Nerdmatics’ proprietors, Fred Carlton and Christopher Legaspi, aim to help these artists bring their visions to life onstage, and push the limits of what their live shows can be. “We kind of made a business out of creating things on our own time and having fun, and then showing people how they can use them in the real world,” says Carlton.
“Usually, artists come to us with a vision of what they want and how they want to perform their music live,” says Legaspi. “Using Native Instruments hardware and software, we’re able to provide for these artists in a pretty quick amount of time.”
Building live workflows
One of Nerdmatics’ most recent clients was Majid Jordan. When Jordan started performing live, his onstage setup included an analog keyboard, an 808 sequencer, and his laptop. “He was using it really well, but he was having problems with things failing and just not working correctly,” says Carlton. Nerdmatics built him a custom MIDI workflow using the KOMPLETE KONTROL S61 as the centerpiece: “With the [LED] color changes, he was able to [stably] do what he was already doing, and add more.”
Color is a key differentiator onstage for the duo. “The color editor is a big part of why Native hardware is so cool,” Carlton continues. “For so many years, we’ve all just seen black and white keys, black and white buttons, and maybe a little indicator here and there — but there’s not a lot of feedback. And when you’re onstage, a really important thing is to know what you’re doing. Now that we have colors on our keyboard, when we do different key patches, they have different colors.”
This way, Carlton says, artists aren’t about to play a grand piano when they think they’re about to play a monophonic synth in front of a packed venue. “You can really just see exactly what’s going on, and a big part of it is the color feedback that you can change with control.”
Indeed, for Nerdmatics it’s about empowering creativity through accessibility and smart systems design. “It’s not just about being able to use these cool toys — but also, how do you build a redundant system?” Carlton says. “How do you make sure that when you’re playing in front of 50,000 people and your system crashes, you have one button to switch everything over and flawlessly change the audio and all the data routing?”
The duo’s goal is to empower its clients to maximize their creative potential in the live setting, and provide a technical framework and workflow that enables realtime experimentation. “That way you can have these really solid shows, where you can go out there and be confident and not do the same setlist every night,” Carlton continues. “You can manipulate everything on the fly and basically have a real ‘live’ show, as opposed to hitting play and hoping nothing goes bad. It should be foolproof, so you can just do whatever you want.”
To achieve these ends, one of Nerdmatics’ main development tools is REAKTOR 6, which Legaspi says integrates very well with the duo’s other primary development tools, Max MSP and Python. “Also, having native OSC control within Reaktor makes it very easy to integrate with other controllers, and other software such as Ableton Live.”
Legaspi notes that REAKTOR is often at the core of these live show build-outs. “Reaktor interfaces really well with an NI hardware, and I’m able to do custom color changes for everything that has feedback, down to creating OSC messages for the knobs and sliders on each of these pieces of hardware,” he says. He integrates Max MSP with REAKTOR to, for instance, OSC back and forth, control lights, and allow one controller to take control of another controller onstage.
GUITAR RIG also plays a central role for Nerdmatics. “[It’s] a huge part of my day and every single project I do, because it’s basically an all-in-one sound effects system,” says Carlton. “With the controller integration, there are knobs, buttons, sliders that we’re able to MIDI map and then kind of use whatever we want from it to control whatever we want in our software. There’s not a specific form factor of like, ‘We use this like this, with this software.’ It’s always, ‘Alright, what do you want to do, what do we have, and how can can we make it happen?’”
Carlton says he’s been grateful for the recent ability to run TRAKOR’S 12 inside GUITAR RIG. “It’s funny, because lot of people hear me doing time-stretching or slicing, and all these other crazy things. And they’re like, ‘What guitar amp effect is that?’ And it’s [often] just Traktor.”
When working with new artists, particularly those who haven’t done a live show before, or are coming fresh from the studio, Nerdmatics likes to take their initial vision and take it as far as possible. “We’re like, you can actually like cut up the samples, you can affect the lights and video, you can add audio effects, you can do multiple outputs — [we love] being able to explain this to people, and have them just slowly realize in front of you [that] there’s actually is a lot more that they can do live than they were thinking. And to just realize that once they go digital, they really are limitless.”
Carlton says they’re often met with clients who feel trapped or limited by the technology, and that he and Legaspi find great satisfaction in facilitating the opening of new boundaries for artists. “One thing that happens to us a lot is [that] people say, ‘We don’t think you can do that.’ And we’re like, ‘No, no, we can just build that right in front of you.’ Being able to show people that we’re limitless with technology is just the coolest feeling.”