Did I just hobble together an overcomplicated Workstation with Elektron Gear?

Through my journey collecting various peices of gear I’ve always been searching for a workflow that was a little more hands-on and tactile than a DAW. I naturally gravitated twards Elektron stuff because of the hands-on nature and flexibility of it’s sequencer. It is fantastic when working with one single unit. I’ve really enjoyed the stuff I’ve made on the DN Keys and the A4 seperately. Once I need to mix these multiple instruments and and have them play nicely together I’ve gotten deep into the weeds trying to actually songwrite with this thing.

Once I hooked up the A4 MKII with the DN Keys to utilize song mode and got a Roland XV-5080 as well, I’m now second guessing my approach. You see, I’m constantly trying to wrestle with sequencing these things cleanly and trying to arrange more complex peices of music with more polyphony and I’m just wondering if I’ve been going about this all the wrong way. Currently I have a Digitone Keys as a master keyboard with the A4 controlling automation (for song mode). All 4 of DN’s MIDI channels are controlling the XV-5080.

All this is feeding into my daw using my interface / daw as my mixer. Since there is so much of the 5080 still untapped I was thinking about getting either an OT or DT and feeding all its 8 MIDI channels into the XV for a total of 12 MIDI sequenced tracks controlling the 5080… but at that point, didn’t I just basically make some sort of Rube Goldburg workstation?

I’ve always used these more as song writing tools rather than performance tools. Before the A4 the performance aspects of the DN were more out of necesity due to lack of song mode. I now look at things like the Roland Fantom and think that it has everything I’m trying to accomplish wrapped up in a neat little package and I’d songwriting would be way less of a headache if I had something like a modern workstation. I make cheesy video game / rompler music anyway so wouldn’t it just make more sense?

For a frame of refference here’s the last song I made with the whole setup.

It’s probably 75% the Roland rompler and I love how cheesy and late-90s capcom it sounds. Outside of the gorgeous analog sounds I’d lose without the A4, what would I be losing if I went with something like the Fantom? I’d imagine I’d be able to have much more complex arrangements with that than my current setup… but maybe if I practice I could work around the limitations of the 64-step limit and I really just need to get the hang of chaining more together for longer melodies and chord progressions and stuff like that?


Oof. I just had this same thought last night after watching Ame’s liveset breakdown (vid below.)

I spent the last 6 months migrating towards a DAWless live setup (DN+DT+OT, minitaur, td3, lots of controllers), because ableton livesets felt too much like a spreadsheet of prearranged stuff and i was enjoying the ‘walking the edge’ feeling of the Elektrons. But to be honest I have avoided prepping / moving stems from my previous liveset into my OT because the workflow looks crazy annoying. I thus miss having the flexibility of tons of clips I can launch from wherever, whenever. I miss having Sampler loaded with nice felt piano multisamples, I miss polysynths with unlimited voices, I miss Valhalla VST effects, and I miss self-made macros. (I don’t miss bootup time and CPU spikes though)

Seeing the Ame vid made me want to drop the DAWless concept, pick up an APC40mk2 and a TR8s, and just have fun and relax + improvise on top. Frank looks like he’s able to have fun and improvise, can navigate freely between tracks, and let himself chill out with some longer stems loaded in. He still has enough control over the elements that matter to be creative. Really worth a watch all the way through. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpG2wxP2ds4&ab_channel=Âme

On the flip side, even looping using the transition trick reliably during a live set with the OT feels nerve wracking (hey, i’m only 6 months in with the OT), and I really miss having a proper shimmer reverb (DN does the job from the OT’s cue outs though…)

But i’m somehow committed to making it work. I’ve invested this much this far that I’m not going back until I’ve at least got a practiced 60min liveset incorporating some stems, some sequences, some improv, and enough muscle memory that I can have fun and do unique shit i couldnt do in Ableton. If Stimming can do it with 2 OTs, I can do it with 1 damnit. At that point I can decide if I want to switch back to the DAW again:)

sorry, not answering your question, just commiserating! my view is, if you decided to try something, commit to it, then decide based on your experience with both. of course if something is literally so frustrating you’re not even willing to turn on the devices or do the work, then thats a pretty clear sign. but i guess one needs to be honest about what’s holding them back - themselves, or the workflow?


