Though they've since relocated to Santa Cruz, Sound Tribe Sector 9 began their ascent in their home state of Georgia, spreading the groove gospel via constant touring and sizzling, ever-changing sets. Their style marries organic melodies and solid grooves with improvisation and hypnotic loops, and Ableton Live holds their sets together, from the stage to the studio and back. As keyboardist David Phipps puts it, "We use Live for everything from sound design to sequencing an entire track, as well as an instrument onstage with the band."
Rather than using MIDI sync for their laptops onstage, the band relies on the rock solid drumming (and ears) of Zack Velmer, a crucial key to their rhythmic success, along with percussionist Jeffree Lerner. For the low end, David Murphy enhances his electric bass with a Novation ReMOTE keyboard, using Live to trigger synth basslines in Spectrasonics Trilogy and clips with higher octave notes. Guitarist Hunter Brown explains their clip philosophy: "We have a gang of sounds that we trigger for each song, and Live is our main host for these audio and MIDI clips. It ranges from one-shot synth sounds to 32-bar broken-down sequences that provide some sort of click. We can also trigger one-shot loops that are the click for a minute, then stop the clips and move to other parts."
For a band known for their skills with real instruments, Live comes in handy because of its ability to interface with hardware gear. As Phipps puts it, "I like how easy it is to assign MIDI triggers to audio and MIDI clips. Sequencing in real time produces variations you might not otherwise happen upon. I can't wait to get off the road and rig up all of my outboard MIDI gear to Live and go nuts with MIDI clips. Namely with a rack-mount Moog Voyager. The routing possibilities and MIDI plug-ins make for some exciting sound design. I rarely go outside of Live for any of my composition now."
Going beyond typical usage, Phipps has found that there are ways to do anything you want in Live, such as Akai MPC-style drumrolls: "I was looking for the 'roll' button on the Impulse and came up with this simple solution: I make an Impulse on a MIDI track and create a beat. I assign a second MIDI track's output to the Impulse and draw custom rolls in different MIDI clips. Then I assign those clips to MIDI notes and roll away. It's great, because most drum machines have 8th, 16th or 32nd-note rolls, but with Live I can draw rolls that are much more complicated. With Live, I can make a custom drum machine that has creative capabilities far beyond MIDI sequencing on hardware like a [Yamaha] Motif or [Korg] Triton."
Given the chance, Brown delivers thanks for how technology has changed the way STS9 makes music: "These possibilities are there, where we can take sounds out of our everyday lives, or from our record collections, or from anywhere, and make them a part of what we do onstage. That's something that wasn't necessarily available ten years ago and in turn it's really changed how music is made and played and performed. We feel really lucky to be a part of that. We thank Ableton, we appreciate it, no doubt."
Check out what Sound Tribe Sector 9 had to say about Ableton Live before a series of sold-out shows at Irving Plaza, NYC in this video from Future Music Magazine: