Cars & Trains: Ableton Live is the Engine

Listening to Portland, OR-based musician Tom Filepp's live performances as Cars & Trains without seeing video, it'd be easy to imagine a full ensemble of players collaborating on guitar, glockenspiel, synthesizer, viola, autoharp, and at least a dozen other instruments. Surprisingly, Filepp manages to accomplish this all on his own, with Ableton Live and Looper as the framework. Explaining his overwhelming musical arsenal, Filepp relates that, "there was a period of time when I was trying to pick up a new instrument every year." Filepp originally came to Live from an attraction to self-sufficient performance after playing in a number of bands.

Filepp's live setup is geared toward improvisation, both with acoustic and external instruments, and using Live with plugins and controllers. There's a general framework, with room to move: "Songs end up recognizable at shows," Filepp says, "but definitely not two shows are exactly the same." Filepp's improvisations are enabled by innovative controller setups - just one button on one of his controllers is set to copy the current clip in Live and duplicate it into new scenes, such that a particularly inspired loop can be easily diversified.

Beyond just playing music, Filepp keeps busy running his own label, Circle into Square. He's currently working on a follow-up to his last album, 2010's The Roots, The Leaves.

For more information about Cars & Trains and Circle into Square, check out

Get a free remix album from Cars & Trains at