If you just want to fire up Renoise, the modern tracker/music production app, and not worry about the fact that its innards are hackable, you can. But for a reason why you might at least want to explore customization of this music tool, give the video above a look. It starts sleepy and slow … and then, part of the way through, as creator Dac Chartrand starts demoing the tool, something really special happens. (Anyway, that’s what I think. See if you agree.)

Dac explains his work, completed at the recent Montreal Music Hackday:

My Renoise hack was Grid Pie. One of the new trends in our community is the concept of a meta-interface. In essence, programmers use the Lua API to transform Renoise into something else, hide the Renoise window, and work with hardware interfaces connected to their own scripts. Three current examples: MPE, Step Sequencer Lauflicht and Duplex. Grid Pie is “yet another meta interface.” It turns Renoise into a live performance audio recombination machine. Still in alpha, but people were into the demo I gave. I got a lot of handshakes and positive feedback.

It’s an alpha, so your mileage may vary, but I’ll bet this whets some appetites for people who hadn’t yet realized the power of the Renoise API.


  • You know, here's the thing with these demos and almost all electronic performances I've ever seen. You can watch them hit some buttons and you can sometimes maybe sorta match the changes you hear with what they're doing, but it's still all a black box to everyone who isn't intimately familiar with the tools being used. I have no doubt of the skill it takes to do this kind of performance, but there is a complete disconnect with the audience due to a lack of understanding of exactly what the hell is going on.

    I love all the innovation that's going on in the music world regarding new interfaces, but people seriously need to give some thought to people who aren't familiar with these tools and those people's perceptions. Anybody and everybody can appreciate the talent it takes to play the piano or guitar well because we all have a general idea of how those instruments make sound. However, if you're coding this neat fantastic interface with a Wiimote or a Kinect that will play different arpeggios based on your hand movements and facial contortions, then guess what? You're the only person who can appreciate that instrument, because the inner workings aren't being demonstrated at all. You can try to explain it to the audience, I guess, but even then it's a lot of programming jargon, and at the end of the day the audience kinda has to take your word for it. And you'd have to do this explanation before each performance.

    I apologize for the rant, I guess I get a little frustrated. I think there's so much promise in digital music and interfaces, but so few innovators seem to consider these vital points. All of their effort is almost wasted if nobody knows what's going on, and I really don't think verbal explanations to the audience are the answer. I think a defacto rule with music interface innovators should be: if the audience can't immediately connect your physical interactions with the specific sounds being made without a verbal explanation, then it will make a poor performance instrument (emphasis on the word performance).

  • Peter Kirn


    * It was a hack done in a single weekend.

    * Dac initially didn't do a video. I pressed him to do something so I could see what he was doing.

    * It was a hack done in a single weekend.

    Also, I have to take issue with the ongoing, never-ending discussion that everything a computer musician does has to be immediately understandable in the way an acoustic instrument is. I'm excited to see new ideas that *come out of a single weekend*, that don't have hundreds of years of history, and that maybe aren't immediately visible. And I might enjoy playing them — sometimes in a studio, where no one is watching. Or I might enjoy watching them, just knowing they're doing something and focusing on the musical gestures they're making, not just the physical gestures.

    Honestly, why do we need to watch absolutely everything? A lot of time spent listening to music you don't spend glued to the musician. You spend listening to the music.

  • Leon Tricker

    For me, a lot of these new tools / ways of controlling software are nothing to do with connecting with an audience. They're ways of interacting with the computer and coming up with something you wouldn't have by any other means. They are for the artist, not the audience.

    Anyways… The most boring way of experiencing music for me these days is staring at a stage, with four guys playing a drums/bass/guitar/vocal combo.

  • Human Plague

    Hi Gogmagog, I'm the author of the hack.

    Like Peter said, this was done for Music Hackday. Read the previous stories posted on CDM (search the archives, it's an international event that has been discussed a few times now, basically 24 hours to pull something out of your ass.)

    I would argue that to any Renoise user it's pretty obvious what is going on. I have mapped a MIDI controller (arbitrary) to Renoise's Pattern Matrix. When I trigger a button, a coordinate in the X/Y space of the Pattern Matrix gets copied to the last pattern, named "__GRID_PIE__", perpetually looping. This "recombination" is done in real time. If the Pattern Matrix is bigger than the Grid Pie, I can traverse the grid to trigger other parts of the song. 

    Basically, a cheap way to achieve "live clips" functionality using a linear tracker.

    Now I'm guessing that, although this explanation is reasonably simple to  Renoise users, and maybe even to those familiar with Trackers in general, it's gibberish to many others?

