Why I bought an Elektron Octatrack
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
The Elektron Octatrack is one of the deepest instruments I've encountered, electronic or otherwise. I've been reading about it, talking about it with friends who use it regularly, and watching tutorials about it for years, if only to think about other ways of using samplers, sequencers, and mixers. Though I would have loved a sampler with polyphonic capabilities, I knew I could only afford one sampler at the moment. Eventually it became clear that the Octatrack was the move.
First of all, it's a powerful monophonic sampler and sequencer for the studio. In particular, I was looking for something to mangle and experiment with loops we have been creating with Matt's Elektron Analog Rytm and my modular system for our more studio-focused composition process. We've been using the Rytm and the modular to make drums, and sometimes bass and leads, that often serve as the foundation for our new recordings. Getting comfortable and quick with that workflow is a huge advantage, and definitely gave the Octatrack the edge.
But the Octatrack has its own very unique workflow aspects, even in how it samples. So why do I think is it worth the sizable extra time investment to learn such a quirky and deep musical machine, instead of something more straightforward like an MPC or Elektron's own Digitakt? Well ideally I'd love to have them all! But they truly do different things in regards to loops and dealing with samples in general. To me it comes down to the interface.
While both the Octatrack and the MPC, for example, can both easily chop up loops, the Octatrack has the parameter locks and scenes to very immediately, and once setup in advance, intuitively transform sounds in a very physical and visceral way. The addition of the Delay Trig Mode to further create more scattered and precise pauses, cuts, and "mini-loops" within the loops, along with controlled randomizations features both per step and on the macro level with rearranging the order of chopped up loop elements, made it perfect for a secondary process of transforming recordings into something new.
Second, we know that we eventually want to play live again with this material on the road, and we want to at the very least come up with one version of a live set that's just the two of us. We have a few great synths at our disposal, plus guitar and bass rigs. What the Octatrack gives us is a tool to playback samples and longer loops if necessary, the ability to MIDI sequence additional synths when our hands are already full, and even potentially as a mixer for the entire setup. The possibilities here are really exciting, and I'll be hooking it up to my trusty Moog Sub37 I've used very often in Paperhaus to see what it can do as a MIDI sequencer for outside hardware to start.
These two ways of using the Octatrack still don't even take into account the most powerful element of all, which is that the Octatrack can live sample and edit while the project is going in a seamless way that no other current sampler that I know of can compete with. I'm sure eventually I'll find ways to use it in this manner, especially with my eurorack modular synth system.
In the meantime, I'll be mostly exploring it as a loop mangler for my work with Matt, and "drum machine" for other songwriting and producing sessions, with an eye towards the live looping/sampling aspect, and of course eventually as a MIDI sequencer for live and studio usage.
The aspect that really sold me on the Octatrack the most is the hands-on, performative aspect of the instrument. The aforementioned use of parameter locks and scenes for loops, samples, and MIDI sequencing of other instruments seemed like the most intuitive way to create using a hardware sampler/sequencer that I could find, and if you believe a mixer can/should be an instrument, this is the most interesting tool I know of. If only it could do polyphonic sample playback! I guess eventually that MPC1000 might sneak back into my life too...