Interview With Kenzie Slottow: Ableton Live Looping

Today we’re excited to catch up with flutist and composer Kenzie Slottow, to discuss life and upcoming events and projects.  Not only does Kenzie compose amazing music, she does it in a unique way utilizing Ableton Live’s looping capabilities.  She is also a student of Ableton certified instructor, Jimmy Allison.  We’re glad to present to you this recent interview:

AAT: What are some of your biggest influences musically?

KS: Lindsey Stirling– she plays violin to original dubstep, house, electro-pop, and all sorts of EDM. I’d never heard anyone put a classical instrument in that context. And she dances while she plays, which is amazingly difficult.  Her videography is really inspiring to me too. Zoe Keating, she used to play with the band Raspertina, and then she started doing cello looping in a really intricate way, using Ableton and some other software.  She’s a tech person by trade.  Her music is really heartfelt, and it transports you, very evocative.

AAT: How has that inspired your playing?

KS: Zoe made me want to loop. I was discouraged by the limitations of looping at first, and when I heard her music I learned there could be complexity and beauty in it. Lindsey showed me you can move and play your instrument, and since dance is a big part of my background, I saw they could both be done at the same time, and I immediately wanted to incorporate that. Also Lindsey’s music is very energetic and upbeat, and it appeals to a wide demographic of people. I really like her melodies as well.

AAT: How long have you been playing music?

KS: There’s a picture of me sitting with my dad, and singing while he plays guitar, and I look I’m about five. But I started playing flute when I was in 5th grade, so about 17 years.

AAT: Have you been playing the entire time since then?

KS:Yeah.

AAT: When you compose, do you write from the flute, or another instrument?

KS: I’ll sound out the melody in my head onto the flute; sometimes I’ll sing it into a voice memo and sound it out later. Usually I have a vision of the atmosphere I want to create before I even create the melody. I kind of go from big to small. Like “I want to write a love song” or “I want to write a song about being nervous”, which luckily for me translates into something original-sounding every time, because it’s flute and instrumental, without any lyrics.

AAT: How long does it typically take to compose a song?

KS: The songs on the dance EP were conceived in many different versions. So from the first to the final iteration, two of them were at least 6 months. You probably wouldn’t recognize the songs from the first to the last versions. It depends on a lot of things, I can’t really choose how long it takes. It comes from somewhere else, and I need to allow it to come through, without the mind trying to figure it out. It’s something I’m trying to work on, getting more spiritual about something I want to do rationally, and on a schedule.

AAT: How have you noticed that your music’s changed over years?

KS: I started out excited to learn the band and orchestra music in high school, and in college I continued to be passionate about classical music but discovered that there was a flutist in England composing jazzy contemporary stuff, that was notated, and I could read it and learn it. I didn’t have a jazz background, so I needed the notation. Ian Clarke is his name. And that was my introduction into playing non-classical. I asked an older classmate to teach me one of Ian’s pieces. It had almost beat-box type percussive stuff in it, you had to yell in the middle of it and make really dirty flute sounds. So, I loved it! And throughout college I learned Irish flute, and a little bit of North Indian Hindustani flute, and I really enjoyed combining all of the genres I was finding out about. So by senior year, I put together an arrangement using pretty much all three of those, Irish, Indian and Classical. This was unorthodox for a last piece for music school! In grad school at University of Texas, I was introduced to Electro-Acoustic composition; so that’s when I developed an interest in combining electronic sounds with flute. My style has expanded over the past seven years with all that I’ve learned about, and it keeps expanding.

AAT: So that got you into looping?

KS: Yeah, I didn’t know how to use the technology that those composers were using, so I started with a BOSS RC30, because it was much simpler.

AAT: What got you into learning Ableton?

KS: Once I had written several songs with the RC-30 I felt I had reached the limits of that hardware. So, I wanted to be able to take the pieces being recorded, and make them go away and allow them to come back at the end. On the RC-30 if you erase something there’s no bringing it back, unless you switch to another memory track which is tedious. So on Ableton you could do a lot more complex arranging, and it was designed for live performance. Not only would I be able to bring things back, but I could automate panning, volume levels, effects, and I could choose what each foot pedal did on my controller.

AAT: Have you found that using Ableton has changed the nature of your compositions?

KS: Yes. In the studio, making the Hold It Up To The Sun Loops EP, we were basically composing with individual segments instead of live in the studio, because I didn’t know how to use Ableton yet. But we were putting the pieces together in a way that could only be done on Ableton. I wanted to make sure the stuff on the CD could be done live, so the capabilities of the software were really important in creating the songs that way. I was able to give my songs a dramatic arch that was dependent on a lot of expressive techniques, like fading out the first rhythm while it’s overlaid with a different rhythm; like having certain sections play only from the right or left. Really specific details. I know there are a million hardware looping options out there, but I just couldn’t afford all of that, and with Ableton I knew if I got it once then the sky’s the limit, and the hardware would eventually reach a limit, where I would have to turn to the computer anyways.

