What is your part in the John Scofield Band?
I play rhythm guitar and trigger and manipulate loops and samples.
What is Ableton Live's role in your production process?
I use Live onstage and in the studio with Scofield's band. Before Live, I relied on a Boss Dr. Sample. With Live running on my iBook, I have light years more control over pitch, tempo, rhythmic feel, tone, timing — really every sample parameter. And with tap tempo, I can quickly match tempo with where the group is. With MIDI-assignable functions, I can trigger Live from my foot controller while I play guitar. It's hard now to imagine my role in the group without Live. I use Live primarily on stage. And even in the studio, on Scofield's "Up All Night," all the samples were triggered live, in real time as the band played, using Live. There were no sample overdubs on the entire record.
It's quite unusual to use a laptop in a studio situation, especially with a jazz band... How do you see that?
I think that laptops and software have evolved to where it's really just like a traditional electronic instrument — flexible, responsive, stable, etc. So, really at this point computers can be used in any musical context, with any style. While it may be unusual to see it nowadays, I think it will become more common. Also, bear in mind that what Scofield's band does isn't jazz in a traditional sense — not bebop or swing. It's improvisation and some jazz harmonies, but otherwise it's really more like funky electronic jazz rock. But Live is so flexible and responsive that you can use it to improvise, not just run pre-made sequences.
Do you think it's a general trend: bands using laptops and software for their performances?
I'm starting to see more and more keyboard players using a laptop and virtual synths on gigs. And of course now the term "DJ" can also refer to someone operating a laptop. I would say this is a trend that is here to stay for a while, and will expand.
Could you please explain how you work with Live in a live onstage situation?
I use Live onstage with my iBook, which is connected via MIDI to a Yamaha foot controller. Most tunes have their own Live document, with clips and the transport pre-assigned to MIDI buttons on the foot controller. Some tunes are more improvisatory, so I have a couple of Live documents containing large pools of clips which I trigger on the fly, mainly just using the iBook, not so much the foot controller.
What is the big advantage for a band if they use laptops on stage?
Portability and flexibility. And of course, on set breaks, one can check their e-mail.
How has your hardware and software changed over the years?
With Scofield I used to use a Boss Dr. Sample, but now I favor a laptop with Live running on it. And also with Scofield, I continue using a Korg ES-1 sampling drum machine. Actually, I run the laptop's output through the ES-1, and can therefore take advantage of the ES-1's effects and (especially) the rhythmic capabilities of the ES-1's audio input. Aside from Live, my hardware/software hasn't changed all that much in the last few years. I still use my beige G3 with Vision DSP. I made my CD "Clean Slate" with this setup.
In what kind of situation do you work with Live, and when do you prefer other applications like Pro Tools or Logic?
I usually use Reason, Absynth or hardware boxes like my Korg ES-1 or Roland MVS-1 to make clips, which I then use in Live. But I usually record into Opcode Vision DSP — great audio/MIDI software that is unfortunately no longer in production.
From a band's point of view, what helps the most when a band uses Live in the studio? Could you explain the process a little bit?
From the band's point of view, Live allows us to have a wider array of samples ready to be used. Also, the tap tempo function allows me to beat-match with the drummer. As far as the process in the studio, I handle all the preparation of the samples. First, we wrote and learned tunes for the record on tour, usually during sound checks. I figured out beforehand what samples would work for different tunes. (Some tunes started off with a clip in Live). We did this for about a month. Then we had a few weeks off before we recorded. In that time, I spent a fair amount of time coming up with more samples for tunes, preparing the clips in Live and just generally getting comfortable with a palette of clips for use in Live. Then in the studio, some songs were more structured than others. Some, like the song "Philiopiety" on "Up All Night" — were really just spontaneous jams. On these tracks, I brought in clips that we had never used before. That's one of the beauties of Live of course, clips can be automatically time-stretched so that they all work out rhythmically. And all of the filtering and processing was done spontaneously as we recorded. I really never use the Arrangement View — only the Session View. So we never play to worked out sequences, just clips triggered in the Session View.
What is a special feature or tool in Live that changed your way of working?
I love the quantize function for triggering clips/scenes. That way, I can press a button on the MIDI foot controller, for example, anywhere in the measure preceding the desired downbeat or start time of a clip/scene. I don't have to sweat quite as much, worrying about triggering a sample on the exact downbeat. I also love the pitch-transpose function — where the tempo doesn't change.
What are the current projects you are working on?
I just released my own CD, called "Clean Slate," available via my web site (www.avibortnick.com). I also want to do a CD this year that is more electronic and sample based — using Live as the main production tool. I feel I've only scratched the surface of what Live can do. And, of course, I continue touring with John Scofield. We just got back from a three-week European tour, and will be touring the US and Canada all summer.