Preview the Latest Electronic Performance Gear from Connect 2023

Berklee faculty share some of their favorite tech from this week's Electronic Digital Instrument (EDI) Summit—and the future is laptop-optional.

June 6, 2023

There's a stereotyped idea, at least a decade old at this point, of an electronic music performer bobbing their head behind a laptop screen, clicking through programmed beats and synth cues mostly hidden from the audience's sight. And certainly, some truly memorable music and live experiences continue to come from this kind of performance setup. But this year's Connect 2023: Electronic Digital Instrument (EDI) Summit offers an updated look at the EDI landscape—one in which laptops might still play a role in performance, but where the artist is freer than ever before to step out from behind the screen and create using tools that feel increasingly more intuitive, engaging, and human.

"The spirit of this year's Connect 2023: EDI Summit is really a celebration of the many different ways that we are exploring electronic performance," says Michael Bierylo, chair of the Electronic Production and Design (EPD) Department, which is hosting the summit. "When we began the EDI principal instrument program in 2019, electronic performance was focused on the laptop computer as the center of the instrument. While this is often still the case, we are seeing artists increasingly using hardware devices, such as drum machines, hardware sequencers, and synthesizers and DJ rigs in performances."

The summit will also cover developments in live playback engineering using EDIs, the integration of EDIs into music education, and much more, all centering on the theme of performance.

In advance of this week's event, Berklee Now caught up with some of the summit's Berklee-based presenters and asked them to tell us about the gear they're most excited to feature at Connect 2023—what is it, how does it work, and what does it make possible for musical performance. Here's what they said:

Daedelus plays a Monome Grid controller

Daedelus using a Monome Grid.

Daedelus, Assistant Professor, EPD

"We are lucky to be hosting [keynote presenter] Brian Crabtree at the summit this year; his Monome Grid was at the forefront of a new approach to performing that was isomorphic and isometric—undoing some of the 'opinion' that the traditional piano layout implies. A real innovation from the hundreds-year-old piano layout."

michele darling headshot, woman smiling

Michele Darling

Michele Darling, Assistant Chair, EPD

"Ableton has been at it again, releasing a new version of the groundbreaking instrument, Push 3. We are excited to feature it at the Connect summit this year. It integrates seamlessly with Ableton Live software, offering deep integration with Live's features. It allows users to control almost every aspect of their productions directly from the controller. A game-changing part is that they also offer a standalone version that can be played without a laptop, which can create more freedom for players to express themselves on the physical instrument. Also, because of its new design and extra touch-sensitive pads, it has the ability for players to be more expressive with dynamics and pitch control than ever before. It allows for more human expression when playing."

dan freeman playing a guitar-shaped array of MIDI controllers

Dan Freeman playing Blinky.

Image by Erin Liu

Dan Freeman, Assistant Professor, EPD

"I call it 'Blinky.' It’s basically three controllers Velcroed together on a bass neck to form a single instrument. It’s my way of uniting an instrument, sampler, sequencer, and audio effects processing onto a single performance interface. It’s an interface that controls Ableton Live and allows me to do live looping performances solo or play with other musicians. My right hand plays the Ableton Push 2, and my left controls the looping, audio effects processing, and the sampler. It allows me to take my gear off of a table and return to an interface that I’ve used almost my whole life—the bass guitar. It also allows me to focus on virtuosic performance and live looping, and it’s really fun to play. For Connect 2023, I’ll be playing with the great jazz pianist Rachel Z as we merge the sound of jazz and electronic music."

a drum set fitted with small electronic sensors on the rims

Val Jeanty's Sensory Percussion drum setup.

Val Jeanty, Associate Professor, Ensembles

"As a drummer/percussionist who works with mostly digital instruments, Sunhouse's Sensory Percussion is now the main tool of all my compositions. Sensory Percussion uses sensors that are attached to my Reverie kit with Evans mesh drum heads and allow me to tap into my creative flow with more freedom for live improvisations, from incredibly accurate acoustic drum sounds to otherworldly soundscapes. And unlike backing tracks, Sensory Percussion responds to the nuances of my playing and creates subtle variations that make the electronic elements feel more human and empowering."

Headshot of Isabella Koen

Isabella Koen

Image by Rue Sakayama

Isabella Koen, Assistant Professor, EPD

"I’ll be presenting on organizational methods for constructing a live techno performance using hardware. I’m excited to share the possibilities of performance using Elektron hardware and the Access Virus C synth. The Elektron Octatrack, Elektron Analog Rytm, and Access Virus C allow for ways of composing, structuring, and performing a live set that fosters improvisation, fluidity, and precision. The sampling and sound capabilities of both Elektron pieces afford deep paths into exploring the manipulation and modification of sound, while the Access Virus C provides intuitive ways to achieve the classic ’90s–early 2000s rave, techno, and trance sounds that shaped a monumental era of music."

Watch Koen perform with this setup for Fact Magazine's Patch Notes series:

claire marie lim performing with Ableton Push 2

dolltr!ck performing with Ableton Push 2.

Claire Marie Lim (AKA dolltr!ck), Assistant Professor, EPD

"I'm excited to be presenting about Ableton Push 3! I could go on about it for a while, but in a nutshell, it is the latest version of an instrument produced by the company Ableton, which also is responsible for the popular electronic performance and production software Live. Live has a special place in Berklee's curriculum as it is the main software we use in the electronic digital instrument program—a suitable choice, considering how it is an industry standard in the live electronic music field. I had the privilege of getting early access to Push 3, since I'm an active user of previous iterations of Push under my artist project dolltr!ck, and as an Ableton Certified Trainer, I have provided a lot of instruction on Push. One distinctive feature of Push 3 that I'm excited to share about is its standalone nature, meaning it can function without the need for a separate laptop. Its computing system is built into the device, with an onboard Ableton operating system that lets musicians use Live right from the unit itself. This has already been hugely impactful on my craft, as I've already performed in several live settings with Push [3] since its release in May, and have greatly appreciated not needing to haul around as much equipment as I used to."

rishabh rajan playing a guitar while wearing a MIDI controller glove

Rishabh Rajan performing with MiMU Gloves.

Rishabh Rajan, Assistant Professor, EPD

"I’m excited to talk about the MiMU Gloves. This is a piece of technology that I discovered about a year ago and it has changed the way I approach electronic music performance. The MiMU gloves are a wireless wearable controller that can be used to control any device that supports MIDI or OSC (open sound control). Using a controller like this enables the performer to create and control music using hand gestures making the music seem like a tangible object being moulded in space. Using the gloves in performances also leads to a more interactive live music performance which general audiences can appreciate more."

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