Immediate yet deep enough sequencer?

Hello there

I’m looking for an immediate sequencer I can jam with, yet deep enough to structure a song.

Little bit of a background. I started making music 15 years ago, and I spent the first ten years making techno-noise music in front of my computer on Propellerhead Reason. Five years ago or so I went out of the box and started to make dancefloor music, launched my label, have regular gigs since…
Well, I used to make music sitting, and now I’m making music standing (and dancing).

But recently I got bored of my Digitakt+Digitone duo as sequencers of the whole studio (Avalon 303, OpSIX, Typhon, Minitaur, FB-01, TR-09 and pedals). Got bored of the Elektron sequencer actually. Not that it’s not great, don’t get me wrong (I don’t want to discuss how great it is!), but I found myself stuck in loops, and struggled to go from the jam loop to the song on the DT/DN, and I actually spent a lot more time on Bitwig to finish the song (let’s say a 20/80% share of the time jamming/DAWing).

“Lack of song mode”, I though! Bought an OT. Meh. It’s a sampler, not a brain for a setup, and I’m actually not much of a sample mangler, so I’ve let it go, it was a waste in my hands.

Bought an MPC One. Fantastic piece of gear, I clearly get why it is so popular but… found myself back sitting on a chair, working on a touchscreen that is, pretty much, a DAW. There’s a lot of performance stuffs for the jamming part, but as soon as I try to make the backbones of the structure for a song, I just sit on my stool for hours working on that 7" screen, sitting next to my 24" computer screen.

Am I doomed and destined to sit back on a chair everytime I want to structure my song, or is there any piece of device in this world that could be halfway between the immediacy+limitations of the DT/DN and the tediousness+unlimited range of possibilities of the MPC?

Checked the Polyend Tracker at the shop yesterday, it might be it…? But wanted to discuss it before pulling another trigger.

Thanks!

The sequencer, song mode and performance mode on the tracker are fantastic.

As long as you can get on with the tracker interface.

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I really didn’t get on with the Polyend but M8 is great for all the above.

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For the record, the MPC sequencer is more powerful than Reason’s sequencer. For example, it has MPE/polyphonic aftertouch support, probability and ratcheting - all very powerful and creative tools.

In my opinion, the power of the MPC sequencer is that it lets you perform on the pads, with polyphonic aftertouch when you need it for synth sounds, or simply velocity and the tactile feel for things like drums. It’s an instrument backed up by a fully featured sequencer under the hood. And therein lies the key: to use it as an instrument first.

By leveraging the amazing arp/Note Repeat functionality, you can whip up new songs so quickly compared to anything in Reason in my humble opinion. Yes, Reason has its midi player tools, but nothing is built-in and right in front of you the way the MPC has. You have to manually insert these midi players in the rack and it quickly becomes a mess where you find yourself lost with your mouse and massive canvas of rack space. None of that applies to MPC.

Finally, the Scales & Chords features of the MPC invite you to quickly come up with new ideas for b-sections of your songs, or even going from zero to song embryo in no time.

If you find yourself in the MPC piano roll and editing notes by hand, then, arguably, you skipped over the true value of the MPC as an instrument. The fact that is has all that tremendous sequencer power available is of course a key strength that sets it apart from any other hardware sequencer out there - but in my opinion, the key is to not think of it as a powerful sequencer, but instead as a powerful instrument with the best sequencer on the market. Use the sequencer’s gut (the piano roll) for tweaking, perfecting, or transposing an already interesting performance.

Nothing is more immediate than playing notes in by hand. Dub Record makes this so quick and enjoyable. Rehearse a couple of times while a loop is playing, hit Dub and perform away. Done. I build up my entire drum track this way without even looking at the piano roll, because the MPC, unlike the DAW, invites me to use my ears instead of my eyes.

Then you can go to the piano roll to add more creative magic and try some things like probability, ratcheting etc.

To conclude, I’d argue that the best tool for your needs is right in front of you.

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Perhaps you need just a sequencer?

Squarp Hapax
Squarp Pyramid
OXI One
Deluge (it does a bit of everything not just sequencing)

Did you look into these options?

You already have synths and DN/DT so a different approach or complementary approach to your existing setup could be just enough to get you there.

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Oxi One

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Oxi One

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Guessing you missed this bit?

did you give the song mode a try? it’s quite powerful. maaaaybe not immediate enough for you. but I have definitely programmed song mode standing up, if that’s the criteria. and I used the OT for years almost exclusively as a sequencer of external machines, and barely ever as a sampler. it’s probably what I’d go back to if I decided to move on from the Cirklon.

