James Patrick’s Ableton Live and synthesis knowledge is deep. He was one of the first, anywhere on earth, to teach and develop a curriculum based on Ableton Live. I had a chance to meet James Patrick, Dubspot Senior Instructor, recently. I sat in on one of his overviews of Silent Way VST. James expertly demonstrated how to seamlessly integrate a modular synth into the DAW of your choice. Then he proceeded to make some pretty cool music using the best of both worlds, software and hardware.
I knew I had to speak with James and get him on the blog to share a bit of his deep Ableton and modular synth knowledge. I even got a chance to see what his thoughts are regarding Bitwig. James also shared with us a bit more about his own venture into educating the musically inclined, The Slam Academy.
Let’s dig in and see if we can keep up.
Tell us a bit about James Patrick’s background?
Began collecting records in junior high. Went to my first DJ party in junior high and then my first Rave around 1994 or 5. Wasn’t as into the rave scene then, more so the beats and IDM, broken beat scene (Autechre, Aphex Twin, Luke Vibert, Squarepusher). Got into DJing and started to meet the local DJ scene in town. Started playing gigs and making connections. Got too far into drugs in the early 20s though and that put a hold on everything. I almost died, OD’d, etc.. multiple times. Finally got locked up for long enough to force a moment of clarity into my life. I looked around and thought back to my music and my friends and realized that I was pissing it all away just to get fucked up. Also my parents loved me and raised me right, so I had no excuse. I cleaned it up and got quickly back into the DJ circuit in Minneapolis through a gig at the local record shop. Under the guidance and friendship of other Minneapolis DJ heroes, I ended up developing my own unique sound and community of fans. The deeper, super late night sound and super extended sunrise sets of after-hours parties and festivals. That’s the niche that I carved out of not really digging the super banging rave music but still really being in love with the dance music community. It’s been treating me amazingly ever since.
How did you get into teaching electronic music?
After working that record shop for about 5 years, I had a falling out with the proprietor. I was still seeking something magical with my own art form, as simply beat matching wasn’t enough for me. I went back to school for sound. Got straight A’s because I had already been the fuck up who just wanted to party. I was ready to kill this. Front of the class style and become the artist that I had dreamed of becoming.
It all came together when, before I graduated, I sat down with the owners of the school and complained about the lack of synthesizers and drum machines in the curriculum. They were some real artists from the Prince camp so they weren’t on bullshit. They new even back then that they had to take that part of music production seriously again. So they brought me on with a small budget to hire one of my mentors (Paul Birken) to help build their soon to be very serious electronic music production program. I was by no means an expert, but I had an overflowing passion for the field and a sincere curiosity that burned on me every day. A desire to really be intimate with the artistic process and the inner journey of the artist. At the time, I just really wanted to make tracks, but in retrospect I now realize what I was hungry for. Real knowledge and the ability to make a difference in the lives of others. You can’t do that if you’re on bullshit, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.
How long have you been using Ableton Live?
Since Ableton 2 which was 2002 approximately.
I hear a lot of debate often about sw/hw in music making but it seems that you are a proponent of integrating the two. Why is that important for you?
Software – Surgical perfection. Hardware – Visceral and lively. You need both to transcend the infinite limitations of either. You might make some cool tracks with only one of the 2, but you’ve gotta fake it somehow. Also many people “own” both..but do they use the tool to make a difference? That is the real question.
Someone who loves something enough to sit at home and do it for fun = Hobbyist.
Someone who loves something enough to get good at it = Craftsman.
Someone who gets good at something and shares it with others = Artist.
Someone who shares something with others that makes their lives better = Important.
Lots of people who have gear are hobbyists or craftsman. Don’t fall into this trap!
I enjoyed your talk on Silent Ways at Moogfest. Give us a rather high level overview of what Silent Ways can do for us.
Silent Way allows DAW control (sync, notes, etc) of external hardware. Not unlike MIDI, but infinitely higher resolution and clocks at an audio rate. (nearly perfect timing). Back to the surgical perfection of software, Ableton Live in particular, coupled with the visceral, juicy magic of analog, Silent Way provides the perfect link between the 2 worlds. I play my analog modular synth with my Push every day, and boy oh boy it’s amazing feeling! Push + Ableton + Modular hardware = BLISS.
Does it only work with Ableton live?
Silent Way is VST or AU format.
What do you think the advantages of ableton live are over other DAWs?