    So, the issue you are raising, from what I understand, is that you would prefer I hack a guitar or a piano because you know how these work? 

    I think you are missing the point. I did this because it was fun. The results I get are part of my "production arsenal" not hot licks on my axe.

    Different strokes for different folks.

  • BTW, regardless of this discussion, I applaud the work done on this and many other interfaces, and not just for hack-a-day. Like I said, I really do like all the innovation going on, I just have issue with the practicality of some of these interfaces from a performance point of view.

  • Gogmagog, I'd say you're putting the cart before the horse, in that playing, creating, performing, or whatevering music which is compelling to the listener will generate its own response. 

    Theatricality in live performance can be valuable, or vital, but I'd argue that the music itself (w/out delving into questions about performance art, pieces designed for mixed media, etc) is still the driving force – and would thus attribute the failure of any given laptop-twiddler to engage their audience to the music being twiddled.

    Out in LA the whole 'beat scene' sort of puts your argument to rest. Dudes twiddle laptops, there's no visceral connection, then the music rocks people and everybody headbangs.

    In short, one can just stand behind the laptop, vigorously head-nod and make dramatic, timed knob twiddles and sure, deft button-pushes if theatricality is paramount.

  • Also, Human Plague, thanks for talking more about your hack. I've messed w/Renoise a tiny bit, and it's pretty cool. Can you explain more (if there is more) about what your hack is doing?

    Also, does anyone have experience using Renoise for sample manipulation? I'm curious about using Renoise to work with audio and make sample-based (hiphop, I guess) music, possibly as a replacement for the non-Linux-friendly Ableton application.

  • Zerorefere: I hear ya. Certainly people can enjoy a live show from a laptop DJ, but would they really care if it was a DJ or a flat out recording being played back? Probably not. In that case the performance, as you said, kind of takes a back seat to the music. So where does that leave the value of a live performance? Do we really have to rely only on theatricality and crazy videos playing in the background in that case? I tend not to think so. I think there's something very cool about just watching someone make music live right in front of you, and I can't put my finger on why; it's just sort of magical.

    Incidentally, I'm not just some rocker-type dude railing against the electronic music scene and complaining about the absence of any guitars. An example of what I would like to see more of in the DIY music scene would be instruments like the Eigenharp. It's familiar enough, yet different enough. I might add that something like the Monome might be more understandable to an audience if there was more of a button-to-single-note implementation taken, but most DJs don't seem to take that approach with it at all.

  • Human Plague

    Hi Zeroreference,

    First, Renoise has a Lua API. Our community hacks Renoise on the daily. Tons of different ideas, all over the place.

    The tendency I'm following is "meta-interface". That is, Grid Pie takes over Renoise very aggressively. 

    The concept of the hack is "live recombination." Without Grid Pie, the Pattern Matrix divides a Renoise song (linear) into "time and tracks (x/y)". Each square in Pattern Matrix is chunk of a song (or if you are more adventurous, a chunk of something have set up ahead of time for live juggling.)

    Grid Pie allows you to combine different parts of a linear song, non-linearly, in real time, using a special looping pattern as a live drafting area. It does so by taking over the Pattern Matrix.

    I would say the best way to explore the hack is to download the Renoise demo, then download the hack which is two clicks deep from the main article above, then drag the hack onto the Renoise window to install it, then load up a song you are familiar with, then Tools -> Grid Pie and start clicking the buttons. 🙂


  • I have no problem with creating instruments that are meant for the musician alone, to facilitate his or her musical expression. The sky’s the limit there, as it should be. My point was that if one expects to give a performance to an audience, then shouldn’t one at least consider whether or not said audience will be able to know what the musician is doing? How they’re creating the sounds they’re hearing? Because if the audience “doesn’t get it” then the performance will look like a bunch of random gestures and movements done by some guy on stage with some nice music playing in the background. That’s more of a magic show than a musical performance.

  • Peter Kirn

    Yeah, I think Gogmagog’s questions are absolutely relevant questions to ask! You may just not ask them in exactly the same way in every circumstance … or come up with the same answers.

    And I don’t mean to get defensive about this being a one-day hack. I just get concerned, because I think as musicians we need the freedom to be able to experiment. It short-circuits that experimentation if you immediately impose all of these requirements, even if they can be valid or useful for certain people in certain contexts.

  • Human Plague

    Small typo: “time and tracks (x/y)” is wrong. For the record: time = y, tracks = x. I rock the nerd hours…

  • …and I didn't mean to imply that Gog's Q's weren't relevant. 