Kenzie_Slottow_Ableton_Live_Looping

AAT: How long did it take to learn all of that?

KS: I’ve been working on this for about a year, and I now know just enough to make the songs on my album work, and we’re still improving them. I’m looking forward to the moment when I feel like the software is my creative playground.

AAT: Jimmy Allison is your Ableton instructor, how has the experience been, learning with him?

KS: I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without Jimmy. When I first looked at the program it was like a foreign language. I go into Jimmy and I say I want to recreate this song live, it has 24 recorded segments and some of them fade out and come back later, some of them simplify and reappear in their original form, and some of them I want to sample for later in the song. And Jimmy says “Hmmm, I’ve never heard of that before, but let’s try this.” and then he figures it out in 10 or 20 minutes and creates a structure for doing this. And so slowly I’m assimilating this and understanding it, while in the meantime, it’s already happening. I can hear it, I can play it.

AAT: Has he been able to help you learn everything you wanted to learn?

KS: Yeah and more. As I get into my music, he keeps coming up with more ideas for how to make the live sound better. What equipment I might try, like in-ear monitors, and he even helps me with other aspects like an automated scheduling system that has simplified my life! He’s definitely a really holistic teacher and you get more than you expect.

AAT: So you have an album that is about it be released?

KS: Its called Hold It Up To The Sun, and there are two EPs under that name. The Loops EP is the all of the stuff I’ve been working with Jimmy on in Ableton. It’s layers of flute, beat-box, vocals, that I try to tell stories with. They range from really meditative to rock and roll to techno, and to almost comical lyrics. It’s mostly instrumental, with one song of lyrics. The Dance EP is shorter and the electronics were produced ahead of time. They’re lush backtracks with epic beats, and soaring melodies. I literally cannot stand still and play these songs at the same time. It’s being released on October 10th, 2015 at the North Door. Right now it’s available for pre-order on my Kickstarter.

AAT: Tell me about the Kickstarter.

KS: The Kickstarter is both a way to raise money to create the two EP’s, and sharing my first batch of original music with the world. I’m raising $8,000, it started on Labor Day and is continuing until October 7th. I’m offering not only the EP’s, but also T-shirts, remixes and preliminary versions of some of the tracks, for different levels of backing on Kickstarter. People can get the albums and a shirt for $25, and with $35 will also get two tickets to the album release party. At the door they’ll be $10 each.
Also on the Kickstarter page you can find the history behind the album’s title, and read about how this music can inspire children to be more creative.   [Kenzie’s Kickstarter can be found here: http://kck.st/1ODAM26 ]

AAT: Can you say anything more about the Release party?

KS: It’s going to be a very collaborative show. I have at least two dancers I’m going to be working with, three talented band members, and two great videographers,
to make this show a full sensory experience. It’s appropriate for all ages. In addition to playing the full two EP’s, I’m going to be doing covers of some of my biggest influences. There will be guest appearances as well. The vibe is going to be similar to a previous show I put at the Butterfly Bar in 2012 and 2014 called Disco Classical where we had a variety of musicians playing dance music in different styles. People were grooving, dancing or just enjoying themselves the entire night. I’m really looking to recreate that energy, but this time with my original music.

AAT: What time is the show on the 10th?

KS: Doors are at 7:30, Nicholas Azlon of MODAL will be performing at 8, and my set starts at 9. There will be an after party of beat boxing and jams by Maestro Giovani starting at 10:30, in the same location. Tickets are $8 on the North Door website, $10 at the door.

Here is a link to tickets for the show at the North Door: http://northdoor.queueapp.com/events/14700

http://www.facebook.com/events/171634103173831/ , http://www.kenzieslottow.com/ , http://www.instagram.com/kenzieslottow

This concludes our interview.  Stay tuned for more Interviews, Updates, and Tips.

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11 tips for an Ableton Live Performance

11 Tips for Ableton Live Performance

I have performed live music in as a musician in traditional bands, a controlerist/musician in electronic bands, a solo electronic music performer, a DJ, and even as a VJ. Over the years I have picked up a few things that have helped me to put on better and better live shows. so here is a short list of tips for electronic musicians and DJ’s to think about when performing live.

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1 Keep it Simple

This is the tip that is applied to everything. Keep it simple! When you are prepping for an Ableton live performance you want to keep everything as simple as possible so that you can focus on your performance.

