Highly popular session musician, producer and solo artist (and go-to Ableton guy), Rob Gentry has travelled the world performing with artists from many different genres. There is a chance that you saw him recently performing with Pete Tong and the Heritage Orchestra in the BBC Radio 1 Ibiza Proms. When performing live for his -GENTRY- project, Rob uses Ableton Live and recently took delivery of a Launchkey MkII.
"I thought; I could totally see myself gigging that setup. Just a laptop and a Launchkey. Keep it simple, light."
With Rob’s – completely live – performance complete, we’ve caught an hour of his time to find out a little about where he comes from and how the performance came to be.
But first, if you haven’t seen it, here’s the performance.
So, how did you get into music?
I started playing music when I was six, and later attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for four years.
Keyboards are definitely my strongest instruments, although i also play guitar and bass as well. I’ve never actually owned a real piano, just loads of random keyboards and synths.
I spent a brief time working in a music shop, and would spend ages programming whole tracks into keyboard sequencers, including a full score of Queen’s ‘Off the Record’. That’s why keyboards, and that’s also why Ableton.
My background in playing is lots of classical, jazz and rock n roll stuff and Ableton fits perfectly as the final piece in the puzzle.
How important is external hardware in your setup? Do you mostly work ‘in the box’?
I got my first laptop in about 2002 with Logic, but switched to Ableton in 2010 and been exclusively on Live since. I use it for everything. I’ve been meaning to get back into Logic and ProTools but... I can’t speak highly enough of Ableton.
I feel as though DAW’s are all pretty level now, anyone can create something that could be on the radio using FL, Ableton or whatever, but Ableton’s great for me.
I generally jam for an hour or so working out a track, 90% of the audio that goes in is hardware – recording my hardware synths, samples, or my voice. I don’t really use soft synths.
If I’m away and I have to use a midi controller, there’s a couple of soft synths I use from ‘Togo Audio Line (TAL)’, a Juno plugin and SH101 plugin, as well as the Soundtoys bundle.
There is a lot happening in your video performance. Tell us more about the Ableton Live session.
I recorded and produced that track last month. For synths, I recorded I think a Juno 60, a Moog Rogue, Korg MonoPoly, Rhodes Stage II… Loads of synths, guitar, me singing, loads of drum samples. Bounced everything, and for this video I basically had 5 tracks: vocal stems, pads, one for bass, one for beats and one for a random hi hat that i probably could’ve done without.
I looped two bars of drum beat stuff then played with some delay sends. From then on I just triggered scenes - there was only like 4 of those to be fair, then I just played over the top. I always want to do everything as live as possible. I’d usually be singing as well, but people can’t tell what you’re doing half the time when you’re actually playing live on stage. They’re either into the performance or they’re not, and generally don’t seem to care how you’re performing it (for the solo shows at least). With that in mind I’m trying to make life a little easier for myself and get over everything needing to be live and improvised. For this performance I decided to rein it in a bit.
Tell us about your plug-ins. Are you using any Max For Live applications during this performance?
I use a Max For Live patch called 'CC Map'. This enables you to map Midi CC’s to anything you want - you can’t normally do it outside of Ableton Live unless you’re using a clip that’s active and playing. This allowed me to perform multiple program changes on the Moog Sub 37. I’m also using Metronome Control Max which turns the metronome off after 2 bars. I use 'Utility' to trim at least -6dB on each track so the sliders can be set to max on the Launchkey without clipping the Master fader.
What are your thoughts on the lighter, more responsive action of Launchkey?
The Launchkey’s a weird one. I actually bought one for my friend in New York. She wants to play live with her band. It’s pretty light, but I was worried it was a bit flimsy. The keyboard action is very light, which I was worried about, but after playing it a few days I completely forgot about all that. Compared to the SL MkII; it’s a bit more immediate. The faders are quicker, bigger, easier to grab, closer to the keyboard. I’m really into it. As an SL MkII user there were several features that I missed but I found a bunch of workarounds one of which was the buttons on Launchkey which are momentary, you can’t make them toggle, so you need to toggle the ‘record overdub’ function instead.
We really like how you have integrated the pads into the performance. Are you a Launchpad user?
I use a Novation Launchpad Mini quite a lot, so i’m familiar with triggering clips and button bashing drum parts. It didn’t take long to get up and running with the pads on the Launchkey. I could totally see myself gigging that setup. Just a laptop and a Launchkey. Keep it simple, light.
I’ve used a tonne of Novation gear. I play with ‘Damian Lazarus and the Ancient Moons’, as part of that I use a Zero SL MkII, which I use to control a Prophet 12 module and Strymon BigSky, as well as a Bass Station II. Then I have an SL MkII 49, a Launchpad and a Launchpad Mini. I use the Launchpad Mini with my iPad a fair bit to control BeatMaker 2, as well as the Launchpad app.
How much of your performance was rehearsed?
Not too much! I want people to know it’s live. We didn’t have that much time. It was a really enjoyable afternoon despite a couple of challenges: one of the jacks got stuck, then we had to get a cab to go pick some extra stuff up, as well as it being ridiculously hot in my studio.
We had two hours, did 5 takes and this was the third. All live takes from start to end. I definitely could’ve been better prepared, but i think it turned out pretty well. I’ve got the taste for it now and plan to do a load more videos.
I’m going to start posting little bits and pieces on my Instagram. @thisisgentry