Interesting to read these stories that feel very familiar. Coming from playing in bands and missing the live sparkle when playing with ableton. Then a whole period of pattern based hardware machines combined together. Great, but hard to control.
Right now I am happy with the addition of an mpc live for the past two years. Its a great master midi tool that ties together my other equipment.
My way of working now is making patterns in midi with all machines I own. When Ive got cool patterns and want to start arranging I record all the midi of these patterns into the mpc. This means I dont have to think about all those seperate sequencers and can just tie it all together in the mpc. Amazing. Then when ive got a song backbone i use ableton link so I can loop in ableton and do fx tricks.

And also the new a ility of mpc live to usb plug in all my other gear. Just great and finally an ensemble of instruments feels likke added strength instead of added complexity.

Everybody has their way of working. But to me this was the magic fairy dust to tie all together.


His hybrid approach is interesting, and I appreciate his explanations of his setup, but it seems you could do something like this in a WAY simpler fashion. Like just a few pieces of gear, a laptop and a mixer.

Honestly, if you’re not utilizing the Elektron Sequencers, and not getting into the deep sound design options, then I think maybe you did?

Personally I don’t compose or arrange on hardware at all, I create material OTB, record, and put everything together ITB. I’d never get along with a workstation because that’s just not how I like to work, but it sounds like maybe that’s what you should look into? You could always supplement one with a Digitone or other sound source to widen your palette if that’s what you’re after.

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You have to remember two things, that the reason you did it is because you wanted to get away from the DAW to some degree, which do have drawbacks, and that all this stuff is designed to be wired together to create a setup specially tailored to you. If you have the time and space for it, a big wired setup that you are intimately familiar with could be a productivity booster if you allow it to be. I think you might be turned off by a hardware workstation and miss the mouse. I’m used to arranging in a DAW so my MPC for instance proved too menu-driven for me to want to actually arrange songs in. So it’s now a glorified sampler and MIDI utility box (queue up patterns / reset mutes)


True, guess it comes down to personal preference and approach. Minimalist setups can be efficient but also super annoying with modes, pages, etc. There are quite a few solo-function pieces of kit up there - like the modular he uses for basically a very specific open hi hat sound and maybe a tom once or twice. And he added a second launchpad controller locked to a different clip view, rather than page left and right on the APC40. I can definitely respect that after years of screwing with shift here, page there, etc. Nice to have single-function interfaces and it looks like he built his rig to have gear that’s there if he needs it and wants to improv, and just sits there if he doesn’t.

FWIW he also says in the video he flies with the laptop, apc40, and tr8s in a carry-on, and if the two pedalboards with the outboard synths/pedals/modular dont make it to the gig, he can play just from ableton and the tr8s and still make it work and make it a challenge.

I imagine a number of variables: rig size, interface depth complexity, number of controllable elements, and improvisation-friendliness. It’s about finding the sweet spot of the four for you personally that hits ‘fun + engaging’


Maybe it doesn’t really show in the particular example I gave, but I do feel like I use the features of the sequencer frequently… mostly out of necessity to navigate around voice and track limits, setting up LFOs and Envelopes to handle things that can be recorded directly on other sequencers like pitch bends and slides. I also use trig conditions with fills to make 64 step loops feel longer.

All that sequencer trickery does feel like a roundabout way to do things that are straightforward features in something like a daw or workstation, though. I’m just not so sure if the Elektron way of doing things is conducive to longer arrangements. I think they themselves know this, and that’s why their newer releases have been more and more distilled down into jammy groove boxes; stripping out song modes, arrangers and such from the older, bigger boxes.

I don’t want to have this taken as a slag on Elektron, mind you. I absolutely love the workflow when using one self-contained synth / drum machine. I’ve had many long nights sitting up in bed knocking out cool beats and fun ideas with my model:samples. Some of my own favorite stuff was made with just the Digitone before I swapped it out for the keys.

Maybe I was looking for a way to carry over the joy of tooling around with fun sketches and expand it into a full blown songwriting platform… which just isn’t possible. The more complex the system is, the less immediate it is. At least when it comes to linear songwriting.

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Yeah I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having two different ways to work, depending on what you’re doing - maybe keeping an Elektron box (the M:S, or Digitone, or whatever else) for fun jamming seasions, and a proper workstation or DAW for more composed pieces. Maybe they come together at some point and maybe not, but it doesn’t sound like you’re enjoying what you’re doing right now.

At one point I had all of my gear set up with a similar intention, of creating full songs, and it just never happened, and I found I felt like I was too scatterbrained and had too many options.

Once I split things up into much smaller groups with an emphasis on jamming with just one or two instruments at a time, I felt much better about what I was doing.

