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Thoughts about constructing my dawless hardware setup


It's time to give you a quick update on my hardware rig. I know most musicians set their stuff up once and then they play on it forever (or for a long time). They have no interest in setting it up over and over again - never touch a running system.


And why should they? Wiring can take a long time and, to be honest, everyone is just happy when everything works as it should. After all, you have to deal with 3 different circuits - MIDI, power and audio has to be handled in parallel.


I kinda admire these musicians, because I would actually like to handle my setup the same way. But my projects work differently - I usually put my complete setup together for a particual project, and when that's finished, a phase of reorientation follows.


I take a piece of equipment out of the chains because I start working on something new, and at some point I take the whole set apart and start completely from scratch.


I also buy new hardware at this point, which I then want to integrate into the "new" setup (which unfortunately doesn't automatically mean that I don't buy new hardware at the other times haha).


Of course, that permanent wiring, building and dismantling comes with a big advantage: I have become very fast when it comes to hooking my gear in both audio and MIDI chains. Not so long ago, MIDI was really one of my strongest enimies and a real creativity killer. But with each rebuild, I learned more and more and nowadays it's a fairly simple task in my creative process.


Using the hardware limitations


With every new build, I think about how to deal with the limitations that come along and how the signal flow should look alike. The style of music I want to create takes a massive impact on this! Sometimes I draw a system scheme to get a picture of all connectors and audio chains. That can be done with PowerPoint (yes, I sometimes even download pictures of my synths from the internet and visualise the complete scheme with them!).


My mixer, for example, offers a total of 10 inputs (2 Stereo, 6 Mono). But I have many more devices! This automatically means that I have to route some machines to the audio inputs of others to connect more devices than the mixer allows (example: my Peak is routed into the Digitone, which then goes into a compressor > 2 synths, but only uses 1 connection on the mixer).


On the other hand, due to the limited total number of possible devices, I simply have to leave out some and limit myself to a handful of gear.


MIDI Routing


MIDI was a mystery for me for a very long time. Routing usually didn't work and I was quickly frustrated. That is why the Squarp, which I bought 2 years ago, rarely made it to my setup.


This changed when I got myself a THRU and a MERGE box. These two guys made everything much easier and in the meantime the Pyramid has become the centre of my setup. It gives the clock for all the other devices in the rig, takes care of preset and pattern management and sequences the synths.


Sometimes I write the MIDI patterns with Ableton and import them quickly, especially for long progressions, which makes the workflow easier.


The grooveboxes, however, still run their own sequencers because of their workflows which I like a lot. They are only supplied with Pyramid's clock signals and program changes.


To be able to modulate a number of different parameters of a synth in parallel, I programmed a Launchpad Pro with some custom modes. The programming is fixed for each setup and doesn't change. Since I don't label the device, I wrote down all CC parameters in an Excel table which helps me to keep an overview about my program.


Audio Routing


In my current setup, I'm running the synths for pads and leads through a compressor and sidechain their audio with the Kick Output of the Analog Rytm. Unfortunately the compressor works mono only, but I try to overdrive that with stereo effects coming from the other machines.


You can hear the pumping quite well in this piece, it was the first jam I did with this constellation:



My current equipment


At the moment I have the following devices in the rig:


Mixer

Tascam Model 12


Grooveboxes

Elektron Digitakt

Electron Analog Rytm MKII


Synthesizer

Electron Digitone

Novation Peak

Dreadbox Typhon


MIDI Controller

Novation Launchpad Pro

Squarp Pyramid

Arturia Keystep


Effects pedals

Empress Compressor MKII

Strymon Big Sky


Auxiliary devices

Kenton MIDI Thru

Kenton MIDI Merge


Cable Management


You see, I own a lot of gear! I simply love to use different machines from time to time. And it's also quite a lot of audio cables, midi accessories and power plugs. And how I hate cables! I've often researched how to keep it intelligently clean and looked at other musicians' setups to see how they handle it. Their setups looks usually so clean and so tidy - with mine it simply doesn't work. I'm afraid one of the reasons is that I'm always rebuilding my setup haha Paradoxum. Anyway, I've given up trying to sort out all the strings somehow! I just can't manage it.


Cable management is one of the reasons why I regularly take the whole rig apart. Because it forces me to untangle and re-sort all the cables.


From this point of view, it would probably make more sense NOT to disassemble the equipment all the time and to have a permanent set. Then it would be easier to tidy up the cables.


Setup for gigs


By the way. For setups that I create for gigs, the whole thing looks a bit different. I simply can't put all the machines that I want in my luggage.


For this purpose, I usually take 2 or 3 machines out of the setup and develop the songs only with these 2. Mostly its the Digitakt (recently also the Analog Rytm), plus a synth and the Pyramid for sequencing and clock control.


In the embedded video above I tell you more about my current setup and how I route the audio, which is a bit more practical to explain with a camera than in this text.


How is your setup structured? What do you pay attention to?



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