“Blah, blah, I use Acme MusicStation Pro because it sounds completely dope – I love that compressor.”

Okay. Before we begin, you’re not alone. Yes, a lot of artist profile endorsements, even some well-meaning ones, can wind up being rather useless. But at the risk of being redundant – since many of you get their mailing list – what’s special about a new set of profiles and downloads from Ableton is, you have a rare chance to dig deeper into the world of some musicians, learning about their techniques and approach in a way you can apply to your work.

And that can be literally excavating layers of musical content from the actual sessions.

Machinedrum, aka Travis Stewart, is a producer’s producer, sought-after for his unique imagination and craft solo and as half of the duo Sepalcure (with Praveen Sharma). His music seems to tap into a particular zeitgeist, but regardless of your idiom of expression, there’s something to be learned from the way he wrangles his instruments and tracks. With a downloadable Ableton Live Set, you can dig into some of that material. (In fact, because of the way Ableton stores its audio files, you can do so even if you – cough – don’t use Live.) Here he is talking about some of those layers:

I tend to use field recordings as layers underneath my tunes. I feel it gives the songs an environment or space to exist in, and makes the listening experience a more visual one. I used a noise gate on the water sound that comes in with the drums. It gives the drums a new texture and keeps the song sounding a bit more organic.

All of this segues perfectly to talking about why Room(s) (Planet Mu) and this track “Sacred Frequency” matter, beyond the fact that Travis is an artist in the spotlight now.

Part of the appeal of Machinedrum is to me his ability to saturate the musical spectrum with layers, without losing definition. In his less-heard T. STEWART project, for instance, he’s still working with dreamy, introspective melodies like those drifting in and out of this number. I can talk about that, but it’s even better when you get a chance to hear not only the full result, but examine the brushwork, as it were, in the individual tracks.

Now, while it’s a blow to Creative Commons advocacy, the downloads are labeled “for educational purposes only.” But, perhaps that’s license to resist the temptation to remix and just go in and listen to the raw materials of the music – to look behind the curtain.

So much is made of the fact that now everyone has access to technology, that anyone can produce – with or without the studio and label as gatekeeper, that technology makes process transparent.

Here’s another way of thinking about it, though. Part of what breeds a connoisseur is familiarity. With more access to technology, more people can begin to appreciate what goes into production. Now, the flipside could be that technical tricks alone would take on value. But I think just understanding that there is a process behind music, becoming a more active listener, is always a good thing.

And that can be the way with theory: anything that makes you listen more closely can expand, not contract, your experience of music.

At Ableton:

Machinedrum: Sacred Frequencies

More Machinedrum Listening

I’m talking; better to listen to the music. Here are some good places to start (mixes and Machinedrum originals alike, for the whole landscape):

There’s lots more Machinedrum to hear: