I recently got the opportunity to get a B Stock Syntakt at a stupid price and so I jumped on it (I didn’t want to be the only Elektronaut without an Elektron box)
however it’s not really going well
Background I have Bitwig and FL, but struggle to write on them. I have a CT which I like, but find limiting and a Polyend Tracker which I LOVE!, but again it’s limiting if you don’t use a DAW.
I’ve spent 4 entire evenings with it and everything I’ve produced so far is hot garbage (progress much slower than CT or PT), and I have had endless screwups where I’ve ended up abandoning a pattern. I’m trying to push through as it’s my first Elektron box and people have told me it’s not an easy onboarding process. Perhaps worst of all I’ve got the evening free and I’m kind of dreading the frustration of using it so I think I’m going to skip it and do something else.
I’m also currently at a loss how I can do anything more than a 4 bar loop without having to write out automation notes and drive it by hand each time I play the track (which I have no interest in doing). Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the implications of not having song mode.
Any ideas, or inspiration welcome, or should I just chalk it up as an experience that Elektron workflow doesn’t click with me and move on?
My experience with most Elektron boxes is they want some deep programming. Also, four nights is absolutely nothing, way back when it took me months to get on with the Monomachine when I first got one but ended up loving it.
Is there a particular part you find difficult? The architecture/workflow is often a complaint. One thing to not ignore is p-locks/the sequencer. For me, if I’m going to own an Elektron, that is going to be a major part of the sound design. For the most part I don’t find Elektron’s synth engines or drum synth engines all that unique–again they really need that deep programming and p-lock style sequencing to shine.
I got away from Elektron for a variety of reasons but one was it just wasn’t the gear for me to make house music and remixes which is primarily what I do these days.
And, yes, if I am doing anything but making arrangements live on an Elektron machine it ends up getting recorded to the DAW to finish. I’ll finally admit to and say–their boxes need more powerful arrangement tools.
Syntakt has 12 tracks. You could write a sequence for each one of them and play around with mute mode for some progression and “spice”. CONTROL ALL is also a way to get some variation and quick weirdness.
You could also try to replicate the stuff that was made using Syntakt (or something else) it really helps to understand and find your own workflow
Look into scale per track and trig conditions to get more out of single patterns. Also, think of the ST as a performance-oriented instrument, not a set-it-and-forget-it songwriting box.
Me, I DO create songs on my Elektrons, using multiple patterns per song for different parts, but I still have to perform those parts, either to record for later polish in a DAW, or for live performance in front of an audience.
I even use an external MIDI keyboard to play certain melodic parts on my Elektrons during live shows, treating them like instruments that also have fantastic multi-track pattern-based sequencing and quick access to pretty direct control of all the parameters to mangle and change things in real-time.
So, basically, a sequencing instrument.
Apologies if all this is old news to you, but I’m just sharing a bit of my mindset when I work with my Elektrons, including the ST.
A few basic things were where I’ve had weird stuff happen or lost work, but I know that’s just a question of practice and learning.
More fundamental things are:
When trying to play in melodic parts having a quick way of seeing and setting the steps like you can on the PT or CT. Unless I’m missing something you have to hold down the step and then chromatically nudge it. It’s also really easy to turn the step off and then when you set it again it goes back to the generic settings.
So far I’ve ended up making really generic patterns that bore me. The PT is a bit of an idea generator inspiration box with some of the generative functionality. My experience so far is a bit like using FL where I end up making generic presetty stuff that doesn’t inspire me.
The single biggest thing might be that I’ve started to understand that it’s a live performance, or create a loop and finish it in a DAW box and not a track arranger which is probably what I’m really looking for.
I do use my main sampler live, but it also has an excellent arrangement mode. I wanted both. I don’t want to have to use a computer until I’ve got most of the idea down and that idea needs to be easily recalled without my having to do anything but turn on the machine.
Also, I feel you on programing melodies, losing steps etc. Definitely just comes with the territory on some machines. At least losing my programing on a step is still an issue with the Toraiz SP-16 (which is what I mainly use now).
I also use FL and haven’t felt that way in a while (making generic, preset-y stuff–but I spent years stuck in that space). But using a DAW isn’t inspiring to me either.
It takes a while to adjust ones “work-flow habits”.
Try the following for starters, quick feelings of success and happy accidents:
Build a pattern you’re half-way happy with. Copy it to the next slot.
Play with mutes, page randomization and ctr+all on the newly created pattern.
When you get to a point you like: STOP experimenting and copy that pattern again to the next slot. Rinse repeat.
Then use pattern chaining to play your previously developed patterns in succesion.
