Adventures in DIY: Playing on a Plane - EMusician

Adventures in DIY: Playing on a Plane

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Fig. 1. A Zoom recorder
 captures our electronic jam at 30,000 feet. Retractable cables kept the setup compact.

Fig. 1. A Zoom recorder  captures our electronic jam at 30,000 feet. Retractable cables kept the setup compact.

How do you top a successful NAMM show? With a tray-table jam on the flight home. Synth guru Mark Vail and I were on the same airplane back from Anaheim, so as soon as the captain announced it was okay to use electronic devices, we flipped down our tray-tables and fired up an unholy tangle of battery-powered music gear (see Figure 1).

Mark played a Bastl microGranny 2 granular sampler and an iPhone 8, running the microGranny through a Korg mini-KP effects processor. His iOS synth apps included Bram Bos Ripplemaker, Korg iMono/Poly and iWavestation, and Oceanhouse Media Bowls.

I played a Bleep Labs Bleep Drum and an iPad mini 2, controlling the synth apps with a Sensel Morph over Bluetooth. I ran the Bleep Drum’s audio into the iPad through a Peavey AmpKit LiNK so I could process it with VirSyn Tap Delay. My synth apps included Taika Photophore, iceGear Mersenne, and Future Apps Speak It!, a defunct speech synthesizer. (I keep my iPad on iOS 10 so I can run vintage apps like that.)

We mixed through a Belkin RockStar headphone splitter into the line input of a Zoom H2n recorder. (The RockStar works in reverse as a passive mixer.) For monitoring, we used a clever Monoprice cable that splits a stereo signal to two 1/8-inch headphone jacks, each with a volume knob.

Fig. 2. A Belkin RockStar handles three stereo
 inputs with two more left over. Maybe next time we’ll add a third musician.

Fig. 2. A Belkin RockStar handles three stereo  inputs with two more left over. Maybe next time we’ll add a third musician.

Totaling up, that’s nine synths, two effect processors, and a stereo recorder splayed across two tiny plastic trays (see Figure 2.) We could have used fewer gadgets, but I find jamming is more fluid with multiple controllers, because I can play different styles on each. Mark and I also flight-tested the setup in an Anaheim café so we could hook up everything quickly on the plane.

We chose our instruments to deliver maximum personality in minimal space. The Kaoss pads are a favorite, because you can get so much variety with a single finger, and both the Bleep Drum and microGranny have knobs for sound-shaping. I set the Morph to transmit on two MIDI channels, so I could trigger swirling Photophore chords from the drum pads and Mersenne melodies from the keyboard section. (Turn on Background Audio in your apps to play several at once.) The Morph’s wireless connection reduced clutter, but took awhile to set up. I had to remove the device from each app’s MIDI input list and then re-add it.

Mark and I have enjoyed battery-powered jams for years; he even wired up a 12-cell battery pack so he could play his Dave Smith Instruments Mopho on the go. The main drawback in our setup is the passive mixer, which drops the volume considerably and nearly mutes some devices. As an upgrade, I’m considering a powered portable mixer such as the Roland Go:Mixer or KVgear Vixen.

Visit emusician.com to see a video of our mile-high jam. Give it a try yourself. You may find that your next flight ends far too soon.