Ambient live-setup

Started by Remco Helbers, March 21, 2016, 01:13:14 PM

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Remco Helbers

I've  got a question for the ambient-musicians on this forum regarding live-performing. I've been wrapping up several new ambient pieces and I'm considering playing live in the future. In the past my ambient setup was relatively simple, since I played with several bandmembers on stage (see attached video). My setup was mainly guitar (for looping/soundscaping), my rudra veena, and a very simple Akai sampler. For my new music I think playing solo (guitar + neyflute).

I'm considering using Ableton Live to trigger large midi files of my percussion/spokenword/Tibetan Bowls/Gamelan-sounds using pre-programmed stuff in combi with an Akai APC or other controler. I have played with computers live on stage in the 90's with disasterous results, which makes me rather nervous going on stage again with a computer.

I'm very curious if there are other musicians that perform regularly with their ambient music. What are your experiences? Pro's and cons of my suggested setup? What gear do you use?

Scott M2

Performing with laptops is pretty common these days. More often than not performers at THE AMBiENT PiNG (which I curate and so have observed hundreds of ambient/experimental shows) employ laptops and Ableton is fairly common. I've seen "some" problems over the years with Macs and house power or their power-supplies though that has improved.

I've only used Ableton Live live when accompanying poetry readings, as it handles sound files brilliantly on the fly.

My group dreamSTATE, however, has used VSTs in live ambient performances for many years now and while there have been occasional problems when we "push" things, you also have to deal with tech problems from time to time with guitar rigs, hardware synths, PAs and even voices too.

I would recommend having a fully charged battery coming to a gig so your machine can carry on through a power problem or if your power supply fails. If you're playing VSTs live, a precaution Jamie takes is to play every note on every synth he plans to use that night - which he says helps prevent clicks the first time you open a VST and begin to play. I've never done that myself, but he has a lot more going on in his system for our shows. Performing with people who are capable of improvising or carrying on if you have to deal with a problem is a great asset in any musical situation.  ;)

I think you'll find Ableton solid for your "live" performances if you have a decent computer and interface. Good luck!


When playing in my band, I use a relatively stripped down setup featuring a MacBook running Ableton, an APC40 controller and a KP3 as a send. This goes into a Focusrite Saffire pro40.

On my own I use a Nord Wave, going into various pedals in the following order, KP3, Boss DD500, Strymon Timeline, Strymon Big Sky and a Pigtronix Infinity Looper. The MacBook running Ableton with controller & Saffire are optional.