 

2 Build Your Box

We are always trying to get outside of the box, but the box has something that is very helpful. The box provides limitations that help you to keep it simple. Let your controllers be the box. Take a good look at the available midi controllers. Not all midi controllers are well suited for an Ableton Live performance rig. I live the Keith McMillen Instruments Quneo for the size and versatility. I love the Akai Apc 40 for its ease of use with in an Ableton Live performance set. The Ableton Push is great as an instrument and grid launcher. do many options. Pick your controllers and work with in the limitations of the controller. Design your Ableton Live performance set to fit the controller. View your controllers like an instrument.
Quneo

 

3 Do not Touch your computer

Watching someone on stage standing behind a computer is boring. As a performing using the computer in front of you is uninspiring. Get the computer out of the way. Try not to put the computer between you and your audience. If your performing an original Ableton Live Performance you are not DJ. So perform, the crowed wants to see a performance. refer to tip number 2. Your box is your instrument. Your instrument is your performance. Build your performance set so you can do everything you need to do without touching your computer.

4 Never let them see you sweat

If your computer is on fire and melting act like it is part of the show. If the audio drops out and everything is silent.. yell at the crowed and hype them up. It doesn’t matter who’s fault the problem is, don’t bring attention to the problem.. act like it is part of the show and solve the problem. Some times that is harder the others. It helps to have a back plan. an Ipod, instruments, other band members.. anything to keep the crowed entertained and distracted while you or some one else solves the problem.

5 Be prepared

Have a back up plan. If your computer is broken be ready with a thumb drive so you can potentially borrow some one else’s. Have a small case of CD so you can play on CDJ’s, maybe an ipad, instruments, anything that you can do to make the show go on. Have extra cables. Be able to get from what ever your outputs are to XLR, 1/4 inch, and RCA. Bring extra usb/firewire/thunderbolt cables. have adaptors. I always have a stereo 1/8inch to left/right 1/4 and RCA just incase my audio interface breaks. This also helps you to be the hero. Promoters, bookers, and artists will remember better if you save the day.

Cable Bag

5 Use a master Ableton Live Performance Set

In most cases you do not want to load a new Ableton Live set for each song. Create one master set that has all your songs in it so you only have to load one Ableton Live set. It may seem impossible, but trust me not only is it possible but 99% of the time it is the Absolute best way to perform.

6 If you do not play it, tweak, or manipulate it, render it.

Render your midi tracks to audio clips. If your processing your music with lots of effects and not manipulating anything render to an audio clip. Not only with this drastically cut down on your CPU usage but you will be able to better organize your live set to fit your box. you can also think in stages. Say you have a synth patch and you want to manipulate the filter cut off and lfo. Render the synth to audio with the filter open and then use auto filter or another filter on the audio.

7 Keep it Simple, Seriously!

you do not need to trigger everything and do everything. Unless of course that is your performance then by all means. If you are a spending trying to trigger every section of the song perfectly the same every time then just make it all one scene and focus on effects, singing, playing an instrument, or what ever it is that your performance is. Keep it simple and focused on performance. Do not worry about what people think. Blow them away with an epic performance of your design. Most people have no idea what your doing anyway so blow their minds!

8 Always except complements well

After your performance when people come and tell you how awesome you are, thank them graciously and smile confidently. I don’t care if you think you sucked and everything went wrong, they don’t have a clue about any of that and they think you are good. Never ever ever say “o man i sucked and screwed it all up”. If you say that that is almost a direct insult to the person that just gave you a compliment.

9 Practice, Practice Practice

This the secret to talent. Practice! Talent is not a gift or some magical thing. Talent comes from hard work, dedication, and practice. You can be as amazing as anyone if you focus and practice. I don’t care if your old, if your young, all you need to do is practice. People get so amazed and young kids that are amazing at what they do. Guess what the get to do all day.. practice, no job, just practice. if you practice we will become great.

10 Have Fun

This is the most important tip to putting on a good performance. Have fun, have lots and lots of fun. Performing music is fun. Even if your expressive emotional music that is all dark and emo, have some fun and enjoy yourself. Dance, move and express your self with every part of your being. That is your job and your job is fun.

11 Back up everything

Cloud storage is cheap these days. Copy.com and dropbox.com are awesome. They have free plans and paid plans. At the very least back up your live performance set. If you have your performance set backed up on the cloud and all your gear is stolen. You can download your live set onto another computer and perform. Your Ableton Live set will run even on a trial copy of Ableton Live. Remember the old show business saying “The Show Must Go On!” this is true even now.

These are just some of the many tips that can help you to put on an amazing Ableton Live Performance. Never forget your job is to entertain, how ever that may be down, what ever you are doing, your primary goal is to entertain people and take them into your world.

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