Non-Linearity is the biggest one, allowing all sequence data to live in it’s own timing reality. For improv, song writing or sketching, sound design, collaboration.. getting away from the timeline is incredibly liberating and opens many, many creative doors that are otherwise lost in the world of “technology music production” and thriving in the world of “real musicianship”. We all want to be “real musicians” and this is how we do it with machines. To not use Live nowadays to me is justifiable to a computer technician or computer engineer, but not to a computer “musician.” You’ve gotta got off that timeline and just use your ears! I use Live as a musician in a band and it’s the most profound feeling, being armed with modern, super sonic powers of synths and bass and effect processing while simultaneously summoning classic musicianship aesthetics like chords, melody, percussion, etc.
Have you checked out Bitwig? If so what are your thoughts of it?
I’m happy that our society is evolving and getting away from the classic DAW. There will always be a place for a mixer and tape deck, but for the kid who hears NEW sounds and wants to interact in NEW ways.. Max for Live, Bitwig Studio, Eurorack Modular. This is the way of the future. Will Bitwig compete with Ableton Live? I hope so, a little! Keep everyone on their toes and delivering the very best product to the end user.
Bitwig offers some pretty fun modulation functionalities that would require Max for Live in order to execute inside of Live. Of course that’s free now to Suite users as is the past 20+ years of worldwide development community here: www.maxforlive.com
I understand there are big things to come for Dubspot in LA. What will be your involvement with Dubspot LA opening?
Well, aside from being a virtual cheerleader and course and content designer, I won’t be there too much. My twin baby boys live in Minneapolis, as well as my fans, so I’ll only visit LA for short weekends. June 1st is a strong option though 😉 I’d love to see you out there!
Circling back to modular synthesis, if a newb asked your opinion on getting into modular synthesis and what sort of system to buy, what would be your advise?
I’d suggest visiting a Tip Top Happy Ending Kit with a Bento Box from Foxtone Music. That’ll set you back about 250 bucks and get you set on a case and power supply. Then I’d probably hit up ModularGrid.net or do some surfing around on the internet to find a few classic components (Oscillators, Filters, Envelopes, LFOs, and VCAs) and go from there. If you’re not sure what to get, hit up Foxtone and tell them that I sent you. They’re around 6 days a week and have some high powered geeks on hand ready to give you the inside angle on what cool stuff is floating around this week. *Module availability is always in flux as these companies are tiny! That’s part of the magic of this biz. It’s not like all Korg and Yamaha where you can count on it being around forever. You see something cool? You’d better grab it and a screwdriver and start making sounds!
What is some of the most common advise that you find your self providing for your students?
Fortify your “top down” recipes for creating sounds with “bottom up” concepts that reinforce what you are doing. In other words, always ask: “why”? If you have a synth that you want to learn, create a plain, vanilla (INIT) patch and start fresh with that patch every day. Connecting neural pathways is what this is about, vs just finding a cool preset. Sound is vibration. It all comes back to that.
Tell us about the Slam Academy. Was opening your own school a natural profession from being an Ableton Certifies Instructor?
Slam Academy is a small, boutique electronic music academy. We focus on all of the things you don’t learn at a “normal” music school, and staff all of the local Ableton Certified Trainers in our area. I write all of the classes and focus on all of the things I want everyone who makes music to really know. We have 1 day, 3 week, and 6 month programs, all focusing on electronic music and art creation.
How is attending your school different than YouTube tutorials?
Opening my own school was not exactly just a natural progression, it was more of an obvious necessity in my community. I was already surrounded by great people who loved me and what I did. They loved my teaching and my community of fans and friends. I started curating a big festival in town about 10 years ago. I really hit it off with the partners of the festival and the people who supported it. One thing led to another. After the festival ended, we all stayed in touch and eventually, the PhD of the group (Dr. J. Anthony Allen) came up with this idea to formalize my already very successful private training options and just teach groups of people all at the same time. It was a great idea as Slam Academy is truly unique and making a difference in the arts communities of the Twin Cities. We do not have a full course offering online, so our certificates are currently only available to people who can make it to Minneapolis.
What sort of completion certificates does Slam Academy offer?
We offer certificates in each of our programs, as well as a Producer Certificate that covers all of the major bases. It’s a really fun project and we would love to see any of you attending our online offerings, in particular in Music Theory and Introduction to Electronic Music. The really heavy stuff we only teach in person. That may or may not change in the future.
What new projects are your working on?
My Ableton Certified Training Center – http://www.slamacademy.com/
My Art Gallery – http://gamutgallerympls.com/
A recent student project – http://www.hiawathablue.com/