Gustavo Bravetti first showed up on my radar a number of years ago - 2008 or 2009, maybe? - while I was breezing through my latest tech gadget blogs over my morning coffee. The first thing that struck me was this image:
It was early, and at my first glance, I thought it was a photo of Trent Reznor with some gesture controllers. Since I’m a huge NIN fan, I quickly started reading the article and read about Gustavo instead for the first time. Since I’m someone who worked with these early micro controllers for both live and installation work (Miditron!) I was struck by way Gustavo presented it - not trying to hide the tech, and at the same time able to use it in a live context without looking like a crazy videogamer who had lost his way and ended up at a rave. Gustavo looked ominous and commanding.
Since then, technology has evolved and along with it Gustavo’s live setup, which now includes additional hardware (Elektron samplers and drum machines) whilst still using Max, gestural controllers and a repurposed Push Controller to run everything.
I’m also an admirer of Elektron hardware, so Gustavo had me sitting up paying when he released his huge performance controller Max patch for his whole live setup. You can basically sit back and control absolutely every element of your live set from one PUSH controller - 3 Elektrons, Max, Sensors and more. I’m always taken aback and full of admiration when someone has the patience to go through and translate all the MIDI ctrl data from a controller to hardware control without ending up with Max patch that looks like Paris’s finest Bolognese.
Gustavo ended up with what is in my books is an easy to read, active and interesting user interface instead of so many other attempts that usually end up looking like a chaotic mess. I knew it was time I reach out to Gustavo to hear more about his use of technology and how Max is involved.
We caught up last week for a chat.
Pretty basic opening question: When did you first start working with Max?
Well I started digging into Max about 10 years ago, but actually have only been using it in live performance for about 5 years or a little more. When I first got into it, I just started patching to see how much of the hardware I could control from a central point. As I patched on, I just started controlling more and more of my setup with Max. I still wish now that I had more time to patch.
I’ll follow up with a hard-hitting question: How much is Max a part of your live setup now?
One hundred percent. It wouldn’t run at all without it. You know, I started using Max because I felt the need to make people realise what is happening – today, you know, there are many artists who just press PLAY, or turn on a laptop. It’s the case that even with the new analog live sets you see, no one knows what the artist is doing.
This is why I introduced performing at first with the Wii remote - to show people that I was directly controlling elements of the sound. Now that I think of it, perhaps my first way of showing people that kind of interactivity was a setup called “Broken Cable” that had strands coming out of it. Each one of those strands was a switch that I would touch or the audience could touch. People loved being in direct control of what was happening.
I also really love the Elektron machines, but I really like to play live. I cannot unmute three tracks on three machines at the same time with precision - this is where Max comes in very handy. I can have a button for that part of the show that unmutes those specific tracks and control it easily. I want the music to be ‘live’ and interesting with no excuses or shortcuts and this is why I control my live setup like this. I want to be good and live at the same time and Max is perfect for that.
Can you tell me a little more about the sensors you use live?
I started here:
Now I use sensors a lot instead of the Wii remote - I do a lot of the coding on the Arduino and then have Max control and interpret the data from it, which Max then distributes to Ableton Live and to the Elektron devices. The sensors I use tend to be more physical so that people can see them - objects and sensors you can reach out touch rather than just waving your arms around in the air, I’ve found this is my preferred way to add interactivity to my live performances.
How do your different ideas or projects come to life? is it experimentation in the studio/Max or is it that you see a new sensor and then think of ways to integrate it?
Actually, it’s a bit of both. If I want inspiration I reread the Max documentation and ideas come to me when I relearn a new piece of Max patching. Ideas just come to me when I read manuals. This approach comes from when I was younger. The local music store would not have any of the equipment or instruments in the store - it would just have the manuals, and you would have to read the manual and then decide if you wanted to purchase it. If you did, you went home with the manual and then waited weeks for the item to arrive. This meant that you knew it really well from the start, and - to this day - I’ve maintained this approach. This has been the case with almost all the new hardware I bought for many many years.
That reminds me, the first sensor I had in my live music performance was on the Roland MC505. It was called the D-Beam, but I soon stopped travelling with it because it was heavy and musically wasn’t very good. I used it much longer than I should have as just a controller because of the D-Beam. But then I decided that I couldn’t travel with it just for the sensor - that’s when I decided to build my own.
My first sensor was the glove, which was actually just a repurposed joystick. I used to use it with a notebook pc and a Max patch made by someone else. I used two computers back then to play live: One controlled all the sensors and data; and the other controlled all music. That way, the music would continue if the sensors crashed. But then I decided to switch everything from USB-based protocols to MIDI - that way, I wasn’t reliant on lots of drivers. Also, if some custom controller goes mad, the computer isn't affected, and you can restart any custom controller without the need to restart the computer.
Awesome. Tell us about your new ‘performer’ Max patch for controlling your whole Live rig?
Sure. It’s been very popular and many people have shared it. It’s called ‘Performer’, and it expands the possibilities of the Elektron hardware by repurposing Ableton’s Push controller. In a nutshell, it’s a really big snapshot controller, with the computer running the Max patch as the bridge to the three Elektrons I use to perform live.
It does many, many things: modulation, snapshotting, and non-linear sequencing - so you could actually program not just the control elements themselves, but entire performances and songs using just the system. Finally, I’ve added a quantizer that allows everything to be cued and launched in sync.
You can see a video about it here:
Here's a video of me doing some improv playing ‘performer’ playing:
Do you have any advice for Max programmers and live performers out there?
Read the manual!