  • Bjørn Nesby

    As long as the hack can be useful when performing, I’d say it’s good. 

    As for the live show, this was Human Plague falling asleep behind the LPB8 🙂

  • Thanks Human Plague! I have the Renoise demo and have done 1 or 2 things with it….this ‘meta-interface’ concept is exciting.

    Gogmagog, you asked “Certainly people can enjoy a live show from a laptop DJ, but would they really care if it was a DJ or a flat out recording being played back? ”

    My answer would be it depends on how talented a musician (and a musical performer, with or without theatrical gestures) the person behind the laptop is. 

    I’d also argue its a question of expectation – what are people coming there for? In that sense, I agree with you, that extramusical context (type of performance space, what the audience watches), is ultimately inextricable from the music itself – even down to the format or argument of medium between vinyl and digital.

    It seemed to me as if you were raising the issue of _theatrical_ performance as more important than _musical_ performance. For example, with the Eigenharp, I’m with you! But my interest is the degree of expression and virtuosity an instrument or interface allows the musician. I’d also argue that the more physical the interface, the greater possible level of virtuosity, since we’re all physical beings and most instruments seem to run that way. But that doesn’t mean I see a lack of theatrical potential as the main inhibitor between electronic musicians and their audience. 

    Someone on this site made a comment about people admiring dexterity of the hands or the mouth, in regards to what you and I are talking about, and I think they’re right. People are drawn to virtuosity of the hands or of the mouth. Those might also be the parts of the body that we can be most expressive _with_.

    Oy. Sorry this is so long. Anyway, to conclude, I agree with you that live performance is something special and that is currently in flux/maybe under threat or change. Ultimately, I think as electronic music interfaces allow for more subtle and natural types of expression (for my money, the two best electric instruments, with exceptional interfaces and potential for virtuosity, barring guitars, are the mixer and the turntable) the issues we’re discussing will be resolved.

    Or — Or — we could go read Walter Benjamin and other fine sources, and talk about Music in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction!

  • @zeroreference Renoise is perfect for making beat/sample based music imo. To me it's like a souped up super sampler, so if you're used to hardware samplers and things it's a joy to use. I was converted back in 07 and haven't looked back since.

  • Read the previous posts: I'm not literate in Renoise, but the criticism and rationalization to dismiss it based on it looking inaccessible, either to you as a performer or your audience, is even harder for me to understand. Even through crappy little laptop speakers, both on the recording end AND my own, I love the results.

  • Ivan

    I like very much this kind of articles in createdigitalmusic, and discussions associated with.

    I think the point here is not about "performance", the link created between the artist and an audience, or even musical content. But more about better ways to make music, and enjoy the process.

    Sequencers alone in general are for me incredibly wrong to compose music, and more suited for production tasks. Ableton Live or Renoise may be exceptions, but developments during last years have only improved things on a technical view, the way simulations sound etc.

    New interfaces appearing every day show that artists have not found yet any way to express themselves naturally. They are put down on earth by ergonomic mistakes and the lack of "humanity" in computers. But these new developments are very encouraging and promising. In a few years, it will be more pleasant to create music in general thanks to new technologies. However, the music created will still be the same.

  • I think this is really a great hack! I have been quite near to choosing renoise as my main sequencer, but had to drop it in favour of ableton live. The thing I was mainly missing was exactly what has been provided with this hack here: a way to interact with the patterns in real time, in a non-linear fashion.

    So now I might as well sell my ableton license and jump on the renoise boat… but, we'll see about that 🙂

    Anyway, I think this is just the start of somthing, and I'm looking forward to see it develop (demo version downloading!)

  • This is just awesome!

    Only if you think that such tools are developed by users you can understand how great Grid-Pie is


    Just buy Renoise, it's only around 60 Euros and you have free updates for a full cycle of update (now from 2.7 to 3.7)

    With the "open script" version Renoise has improved drastically

    It's like the policy of recent Reason "pay for what you need" but without using the word "pay" 🙂

  • fladd

    Great work DAC!

    Following the discussion of live performance: I actually don't see this tool as a performance tool at all, but as a composition tool! Just like in Ableton Live, where I would personally also use the Clips to just try out different combinations to see what fits together etc. Well, in Live you can actually record what you do as an arrangement as well. This in Renoise would be awesome! Dac? 🙂

  • Gogmagog… Ignorance is bliss!

    I dont need to know how a thermin works to appreciate it, do I?  Or how a synth squelched noises? do I? Oh well back to playing your banjo!