Cirklon would be great for you. it’s quite immediate, once you get your bearings. hit record, play in some notes. go to some other tracks/instruments, do the same. hit save scene button. boom, you have a song scene. do this a few more times, you then have a few song scenes to bounce between, and your song structure is halfway done. but good luck finding a Cirklon…

that said, you can find similar workflows in a lot of other places. Ableton, for example. especially with a good midi controller that’ll let you fire clips and scenes. and you can certainly do that standing up. (hell a lot of people do their entire jobs standing up; staring at Excel all day long and shit. but I digress…)

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have you looked into novation gear? (no screen on them, very immediate to use.)

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…try an older mpc…all the magic of a complex tracker combined with the ease of an oldschool tape machine…classic take recording, with whatever u got or famous pads for fingerdrumming whatever u got in mind…a perfect sampler with heaps of storage and total recall and the perfect midi brain for all sorts of external speaking midi gear…from simple part structures to whole, complex arrangements while just grooving along…no touch touch at all…just plain rocksolid hardware designed for minimal effort in muscle memory…especially if u run a jjos on it…
that last akai generation, where all their great reputation was founded on…

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Are you implying the MPC’s reputation was built on the JJOS era?

I didn’t, but I was mainly addressing the “immediate sequencer” part. The point of my reply was to not dismiss the MPC as just a touch screen sequencer because there’s so much more to it. The touch screen capabilities aren’t all of what this production center (with a great sequencer) is about.

With regards to arranging full songs, Song Mode is incredibly powerful and surprisingly quick. It’s easy to duplicate a sequence and create the different sections after you have a couple of great sequences going (e.g. maybe a main sequence and a bridge, or a chorus or whichever genre you’re in). You can automate just about anything with the twist of a knob while in Automation Write mode.

Again, I think the mistake I’ve seen many make (not necessarily the OP) is that they tend to assume that you have to do all that via a piano roll and visible automation lanes. You don’t. You can just toggle the Automation, hit Play and twist a q-link knob. Rinse and repeat. You can even erase notes with the Erase button and by holding down a pad while playing a sequence. There’s so much you can do without ever going into the piano roll, if that part of the UI makes you uncomfortable.

With all this said, I don’t think anyone will disagree that when it comes to final arrangement, mixing and mastering, nothing beats a DAW. But my understanding is that the OP is specifically looking to get away from that environment and be creative and productive with hardware. For that, I’d argue that the MPC is as good as it gets today if you care about finishing songs into the final mixing stage.

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…nope…but that second mpc generation was the last time they really shined…
sure the first generation of mpc’s was the foundation of all the good reputation…
and even first, original akai, once studio standard in sampling needed the mindset of a roger linn to come up with the timeless simplicity of pads for fingerdrumming and rocksolid on board hardware sequcing…which is totally gone eversince those days and hardly missed since the jjos was also out of the game , which was only available for the second gen mpc, mpc1000/2500, the first sign that akai, already not really that akai anymore, could not really make their most famous product take off and fly for real on their own…
the start of all bad reputation of never truuly finished products, still making all their living from a 3 decades old concept they did not invented in first place…
if u touch an actual mpc, u think, hey that’s good response…but once u touch one of the old ones, u know how bad it became these days…but hey, now we got fancy touch touch lazy response but deep menu dive needs for no real world workflow logic via some half baked windows tablet instead…yeah…u could have it all, dear custumer, but for some reason u can’t…pleas buy our next zombie plastic product and hope for the best…

while the very best mpc ever, was and always will be the 3000…the last with official linn drum mindset, no superclever jjos though, but that had that last converters that akai made once studio standard and the best pad and overall handling feel of all…

but those are hard to catch and cost a little fortune…while the 2nd gen mpc’s, with a little luck already installed jjos, can be found around 500 bux…

oxi one.

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Deluge.

Pros

  • Immediate-ish to get started. Tap the lit row, put down some trigs, press play and instant 303
  • You can do almost anything on it
  • Amazing company and community support
  • Wood side panels

Cons

  • LOTS of required button combos (maybe a pro, it’s better than needing to go down menus)
  • No screen (but the LED buttons are basically the screen)
  • It’s Kiwi
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Get on the Cirklon list yesterday. Until then, Elektron gear with song mode, Polyend stuff…

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Just stick to the DAW man. Why make it more difficult than it has to be? If you can’t get on with Elektron sequencers, you’re not going to have a better time with any other sequencer.

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If you are considering the Tracker, then I say give it a shot. If you want song mode, it’s pretty good, and the performance mode is probably my favorite of any machine. It’s just easy to set up and get jamming. You can also swap out patterns on individual tracks in Perf mode. It’s not a perfect machine. I have some complaints, but I haven’t gotten rid of it yet.

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I’d second the deluge or hybrid Daw/hardware config.

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