I wonder if you spend a few weeks with just the Digitone and your DAW, and see where that gets you, and if that works, or if you feel like you need a dedicated workstation, and maybe time with a smaller setup will help you figure that out.

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…i also got lost in swedish otb approaches at some point…
…more than three at once gets out of hand and overview pretty soonish…

…so i slimmed down to swedish essentials…ot, a4, m:c, heat…
…this offers all swedish advantages sonicwise as handlingwise…
…takt and tone had to go…while beein’ another good combo on their own…

…i might invest in elektron again, once machine drum and monomachine get their comeback, combined in one new box…

but i also never intended to write complete tracks on a otb setup only…end of the line there’s always a recording daw waiting…

for stage i have another dedicated ot mk2 with the m:c standby…

finding a suitable workflow is essential…so when u feel it’s getting overcomplicated, rethink it all over and slim down…really frees ur musical mind…

and ur content is always growing in quality, the more u know ur gear inside out…

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Super nice walkthrough. Lots of wisdom there. But damn the music s so bland :rofl:

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I must say this video has been on loop recently as I’m working on my setup for an upcoming gig, and some of the concepts he explains are very much transposable to the octatrack.
I play stems and loops extracted from my tracks projects in Ableton, and then stich those together using the octachainer to get basically six audio tracks per song for the OT: kicks, cymbals, percs, bass, lead and back melodies.
And I clearly stole his concept of picking a few loops for intros and outros while having a longer part in the middle so you can bring in some of the arrangement you worked on in the studio and have time to improvise a bit. This way, with one part per song I can prepare an intro pattern with some loops that I launch manually using an armed trigger, a main pattern that launches the longer parts of the audio files only once, and an outro pattern that also launches once the outro loops for each stems. I can then change pattern while the loops are still playing, bring parts from the ending song out and from the new song in thus doing some nice “Ableton style” transitions without any looper.
I totally disregarded the part with external synths and stuff because I’m working on a core that works by itself and want to be able to play with only my backpack, but so far it’s working very well!

I was just thinking about this the other day! So are you basically taking a whole song, exporting x bar loops, then chaining them in OTCH so you can slice them on the OT? Then you can choose what section of the song to play (by slider, MIDI controller, manually per track)? I feel like this would allow for a really easy way to “remix” tracks on the fly. I just haven’t gotten around to it, yet. Obviously, there might be issues with certain FX tails not translating/transferring over, but one could get around that.

Exactly what I do! This way I have a few slices for each of the 6 tracks of the song. Some of them are loops and one is a long stem that follow the original arrangement.

I do it manually during the intro and outro of each track and I must say the OT interface is not really the best for that. Unless you are systematic, it’s a bit difficult to know how many slices you have per track, I usually try to restrain to one or two per track. One precaution I had to take to is artificially create a loop at the end of the arrangement part by duplicating the end of the stems a few times so I have a bit of time to move to the outro pattern.

But what’s neat with this is that I only need one part per song and max six audio files per song! On the other hand, you are limited by the number of static samples you can load (you get 21 with 6 static samples per song)

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I could see myself making all the stems the same amount of slices and using the markers on the fader to control moving through the song linearly. How are you handling FX tails from things like delays and reverbs?

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That can be an interesting idea yeah!

I’m not sure which delays and reverb tails you are talking about so I’ll talk about those I encountered:

  • For those in my initial project I made a first intermediary export of the full song for each stem (and also deleting intro and outro fades so I could handle them myself) and then cut my loops in that stem with time effects baked in. I usually go for smooth transitions and fade my loops in and out, so having the effects baked in works pretty well.

  • All my OT tracks have 1) a reverb effect 2) a send button to a space echo pedal so if I want to mute while leaving a tail I can send to either of these effect and have a tail. Moreover, my midi controller is mapped to the track Amp instead of the track level, this way I still get the tail of the reverb while pulling down the volume

Not sure if I answered your question but here is a rehearsal I recorded and you can hear that reverbs and delays are (most of the time) not a problem:

On the other hand, timestretching on the kick and transitions are still one, for the moment :wink:

It’s really funny that this thread was resurrected, as I just ordered a Roland Fantom 6 yesterday! That said, I’ve come to the conclusion that my Elektrons are too important to me when it comes to formulating ideas, and I simply cannot let them go. I’m not going to compose some epic 18 minute progressive rock song on them, and that’s okay.

Elektron Gear for Jamming and sketches, Fantom for more elaborate compositions, DAW for polishing/mixing. I was trying to build a modular workstation out of bits of kit that weren’t really made for that work, hopefully that Fantom fills that role.

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