Thomas Dolby is on the road again after 15 years. And how times have changed: unlike the year 1991, the year 2006 means he can blog the whole tour. For starters, he’s posted the gory details of his performance rig “for the geeks and musicians out there.” (You called?)

  1. Power Mac G5 Dual 2.0 GHz, to be replaced with a MacBook Pro when everything gets ported to Intel
  2. MUSE Receptor for still more plug-in hosting
  3. Logic Pro 7.2 acts as a MIDI host (for outboard hardware synths and plug-ins), plug-in host, and (primarily) playback device for presequenced backup tracks
  4. Stylus-RMX plug-in for loops, thanks to the fact that you can queue up irregular loops
  5. Built-in Logic plugs, plus more: Arturia’s MiniMoog, RMIV drums, Slayer2 guitars, UltraFocus, Camelspace gating effect, T-racks mastering.
  6. Rack: UPS power backup, PreSonus Firepod FireWire audio interface, MOTU MIDI interface, Nord 3 racked synth
  7. Keyboard controllers: Three of them, no less: CME Pro 7 (now distributed by Yamaha), Novation ReMote SL25 (which automaps nicely to Logic), and the Virus TI Polar. The Virus is the only sound source.
  8. M-Audio Trigger Finger for drums, samples, muting and unmuting tracks.
  9. Vintage gear retrofitted for MIDI: Knobs on old oscilloscopes and signal generators controlling soft synth parameters? Now, that’s cool. (Wouldn’t you do something like that if you were Thomas Dolby?)

Choosing software

Two particularly interesting notes: since nearly all of the playback is through MIDI synths, Dolby has set up a custom Max/MSP patch for easy, visual selection of controller zones, routing his three controllers to a variety of soft synths visually. In yet another victory for Max, it was easier, quicker, and more flexible to do this in Max than in Logic’s Environment. (Note: if you’re on a budget, you could easily do the same thing with Max’s open source cousin, Pd, too.)

But where’s Ableton Live in all this? Dolby claims he can’t use Live because his music doesn’t fit into 4-beat bars. That’s actually not the problem he thinks it is; you can easily cue irregular beats in Live by quantizing to the beat instead of the bar, much as he describes doing in Stylus RMX. But this is also a great setup, and benefits heavily from all the built-in instruments and effects (vocoder, anyone) in Logic.

Could you do it on a budget?

In fact, thanks to Logic, this setup doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Dolby says we might want to tally up the whole cost, and I’ve done that, painstakingly researching the street prices of all this gear to determi. . . uh . . . okay, actually, I don’t want to do that. But let’s think about a bare-bones setup: get a MacBook Pro ($2000), plus Logic ($1000, though less if you’re a student), plus an audio interface (PreSonus makes one for less than $200), plus a mic (Shure SM58 Blue is about $150), plus a Remote SL keyboard (extra octaves for just $600) . . . just over US$4000 for an entire road setup. Not bad, especially given that you probably have a lot of this gear. Throw in some Shure E series in-ear monitors for $150.

Still not cheap enough? How about a reasonable PC laptop ($1000), or even a Core Duo Mac mini plus a compact LCD and rack for about the same price, plus an Edirol keyboard ($220, and I’ve got one I love right here), plus Ableton Live ($400), and Reaktor for all the synths and effects you could ever possibly want ($500). Just over $2000. You could even just play with Reaktor for your beats if you wanted. There are various other combinatorics, but most of what Thomas Dolby has is more of everything — three keyboards instead of one, extra plug-ins, an extra rig for plug-ins (the Receptor) even though he’s running backup tracks.

And, as Dolby himself notes, this is a far cry from a $120,000 Fairlight CMI in the 80s.

Just make sure you spend a little extra effort on the retro-sci fi-cool details like those shades and headphones. And notice the keyboards are up front, computers in the back? It makes a difference.

Thanks to the first post on the CDM performing board, via 3l33t_v4cuum, for the lead!

Previously: Logic-based road rigs have included rack-rig Mac minis (part I, part II), Vince Jones’ rig, and even young kids using Logic and Novation keyboards. (Watch out, Thomas; that little girl wants your gig.) And more Logic stuff, too.