Cosmo D, in for a demonstration of cello with Ableton.

The computer as bandmate is nothing new. It’s just more stable, more powerful, and friendlier than it has been ever before — and that, coupled with growing familiarity, has been making it more commonplace with artists. So just how are artists working with computers onstage when they also play instruments and sing?

Recent guests at New York’s Ableton Live user group have been demonstrating their own techniques for playing Live, live. They work with loops, recording, sampling, live effects, synths – all the things you’d expect – but find ways of navigating all that functionality while still playing their instrument. I was just editing interviews in which electronic artists made the opposite argument, that they preferred producing only electronic sounds with technology. But whatever your desire, you can find a playing technique to accommodate it.

It’s just one set of snapshots from one city — consider it the tip of a very large, very global, very diverse wave of artists getting more comfy with live laptop performance. Here’s how Cosmo D, on cello as part of the band Archie Pelago, and Erin Barra, singing and playing keys, work with software live.

Cosmo D

New York-based artist Cosmo D is doing some wonderful cello and laptop music. Even that’s something that’s becoming more frequent – a good thing, I think, as it means a range of artists will explore ways of working with instrument and machine.

In a video for our friends at the bangbang blog, he demonstrates a simplified version of his set.

And here’s Cosmo D with his band Archie Pelago, jamming away…

If you’re in the New York City area, this ensemble is playing live at the Ableton User Group at Tekserve on Thursday.

Archie Pelago on Facebook

Erin Barra

On the singer side of the spectrum, Erin Barra was also a guest this year at the New York Ableton UG. She’s working on a Live setup that’s a hub of vocal performance and keys, using the computer to host chains of effects.

A Berklee graduate with the chops to match, Erin is a recent convert to Ableton use; her publicist tells us she just dove into the manual last summer and is working on a training certification. The musical idiom is a bit different than the kind of artists’ work regularly featured on this site, but that’s further evidence that the tools aren’t genre-specific.

She walks through her live rig for the performance above in a separate video:

Also, in July she did the first of a writeup for a local New York production and recording outlet, Sonic Scoop, in which she talks more about production. The video is geared at novice and intermediate artists, so it walks through things gradually, step-by-step, and also reveals a bit of her approach to working with Live for vocal processing:

“Insert Scene” by Erin Barra: Creating a Vocal Chain in Ableton Live

It’s great to see artists being brave and patient enough to do this kind of walkthrough. (I say that because I personally find doing screencasts to be a huge pain, though I do promise more in the future on CDM anyway!)

One small nit-pick: I think the Shure SM57 is very, very popular as a vocal mic!

Erin calls herself a “one-woman army,” and deservedly so — playing keys, singing, and operating a computer requires some serious multitasking chops, and she handles her APC with aplomb.

Erin has an album out called Illusions, and a tour of the US on. (Warning: autoplays music.)

Your Neck of the Woods?

That’s just one city’s recent Ableton user group appearances, and a fraction of the kinds of artists who have appeared in New York alone. Got artists working with laptops — using any software, not just Live — talking in your community about what they’re doing? Want to share your rig? Get in touch.