In the past month I have taught two online classes on live performance with Ableton Live and laptops – one for DJLab’s (Costa Rica) Certificate Program in Music Production with Ableton Live and one at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. It is a particularly strange time to teach these classes since for the first time in its history, the musical live performance industry is essentially dead. Unfortunately, my friends and colleagues who are DJs, musicians, promoters etc. are really suffering from this economic catastrophe and no one really knows when the industry will resurrect itself.
I believe with absolutely faith, however, that live music will rise again. Humanity has suffered innumerable catastrophes in its history – wars, plagues famines, political repression and yet live music has outlasted every disaster and regime that tried to abolish it. I believe that it is such a fundamental human desire to connect with others in the same space through music and movement that as long as humans exist as a species on this planet, it will survive along with them. I saw this first hand in my 20’s when out of the need for any income I could get, I took a job playing music for three and four year olds in a daycare in New York City. In the end, I feel that these little ones taught me far more about live performance and how human beings instinctively respond to music than other experience I’ve ever had. It struck me that no matter how these human beings would turn out – bankers, lawyers, nurses, doctors, politicians, criminals, soldiers, artists, sinners, saints or something in between – at the age of three when they heard a rhythm and music, they would feel such a powerful need to stand up, dance and sing that they really couldn’t help themselves, And they would do it freely without any shame.
My students have been amazing. All of them – in NYC and Costa Rica – have been essentially locked in their houses and yet most of them still show up, on time, to take their weekly course on live performance. At this point, we can only dream of playing live again and that’s what we’ve been doing. As an assignment, I’ve asked both classes to choose their favorite live performances with the stipulations that 1. A computer running Ableton Live must be part of the live performance 2. The performer must use a controller, instrument or voice.
The students in the United States, England and Costa Rica have found some amazing performances and since they have such great taste in music, I feel lucky to have been introduced to some amazing new artists. I wanted to share some of these performances give my take on the equipment and some of the techniques I believe they are using. You can simply watch and enjoy these amazing performance videos or nerd out by reading about the technology. Since my students have collected so many great examples of electronic music performances using Ableton Live, I’ll be running these blog posts as a weekly series for the forseeable future featuring a great performance in each one.
GREAT ABLETON LIVE PERFORMANCE: FKJ “LIve Le Fee Electricite, Paris” 2017
Instruments/Controllers Used (That I Can Identify):
15 inch Macbook Pro Running Ableton Live
Alto Saxophone with microphone
About The Performance:
FKJ or French Kiwi Juice is the stage name of the French artist/producer Vincent Fenton. In the past decade, FKJ has won acclaim for both his incredibly funky/soulful productions and his cutting-edge use of looping and layering with Ableton Live using multiple instruments. He’s toured globally presenting his live looped improvisations as well as recorded numerous video loop-based performances including an amazing one shot at Salar de Uyani in the Bolivian Andes.
FKJ’s background is a jazz one and he cites as his influence jazz pianists Monty Alexander, Thelonious Monk and improvising guitarists like Santana and B.B. King. He also scored films and TV. His sets are a mix of music that is pre-prepared and improvised, though he states that he tries things out every night and they serve as his inspiration for future improvisations.
As for how FKJ is using Ableton, I haven’t found an interview where he specifically discusses his process, however, my guess from watching the video is using both the APC40 MKII and the Keith MacMillen Softstep 2 to set up and record into Ableton’s Session view. He also has some sounds and samples pre-programmed as well.
Dan Freeman is a bassist/producer/Ableton Certified Trainer based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s the Director of the Brooklyn Digital Conservatory and on the faculty of The Juilliard School and New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music where he teaches electronic music and live performance with laptops and Ableton Live. He also performs a live set using the Ableton Push and live instruments.
When he’s not in New York City, he directs the music production program and designs curriculum at DJLab in San Jose, Costa Rica.