AES Section Meeting Reports

Los Angeles - July 26, 2016

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Suppose you wanted to create a system for your Electronica band where each of the various members could snag a snippet of music your bandmate just improvised so you could add your own layer of music to create something new? And you wanted to do it live on stage, with an audience, without sacrificing control to the front of house mixing engineer, and you wanted it portable? Oh, and you wanted to be able to set it up in under an hour? Impossible, you say? That's where you'd be wrong.

Los Angeles-based band UNA has found a way to accomplish all that and more. By combining bits and pieces of technology from a common Ableton digital audio workstation connected to sequencers, a common musical library, and a shared timecode, the members of UNA have managed to overcome several issues they found on stage with a more conventional setup.

The conventional setup had each instrument (vocals, guitar, keyboards, DJ, and drums) connecting to the stage monitor console and splitting to the front of house desk. This led to difficulties in each member hearing what they wanted in their In-Ear Monitors (IEMs), stifled improvisation, and removed equalization, dynamics, and effect control from the band. The sets ended up more fixed and less fluid.

It wasn't much of a problem to start with a basic rhythm track, layer on a keyboard riff, add a 16-bar playback loop from the DJ, then throw in a guitar solo on top. With the conventional setup, the vocalist couldn't capture the live improvisation of the guitarist, loop a portion of it, and add her own melodies on top, while perhaps letting the keyboard riff drop down in the mix.

This was the impetus to create a new system, with each instrument becoming an "island" with its own sequencer, running a common DAW, connected with fiber optic cables, and utilizing a shared musical library that any of the members could pull from, including the drummer.

In-the-moment expression and fluidity was vastly improved, and no show is quite the same as the last. The monitor board and front of house board are sent all the stems from the DAW, but the artists retain control over their creations.

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