vocals”.
If this tasty list made you curious (and it definitely should!), you can read more about Madeleine Bloom on her official website.

She shared with us her early impressions on the controller, and talked about how she’s going to integrate it in her live set-up.

Hi Madeleine, the Launchpad is your new musical toy. Could you tell us how you’re using it?

So far I’m only using the Launchpad to play live and I’m not sure if I will ever use it in the studio. Never say never though.
My current live set up is as follows: MacBook Pro, a keyboard (M-Audio Keystation 49e – to play, not used as a MIDI controller), the Launchpad, my array mbira and a microphone plugged into my audio interface (Edirol FA-66) for looping purposes. I don’t like the laptop to be central in my performance because the computer is just the means to an end.

The Launchpad serves as a remote controller so I only have to touch the laptop to load a new song. I strive to do as much live as possible so I’ve set up the User 1 mode to mainly have control over Ableton Live’s Looper. Quite often more than just one track of it per song to loop vocals and/or array mbira. The MIDI assignment is always the same for easier use: the top row is for the pedal (record, overdub, play and so on), the second row for undo, the third for reverse, the fifth to mute the track, the seventh to clear and the 8th to stop the Looper. This way I have easy access to anything I want to do in audio looping and can improvise at any point if I like.
I use the Session Mode to trigger clips, but I’ve also assigned certain buttons to arm MIDI tracks or to toggle between MIDI instruments and effects or sometimes to mute Looper tracks. Usually most of this would be done in the Mixer Mode, but when playing keyboard or mbira I only have enough time to press one button at most. So far I rarely use the Mixer Mode. I also haven’t used User Mode 2.

I’ve read on your Twitter that the Launchpad already gave you some new arranging ideas. Could you tell us more? What’s the added value of such grid-based devices, in your experience?

I usually load one song at a time, but I’ve tried to break up my set list into a couple of sets since I own the Launchpad to have a better flow. Because I’m using a lot of MIDI instruments it’s using up quite a lot of RAM and it makes it harder to find feasible MIDI assignments that I have easy access to while playing that I can still remember on stage. I still haven’t found the perfect solution to this problem as of yet. In most of my songs I don’t only sing, but also play keyboard or array mbira which leaves very little time to control things. If I only had songs with the same chord progression I could simply loop things and build them this way, but I usually have different chords for verse, chorus and the bridge or a middle8. This is another issue I have yet to suss out.

To be honest I’ve got lots of ideas, but haven’t had the time to try and figure things out.
For one I want to use a Wiimote and Nunchuk to play ‘air drums’ – create beats live. Not only would it be more visual for the audience, but because it’s wireless I’d be less glued to one spot on stage. The Launchpad comes in handy to quickly jump between / arm tracks you want to record in or effects that could be then controlled with the Wiimote.
Overall I want my live set to be more intuitve and improvised to give me more freedom while playing. I’m hoping to have enough time in the coming weeks to sit down and find a way that works for me. One thing that will be useful is that you can use the velocity in Ableton Live’s MIDI effects to change the colour of the buttons.
The 8×8 grid is very convenient for triggering clips, but also to assign the same MIDI commands to several tracks the way I do it with the Looper. It’s very visual which makes it needless to look at your laptop screen whilst playing.

Is there something about the Launchpad that you’d like to be improved?

Compared to most other MIDI controllers it’s pretty compact and lightweight which is why I chose it in the first place. It does have a rather crude way to adjust the volume though. 6dB steps give you too abrupt changes. In my opinion it could do with either a fader that could be switched to work on any separate track or the master to do that. Or 8 knobs that could of course be reassigned to control either the track volume or other values or effects. I don’t think that’s part of their plan though so I’m thinking of adding a Faderfox LC2 to have even more control when playing live through its faders and buttons and also implementing a Wiimote and Nunchuk to play live drums as well as manipulating effects. I also would have liked a button that actually stops Live not just the clips, but I realise that since most people will use the Launchpad to play DJ sets or house/techno sets they won’t have a need for that as much as me. A blue LED would be nice so you could indicate other control functions you’ve assigned yourself.

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Novation Launchpad 1/3: a hacker’s perspective

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