(Remember you can chain the same pattern multiple times in a row for more than 4-bar loops.)
Also: Conditional/probability trigs/tracks (and lfos!) can provide a LOT of variety without having to deep dive into programming a lot of single steps.
Next step (for me) would be to “perform” those beats by changing any parameters live, which the elektrons are ultimately made for imho.
Hope this helps a bit somehow, surf on Elektronaut.
This is more or less the workflow for the smaller Elektron boxes. You can of course use LFOs and conditional trigs etc to add variety, but ultimately you will need to perform the automation and sequencing by hand. Song mode on the bigger boxes allows you to sequence the patterns in advance, but TBH I’ve never used it.
I think it depends on your genre. I think Elektron stuff is very well suited to stuff like techno where you are really just modulating a loop for 6 mins. Personally I never go beyond one pattern per track or do any automation from external sources and I love it, but that fits my music tastes which are quite hypnotic. For more intricate/arranged music, I can see how it would be a struggle, although people do do it.
My experience with the Syntakt is this: If you don’t put in work it mostly sounds bland and boring to me. I’m still not sure if i’ll keep it because of that. I spend quite some time on it trying to get to a sound i like.
There are 2 ways I can think of off the top of my head to very quickly go about extending a 4 bar loop to be longer.
The method I use the most is by utilizing trig conditions. You can easily turn a 4 bar loop into an 8 bar loop. This works best when you just need a slight variation and only works if you have a free adjacent trig on the sequencer.
To do this, take a note and program the trig condition to 1:2. Place a note trig next to it and change the trig condition to 2:2. Then go into the micro timing and put it all the way to towards the direction of the original note. This basically makes each note ‘overlap’ each other, but by utilizing trig conditions, they take turns playing one at a time. Repeat as needed and you have a quick and easy 8 bar loop.
The other method is to change the loop speed on a track to be 1/2 time (8 bar loop) or 1/4 time (16 bar loop). The downside to this method is you lose resolution on the step sequencer. When set at 1/2 time, one trigger on the sequencer becomes 2 notes, so programming becomes slightly more limited. The way around this is to live record in the notes if you need to.
Thanks for all of the great replies, lots of interesting stuff to think about.
I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit and I think the comment about Elektron boxes being a “Techno Guitar” is very apt. It’s a device that allows you to dynamically create and control an electronic performance in real time, but this is something I don’t really want to do.
When you consider it as “Just a drum machine” it’s kind of awesome that you can do all of these clever tricks which allow you to expand things beyond a simple loop, but if you think of it more as a hardware DAW then the same thing through a different lens becomes a frustration that every kind of arrangement you want to do requires a complex workaround. It’s probably a property of the first two boxes I owned being much more capable in terms of arrangement despite being 1/2 and 1/3 the price respectively.
I think I’m happy for the music that I create to be something that is fundamentally just one loop with variations, but the details of those variations are something that I want to capture within the box rather than having to manually drive it each time the song is played.
If I keep it I think it will be as an “Idea box” to start things off and then move to Bitwig for completion, but at the moment I suspect I’ve probably just bought the wrong thing for my needs.
I’m going to leave it for a few days then come back to it and either it will click for me or I’ll stick it on the classifieds.
It’s good that you identified why it isn’t totally working for you. You now have the knowledge and experience to find specific features you want for your next piece of gear. Resale value is currently very high on the Syntakt since it’s still new, so no shame in selling it.
If the Syntakt didn’t gel with you, then I doubt the other machines will, but it is worth mentioning that the Analog Four and Analog Rytm both have song modes. They are still very much performance minded and if you don’t want that then you’re probably just paying for extra features you don’t need. Something else would probably suit you better.
Personally… the performance aspects are one of the main reasons why I love the Elektron devices.
I understand you that songmode is a sticking point. One thing you can do is perform your track on the ST while recording global mute automations to the DAW, and then adjust those mute automations to taste. That way you can replay and edit those mute automations to get a “song mode” recorded in the DAW.
I’ve had the 1010 Blackbox and Polyend Tracker, and song mode on those was a pain. Not worth it. Before ST, I liked arranging scenes in Ableton on Push 2. Maybe the AKAI Force or an MPC would be right for your arrangement needs?
This might be slightly off topic, but as someone who’s never owned a box with a proper arranger/song mode what would y’all say is the big advantage of those features? My current workflow is to make 6-7 patterns on my Digitakt, chain them together, then go crazy on mute mode while recording it all in to Ableton. After that it’s simply a matter of overdubbing, automating effects and other little edits. I should also note that the Digitakt is sequencing all of my synths while this is happening.
Wouldn’t that just be a more manual version of song mode, or am I missing something?