Simon has performed with bands like Incognito and Reel People and done studio work including remixes for Bootsy Collins, Elton John or Jamiroqaui. And he definitely likes vintage gear – owning an Oberheim OB-Xa, a Minimoog, an ARP Avatar and of course the mighty Fender Rhodes to mention but a few. For live situations, gear like that would of course be unpractical. Still, he wants access to lots of sounds as he likes to ‘orchestrate’ as a player with layers. Developments in software instruments have led to many amazing possibilities, but for Simon hardware is still an important piece of the puzzle. So he took a ‘hybrid route', as he calls it, and designed a light weight live rig that covers all bases: A combination of his favorite hardware keyboards and Apple Mainstage with our Impact LX88+ controller keyboard. More than reason enough for a chat!
I am running a hybrid system, as for me one box doesn’t do everything. I use the best of both worlds: My standard setup is a Yamaha Motif ES8, Moog Little Phatty, StudioLogic Numa Organ and the Impact LX88+ controller with Apple Mainstage. The Motif delivers the fat bread & butter sounds, like strings, horns or pads, and Mainstage opens up a world of specialist stuff that I can no longer live without! Now I can use my favorite Plug-Ins live, like the Ravenscroft 275 Piano or Scarbee EP-88. Mainstage gives me access to rich sounds that use 20 Gig rather than a workstation’s typical 20 Meg and are fully customizable, which is important to me as a programmer. Or Sylenth – my go-to virtual synth that I also used in the performance videos for Nektar. It’s so much quicker for me to create modern pop-synth-sounds in software rather than surfing through workstation menus. So the controller is an integral part of my system as I like to program MainStage to be ‘hands on’. It is the heart of my rig, it does all the sound management and rig assignments. I use an open system where any keyboard has access to any sound source, including layering, splits and so on – the Motif is also fully integrated. I therefore have almost limitless splits and assignments per patch with a single button over up to 4 keyboards and heaps of different software, it's incredible actually.
I have created a Layout in MainStage, mapping the LX’s controls to my different sounds and sources. It is on a patch-by-patch basis, the faders might control the levels of brass, strings or software instruments – the knobs provide filter or send controls, the buttons below the faders generally are reserved for patch changes, mute, special effects or tap tempo. I usually work to the same system every patch. The pads I mainly use for samples at the moment.
By the way, the LX+ is the only keyboard I’ve come across, that manages the drum pad note note assignment output in an instantly understandable fashion. I really make good use of all the controls the Impact provides, so it’s great that they also feel right. When I go to rehearsals, and want to travel lightly, MainStage and the Impact are a killer solution: all the sounds, 88 keys - it is so light and setup is quick.
Simon's rig is built around his Macbook running Mainstage, a Yamaha Motif and a Numa Organ.
(All photos: © Simon Grey)
Reliability, firstly! This shouldn’t be underestimated. I’ve had lots of challenges with that in the past with integration of controllers. Just recently I had to play a gig with someone else’s controller, which in theory especially using Mainstage shouldn’t be a problem. But it kept dropping out and I almost had a mental collapse! On the other hand, the LX+ has worked without a glitch for me so far. So thumbs up for that as most of my colleagues and I don't have patience for things that are intuitive and solid. Also, I don’t want a controller company to dictate to me how I should use it first and foremost. I need to be able to customize its behavior easily – that’s what I like about the LX+. When I run Mainstage, it sees just knobs, faders and keys ‘dumb’ so I can wire things internally super fast – with Logic the Deep Integration also worked right out of the box in a simple, effective fashion.
It is great for organ, Rhodes and synth sounds. The controller’s action is tight with natural resistance. As a trained player, I would prefer weighted hammer action for piano sounds. But the LX88+ really covers all bases and is generally very playable.
I have just released a new single called ‘TAKUMA’ my upcoming album on Pledge Music. I am so pumped about this project and have been working on it for years! I like to call it funk-infused future jazz. (You can support the project here and download the single for free!: www.pledgemusic.com/simongrey)
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